Tag Archives: Punctuation

WEDNESDAYS WITH STARLA KAYE: Common Errors in Writers’ Work — MM the Queen of English

Allow me to share my EXCITING NEWS before I get to those common errors. Laurie Sanders of Black Velvet Seductions and I are in discussions about turning my workshops into books. At present, we are determining how best to translate them to book form. IF BVS publishes the workshops in book form, they will be available in Kindle format, e-book format, and paperback format.

The books will expand upon the material covered in the workshops with more examples and more check-yourself exercises (homework) with answers supplied. Even if you took the workshop, you’ll want the book because of the new additions.

Visit the queen’s blog often at The Queen of English ‘s Blog http://queenofenglish.wordpress.com for the latest info concerning this exciting new development.

Now, on with those common errors —

As a line editor for Black Velvet Seductions, I have read many entertaining and thought-provoking stories over the past year. I have also found some common mistakes in punctuation, grammar, and usage in these manuscripts. I’ll share the two most common errors with you – mixing up its and it’s, and joining the parts of a compound sentence with only a comma – an error called a comma splice.

Before I end the confusion surrounding these mistakes, I have a question for you readers: Workshop or book? Which would you rather do – attend a workshop or buy a book with the same info as in the workshop? I’m considering publishing my most popular workshops as books. I’d really like everyone to give me an opinion. One lucky person who leaves a comment will receive July’s workshop free. You have until this coming Friday to leave your comment. Good luck. Remember if you don’t comment, you can’t win!!!

On with these pesky mistakes–

its and it’s

I really think that some writers say to themselves when it comes to apostrophe use, “Eenie, meenie, miny mo, where does this apostrophe go?”

Its is a possessive pronoun – Possessive pronouns do NOT use an apostrophe to show ownership.

The puppy hurt its paw.

My little brother hurt his hand.

My big sister hurt her hand.

My mom and dad hurt their hands.

Did you hurt your hand?


No apostrophes anywhere!!! Possessive pronouns don’t use an apostrophe. Repeat that ten times. I’ll count –





Five – don’t stop now. You have only five more to go.





Ten  — Great job

It’s is a contraction for it is. A letter is left out. When we leave out letters, we use an apostrophe to take the place of these left-out letters. Other contractions are

you’re – you are

they’re – they are

we’ll — we will

she’d – she had or she would

See the apostrophe in each of the words in the list above? Apostrophes are there because a letter or letters have been left out.


Comma splice – This error is the one that really tips my tiara. Here’s an example of the ERROR:

Jody walked to the door and knocked, no one answered.

Commas separate; they do not join. Remember that and I hope you won’t make this mistake.


Repeat ten times – Commas separate; they do not join. I’ll wait.

Finished – great!

Let me explain some English terms before I show you how to correct comma splices.

Did I hear a groan? I promise the explanation will be painless.

Compound sentence – Two main ideas joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction

Coordinating conjunctions – for, and, neither, but, or, yet, so — FANBOYS

The problem is deciding if you have a compound sentence or simply compound parts of a sentence. Let’s look at our sentence again. Jody walked to the door and knocked, no one answered.

Ask yourself – How many ideas are there? Can each stand alone – is a complete idea?

Jody walked to the door and knocked. Makes sense.

No one answered. Makes sense. So the answer to our question is YES. Each main idea can stand by itself. In this case, that comma needs a coordinating conjunction following it.

There are three ways to correct a comma splice.

  1. Add a coordinating conjunction AFTER the comma.

Jody walked to the door and knocked, but no one answered.

  1. Change the comma to a semi-colon.

Jody walked to the door and knocked; no one answered.

  1. Break the compound sentence into two simple sentences.

Jody walked to the door and knocked. No one answered.

Now I can hear you asking, “Most marvelous Queen, why didn’t you add a comma after door? And is a coordinating conjunction.”

Yes, you are right about and. Let’s look at the first part of that sentence again. Jody walked to the door and knocked – check to the right and to the left of and for a subject and a verb. Subjects do the action of verbs. Here Jody walked – subject –verb.

and knocked – no subject, only a verb. In this case, we have compound verbs, but we don’t have compound sentences – no comma after door.

I hope I have helped clear up the confusion of its and it’s and comma splices. If you are punctuation-challenged, visit my blog – http://queenofenglish.wordpress.com – for more of the Queen’s tidbits of wisdom.  Even if you’re not punctuation-challenged, visit anyway!

You also might want to consider taking a workshop with the Queen. July’s workshop is CREATING AGREEMENT BETWEEN SUBJECTS AND VERBS AND BETWEEN PRONOUNS AND THEIR ANTECEDENTS.  You will find more info on my blog http://queenofenglish.wordpress.com.

I will present a week-long workshop PUNCTUATING YOUR WAY TO A CONTRACT beginning August 1, 2011, on Savvy Authors —http://www.savvyauthors.com/vb/showevent.php?eventid=812 .

I will present a month-long workshop PASSIVE WRITING: DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SEND YOUR READER INTO A COMA? beginning September 1, 2011, on Writers Online Classes — http://www.writersonlineclasses.com/?page_id=592.

If you have a suggestion for a workshop, please e-mail it to me at [email protected].  I offer workshops on many different topics related to English and writing mechanics. Watch for announcements of future workshops on my blog at http://queenofenglish.wordpress.com .

Thank you again, Starla, for allowing me to take over your blog for a day. To all you readers, remember if you don’t comment, you can’t win a free workshop with the Queen.

MM the Queen of English


The Process: EDITING: Nouns and Pronouns

Continuing along in the editing process in your writing, I thought we should do a quick review of the proper usage of nouns and pronouns.

My biggest problem is remembering how to punctuate possessive nouns correctly. Do you add ‘s or just an apostrophe? For example: Is it boy’s? Or is it boys’? Actually the first (boy’s) is singular possessive. The second (boys’) is plural possessive. There are other tricky things to remember, like when do you capitalize proper nouns?

To learn more about these writing elements, I have added my artilce, EDITING: Nouns and Pronouns, to the Writing Tips on this blog and to my Writing Tools on my website.

The Process: EDITING: Dashes, Ellipsis Points, Numbers

I am finally beginning my discussions on various Editing elements in your writing. Some of the punctuation elements I have the most trouble with are when and how to use dashes (em- or en-dashes) and ellipsis points. I am forever and again breaking up pieces of dialogue or narrative with dashes or using ellipsis points to show faltering speech. But it is important to do these things correctly.

Do you know the difference between an “em dash” and an “en dash”? Do you understand whether to use an “em dash” or “ellipsis points”?

What about the many different usages of numbers and numerals? Do you know when to spell out a number or when to use the numeral?

To learn more about these writing elements, I have added my article, EDITING: Dashes, Ellipsis Points, Numbers, to the Writing Tips on this blog and to my Writing Tools on my website.