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Grammar etc.

  • Punctuation has its own philosophy, just as style does, although not as language does. Style is a good understanding of language, punctuation is a good understanding of style.

  • ... spelling is a matter of private judgment with Maurice!

  • I like to use as few commas as possible so that sentences will go down in one swallow without touching the sides ...

  • I will use a form of punctuation of my own, which will be something like this — when one is beginning he takes a long breath, for this use a capital. When he stops for breath, a comma, and when it is all gone, a period. Don't know the use of a semi-colon, but expect it is when one thinks he is out of breath and isn't.

  • I do apologize for writing by hand — and so badly. I shall soon be like Helen Thomas, notoriously illegible. In her last letter only two words stood out plain: 'Blood pressure.' Subsequent research demonstrated that what she had actually written was 'Beloved friends.'

  • ... must get this in an envelope before my husband comes home. He'll want to know who I am writing to, then he'll insist on reading it, and then he will laugh at my spelling. Why are non-spellers always married to spellers who laugh?

  • So many parentheses scattered about gave the look of her eyelashes having been shed upon the pages.

  • Hyphens, like cats, are capable of arousing tenderness or shudders.

  • Grammar is a piano I play by ear ... All I know about grammar is its infinite power.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Why I Write," in The New York Times ()
  • I was taking a course with Lionel Trilling and wrote a paper for him with an opening sentence that contained a parenthesis. He returned the paper with a wounding reprimand: 'Never, never begin an essay with a parenthesis in the first sentence.' Ever since then, I've made a point of starting out with a parenthesis in the first sentence.

    • Cynthia Ozick,
    • in Tom Teicholz, "The Art of Fiction No. 95," The Paris Review ()
  • Most of us don't know a gerund from a gerbil and don't care, but we'd like to speak and write as though we did.

  • ... use as few parentheses as possible; it is a clumsy way of disposing of a sentence, and often embarrasses the reader.

  • It is no accident that the word 'punctilious' ('attentive to formality or etiquette') comes from the same original root word as punctuation. ... our writing has always been offered in a spirit of helpfulness, to underline meaning and prevent awkward misunderstandings between writer and reader.

  • No matter that you have a PhD and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, 'Good food at it's best,' you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.

  • There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and people who don't, and I'll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.

  • Nowadays the fashion is against grammatical fussiness. A passage peppered with commas ... smacks simply of no backbone. People who put in all the commas betray themselves as moral weaklings with empty lives and out-of-date reference books.

  • ... semi-colons are dangerously habit-forming. Many writers hooked on semicolons become an embarrassment to their families and friends. Their agents gently remind them, 'George Orwell managed without, you know. And look what happened to Marcel Proust: carry on like this and you're only one step away from a cork-lined room!'