Parentheses and brackets (specifically, square brackets) normally come in pairs, as do other types of brackets and braces. Their main job is to set things off from their surroundings.
Semicolons, when they’re not winking at you, can be a useful punctuation mark. Some writers are fans of the mark; others could do without it. But whatever you think of semicolons, it can be helpful to know how they’re used.
Exclamation has always announced straightforward shouting, alarm, surprise, excitement, amazement, disbelief, exasperation, or even just helpless flustering. In the eighteenth century, readers could expect melodrama.
If you’re a copyeditor, you probably use Microsoft Word, a desktop program introduced in the 1980s. Or maybe you use Google Docs, a browser-based application that debuted in 2006.
The punctuation mark that many of us know as the slash appears on standard computer keyboards. But even though it sits right there next to the period and the comma—and though it was once used as a form of sentence punctuation like those marks—the slash is comparatively uncommon today in ordinary prose.
We hate to do this, but the next paragraph is going to contain errors. Microsoft Word won’t catch any of them. How many can you count?
Although some believe that the subjunctive mood in English is dying, many of us use it all the time, whether we know it or not. And that means the subjunctive is right for fiction, even in the mouth of a character who wouldn’t know a subjunctive from a subplot.
In the old days, authors wrote out their source citations from scratch, and editors checked them to make sure they were correctly formatted. Now there are tools that will do this for you, from online “Cite” buttons to full-featured citation management apps.
Dashes—specifically, en dashes and em dashes—are like hyphens, but longer. And though there’s some overlap in how hyphens and dashes are used, dashes play a role all their own.
I don’t like to dither over style choices. At the beginning of a sentence, it’s routine to start the next word with a capital letter. But when I type a colon within a sentence, I often have to stop and think about how to write the next word: whether to cap it isn’t always obvious.
Variant spellings take a toll on editors everywhere. The minutes tick away whenever we leave our documents (as we often do) in search of the answer to that age-old question: What’s the preferred spelling of this word?