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Mechanics Handout

Mechanics: Selected Highlights from Jack Lynch's Grammar and Style Guide plus A Few Notes by Erika Lin


Selected Highlights from Jack Lynch's Grammar and Style Guide


The most common way to form a possessive in English is with apostrophe and s: a hard day's night. After a plural noun ending in s, put just an apostrophe: two hours' work. But if a singular noun ends in s, most style guides prefer s's: James's house. Plain old s apostrophe (as in James' house) is common in journalism, but most other publishers prefer James's.

Note that the possessives of pronouns don't get apostrophes: theirs, not their's; hers, not her's; its, not it's.


The importance of accurate citation cannot be overstated: a paper without proper citations is open to charges of plagiary. Be careful to cite your source for every direct quotation and every borrowed idea. Two standards are common in English papers: that of the MLA Style Guide and that of The Chicago Manual of Style. Either will do. The MLA style calls for a list of "Works Cited" at the end of a paper in standard bibliographical form, alphabetical by author:


Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. Edited by Herbert Davis. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965.

Citations in the text of the paper would then include the author's name (with a year or abbreviated title if more than one work is cited) and page number; for instance:


". . . the most pernicious race of odious little vermin" (Swift 120).

The Chicago style gives a full citation in a footnote (or endnote) on the first quotation in this form:


Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965), p. 120.

Subsequent citations in the text include the page number in quotations, with an author's name only when necessary:


"Girl threading an invisible Needle with invisible Silk" (p. 92).

Either style is acceptable, but be consistent. For full details see the MLA Style Guide or the Chicago Manual of Style. All citations should appear under the name of the main author, but should include the names of editors, translators, and so on (writers of introductions aren't necessary). Include the city, publisher, and year of publication. For works of prose, give a page number or a range of pages; for works of poetry, give a line number or range of lines.


Punctuation and Quotation Marks.

In America, commas and periods go inside quotation marks, while semicolons and colons go outside, regardless of the punctuation in the original quotation. Question marks and exclamation points depend on whether the question or exclamation is part of the quotation, or part of the sentence containing the quotation. Some examples: See the chapter entitled "The Conclusion, in which Nothing is Concluded."The spokesman called it "shocking," and called immediately for a committee. Have you read "Araby"?He asked "How are you?"

In American usage, all quoted material goes in "double quotation marks"; if you need a quotation inside a quotation, use 'single quotation marks' (also called "inverted commas") inside: "This for quotations, 'this' for quotations inside quotations." Quotations inside quotations are the only place for single quotation marks -- don't use them to highlight individual words.



In this century, at any rate, the semicolon has only two common uses: to separate the items in a list after a colon (as in "The following books will be covered on the midterm: the Odyssey, through book 12; passages from Ovid's Metamorphoses; and the selections from Chaucer"), and to separate two independent clauses in one sentence (as in "Shakespeare's comedies seem natural; his tragedies seem forced"). The first is obvious enough. For the second use, a simple test is this: if you can use a period and a new sentence, you can use a semicolon. In this second use, the semicolon can always be replaced by a period and a new sentence. In the example, "Shakespeare's comedies seem natural. His tragedies seem forced" is correct, so a semicolon can be used.



The titles of books and other long works (plays, long poems, operas, &c.) are either italicized or underscored; the titles of shorter works (essays, short poems, &c.) appear in quotation marks. For borderline cases, the test is whether it could be published as a book on its own: even if you're reading King Lear in a larger anthology, it's long enough that it could be a book, so it gets italics.


A few additional notes by Erika Lin

Block quotes.

If you need to quote a passage longer than three lines, ident the entire quotation single-spaced. Do not add quotation marks to block quotes! When quoting from poetry, retain original lineation. Place citation information (line numbers, page numbers, etc.) at the end of the block quote, either directly following the last line or, if necessary, on a line by itself, flush-right. Example:

The Bastard's scornful description of the citizens of Angiers exposes theelement of voyeurism and theatrical exploitation in all these scenes oftrial by combat: By heaven, these scroyles of Angiers flout you, kings, And stand securely on their battlements As in a theatre, whence they gape and point At your industrious scenes and acts of death. (II.i.373-76)

Note: The above example is taken from Phyllis Rackin, Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 53.


Citation (more notes on how to quote).


One note:

When quoting from poetry, unless you use a block quote, signal a line break with a slash. Example:

Browning's "My Last Duchess" opens with a reference to the poem's titlewhen the speaker says "That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, /Looking as if she were alive" (1-2).

In the unlikely event that you need to quote a passage that spans two stanzas, signal a stanza break with two slashes.


Another note:

Use brackets, not parentheses, when inserting words in a quote and when changing the tense of a verb in the quote to agree with the rest of your sentence. Use ellipses when omitting words in a quote. Examples:

The speaker argues that "Even had you skill / In speech... / --E'en thenwould be some stooping; and I choose / Never to stoop" (35 & 42-3).The speaker states "Oh sir, she [the Duchess] smiled, no doubt, / Whene'erI passed her" (43-4). However, like the speaker, we might well inquirewhether anyone else "passe[s] without / Much the same smile" (44-5).Some more notes (in reference to the following example):According to Chaucer, "pitee renneth sone in gentil herte" (KT 903). ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ 1 2 3 4 5 6

1: Use a comma before a quote only if grammar requires it. It is a mistake to think that a comma is required before all citations.

1-2: Your grammar must harmonize with the grammar of the citation; if it does not, either alter your own words, cite a different portion of the same text, or carefully and minimally alter the grammar of the quotation by using brackets to indicate the change.

2: Do not use ellipses (...) at the beginnings or end of citations; use ellipses only when omitting words within citations.

3a: Place close-quotes before line or page references.

3b: Omit any final punctuation marks from the citation (except question marks or exclamation marks if the grammar of the cited passage requires it).

4: Use standard abbreviations for parts of literary works, and underline or italicize them. If your quote is from one work only, be sure to underline/italicize the work or to place the work in quotation marks, as appropriate. If your paper is about one work only, omit the name of the work entirely.

5: Always include line numbers for poems and page numbers for prose works. If your citation is from a play, you should cite act, scene, and line numbers by placing a period between them. Examples: IV.ii.126 or 4.2.126.

6: Place the closing punctuation to your sentence after a close-parenthesis.