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 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 – – 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

I will present a week-long workshop PUNCTUATING YOUR WAY TO A CONTRACT beginning August 1, 2011, on Savvy Authors — .

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 —

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 .

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


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

  1. Starla Kaye

    Welcome, MM! I have to admit commas are my biggest downfall. I think I’m in love with them. I’m thankful that I have my editor, Laurie, and you to correct me.

    1. MM the Queen of English

      Starla, you’re welcome. I should thank you for writing such amazing stories. I think “Trusting Her” is still my favorite, but FOR THEIR LADY GLORIANA is a very close second. You really should warn readers to have a fan handy because they’re going to need some cooling off when they read Gloriana.

      MM the Queen of English

  2. Margaret Fieland

    MM, I much prefer workshops to books. In a workshop, I’ll actually do the work. If I have a book, well, it might sit on my shelf for quite some time before I get to it.

    As to comma splices, I admit that I have knowingly, upon occasion, used them in dialog when I want to emphasize the run-on nature of the character’s thought process. A conjunction, a full stop, or a semi-colon doesn’t convey the same sense of precipitous continuation.

  3. E. Ayers

    Waving a big hello to Starla and MM. BTW, great website, Starla.

    Three things for MM to consider as subjects.

    1. It was a long lonely narrow road. Does it really need commas between those adjectives? Is there a rule of thumb such as more than three use a comma?

    2. And when do we combine words with a hyphen? His blue-green eyes sparkled with merriment when he wore his pin-striped suit.

    3. Some things v somethings or a while v awhile. You have no idea how many times I stare at these kinds of words and wonder if I’ve done them the right way.

    MM knows how much I appreciate proper grammar. I just wish I was a wee bit better with it. The truth is we must concentrate when doing edits so that we catch the errors. I know the difference between it is and the possessive pronoun, but as I type, I’ll type the wrong one. Then my brain sees it as what is supposed to be one the page and fails to see what is really there! And then there are the sentences such as the one I just wrote one where I’ve got to go to the beginning of the sentence to pick up the noun for the rest of the sentence on the other side of the conjunction. I hope that made sense. LOL

    I’ll be back every Wednesday to read MM’s pearls of wisdom on grammar!

    Congrats on your new book, Starla!

    1. MM the Queen of English

      It was a long, lonely narrow road. I don’t have room here in a comment box to explain, but this week I’ll post the explanation on my blog

      You hyphenate when you have two words that act as a unit, as one, to describe something.

      Somethings is vague. “Some things” is more concrete. I hear something as singular more often than I hear it in plural form. I have some things on my desk that need attention. Something always gets in the way of my meeting him.

      Awhile means for a time, like stay awhile. When the expression begins with for, a while is correct. Please stay with me for a while. For is a preposition and while is its object.

      MM the Queen of English

    1. MM the Queen of English

      Marty, you are the winner of the Queen of English’s July workshop — Creating Agreement between Subjects and Verbs and between Pronouns and Their Antecedents. Please e-mail me at [email protected] for more information on this workshop.

      If for some reason, you can’t take this workshop, please let me know so that I can choose another winner.

      The workshop begins July 18th.

      MM the Queen of English

  4. Carolena Torres

    Wed. 6/30. I absolutely LOVE books! I keep ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ in plain sight where I can pick it up several times a week. But the workshops (and conferences) work best for me. The immediate interaction with a teacher, and other students who may have a question answered that you didn’t think of, is very satisfying.

  5. Kary Rader

    MM – Just saw you were here. Sorry I missed you yesterday. Congrats on the big news. Great post.

  6. Adrien Golding

    MM-I personally would like a workshop. Being able to be in a room with other writers and have ideas bounce off one another would be more helpful to me than reading a book.


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