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Grammar, Punctuation, and Capitalization

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All writing begins with ideas that relate to one another. An author chooses words that express the ideas and chooses an arrangement of the words (syntax) that expresses the relationships between the ideas. Given this arrangement of words into phrases, clauses, and sentences, the author obeys grammar and punctuation rules to form a series of sentences that will impart the ideas. and I think this is a good guide for you to learn about English Grammar.
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NASA SP-7084

Grammar, Punctuation, and
Capitalization
A Handbook for Technical Writers and Editors

Mary K. McCaskill
Langley Research Center
Hampton, Virginia
PDF created: Mon, Aug 3, 1998 - 11:47 AM

Preface
Page iii
Preface
The four chapters making up this reference publication were originally written as part of an ongoing effort to
write a style manual for the Technical Editing Branch of the NASA Langley Research Center. These chapters
were written for technical publishing professionals (primarily technical editors) at Langley. At the urging of my
branch head, I am making this part of the style manual available to the technical publishing community.
This publication is directed toward professional writers, editors, and proofreaders. Those whose profession lies
in other areas (for example, research or management), but who have occasion to write or review others' writing
will also find this information useful. By carefully studying the examples and revisions to these examples, you
can discern most of the techniques in my editing "bag of tricks"; I hope that you editors will find these of
particular interest.
Being a technical editor, I drew nearly all the examples from the documents written by Langley's research staff. I
admit that these examples are highly technical and therefore harder to understand, but technical editors and other
technical publishing professionals must understand grammar, punctuation, and capitalization in the context in
which they work.
In writing these chapters, I came to a realization that has slowly been dawning on me during my 15 years as a
technical editor: authorities differ on many rules of grammar, punctuation, and capitalization; these rules are
constantly changing (as is our whole language); and these rules (when they can be definitely ascertained)
sometimes should be broken! Thus much of writing and editing is a matter of style, or preference. Some of the
information in this publication, particularly the chapter on capitalization, is a matter of style. Langley's editorial
preferences are being presented when you see the words we prefer, "we" being Langley's editorial staff. I do not
intend to imply that Langley's style is preferred over any other; however, if you do not have a preferred style,
Langley's editorial tradition is a long and respected one.
I wish to acknowledge that editorial tradition and the people who established it and trained me in it. I am also
grateful to Alberta L. Cox, NASA Ames Research Center, and to Mary Fran Buehler, Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
for reviewing this document.

Contents
Page iv
Contents

Preface
iii

1. Grammar
1

1.1. Grammar and Effective Writing
1

1.2. Nouns
1

1.2.1. Possessive Case
1
1.2.2. Possessive of Inanimate Objects
2

1.3. Pronouns
3

1.3.1. Antecedents
3
1.3.2. Personal Pronouns
3
1.3.3. Relative Pronouns
4
1.3.4. Demonstrative Pronouns
6

1.4. Verbs
7

1.4.1. Tense
7
1.4.2. Mood
9
1.4.3. Voice
9
1.4.4. Verb Number
10

1.5. Adjectives
12

1.5.1. Articles
12
1.5.2. Unit Modifiers
13

1.6. Adverbs
14

1.6.1. Misplaced Adverbs
15
1.6.2. Squinting Adverbs
15
1.6.3. Split Infinitives
15


Contents
Page v

1.7. Prepositions
16

1.7.1. Prepositional Idioms
16
1.7.2. Terminal Prepositions
17
1.7.3. Repeating Prepositions
17

1.8. Conjunctions
17

1.8.1. Coordinating Conjunctions
17
1.8.2. Subordinating Conjunction
19

1.9. Verbals
20

1.9.1. Coordinate Gerunds and Infinitives
21
1.9.2. Idiom Requiring Gerund or Infinitive
21
1.9.3. Dangling Verbals
22


2. Sentence Structure
26

2.1. Sentence Structure and Effective Writing
26

2.2. Subjects and Verbs
26

2.2.1. Clarify Subject
26
2.2.2. Make Verbs Vigorous
28
2.2.3. Improve Subject-Verb Relationship
30

2.3. Parallelism
31

2.3.1. Connectives Requiring Parallelism
32
2.3.2. Itemization
32

2.4. Brevity and Conciseness
33

2.4.1. Wordiness
33
2.4.2. Shortening Text
35

Contents
Page vi
2.4.3. Shortening Titles
35

2.5. Comparisons
37

2.5.1. Comparison of Adjectives and Adverbs
37
2.5.2. Ambiguous Comparisons
38
2.5.3. Comparison Constructions
39

2.6. Emphasis
41

2.6.1. Emphasizing With Sentence Structure
41
2.6.2. Emphasizing With Punctuation
42


3. Punctuation
44

3.1. A Functional Concept of Punctuation
44

3.2. Apostrophe
44

3.3. Brackets
45

3.4. Colon
45

3.4.1. Colons That Introduce
45
3.4.2. Conventional Uses of the Colon
48
3.4.3. Use With Other Marks
48

3.5. Comma
48

3.5.1. Commas That Separate
48
3.5.2. Commas That Enclose
52
3.5.3. Conventional Uses of the Comma
55
3.5.4. Use With Other Marks
56

3.6. Em Dash
56

3.6.1. Dashes That Enclose
56
3.6.2. Dashes That Separate
57

Contents
Page vii
3.6.3. Conventional Uses of the Dash
58
3.6.4. Use With Other Marks
58

3.7. En Dash
58

3.8. Hyphen
59

3.8.1. Word Division
59
3.8.2. Prefixes
60
3.8.3. Suffixes
61
3.8.4. Compound Words
61

3.9. Italics
63

3.9.1. Italics for Emphasis
63
3.9.2. Italics for Special Terminology
63
3.9.3. Italics for Differentiation
63
3.9.4. Italics for Symbology
64
3.9.5. Conventional Uses for Italics
64
3.9.6. Italics With Typefaces Other Than Roman
65
3.9.7. Italics With Punctuation
65

3.10. Parentheses
65

3.11. Period
66

3.11.1. Abbreviations
67
3.11.2. Conventional Uses of the Period
67
3.11.3. Use With Other Marks
68

3.12. Points of Ellipsis
69

3.13. Question Mark
69

3.14. Quotation Marks
70
3.14.1. Quoted Material
70
3.14.2. Words Requiring Differentiation
71
3.14.3. Use With Other Marks
72

Contents
Page viii

3.15. Semicolon
72

3.15.1. Coordinate Clauses
73
3.15.2. Series
73
3.15.3. Explanatory Phrases and Clauses
74
3.15.4. Elliptical Constructions
74
3.15.5. Use With Other Marks
74

3.16. Slash
75


4. Capitalization
76

4.1. Introduction
76

4.2. Sentence Style Capitalization
76

4.2.1. Sentences
76
4.2.2. Quotations
77
4.2.3. Questions
78
4.2.4. Lists
78
4.2.5. Stylistic Uses for Sentence Style Capitalization
78

4.3. Headline Style Capitalization
79

4.4. Acronyms and Abbreviations
80

4.4.1. Capitalization With Acronyms
81
4.4.2. Capitalization of Abbreviations
81

4.5. Proper Nouns and Adjectives
81

4.5.1. Personal Names and Titles
83
4.5.2. Geographic Names
84
4.5.3. Administrative Names
85
4.5.4. Names of Public Places and Institutions
86

Contents
Page ix
4.5.5. Calendar and Time Designations
86
4.5.6. Scientific Names
87
4.5.7. Titles of Works
88
4.5.8. Miscellaneous Names
89


References
95


Glossary
97


Index
101

Chapter 1. Grammar
Page 1

Chapter 1. Grammar

1.1. Grammar and Effective Writing

All writing begins with ideas that relate to one another. An author chooses words that express the ideas and
chooses an arrangement of the words (syntax) that expresses the relationships between the ideas. Given this
arrangement of words into phrases, clauses, and sentences, the author obeys grammar and punctuation rules to
form a series of sentences that will impart the ideas.
English rules of grammar originated in antiquity, but over centuries have evolved according to usage and are still
changing today. Thus, grammar rules may change and may be inconsistent, but usually have a functional basis.
This functional attitude toward grammar, and punctuation, is described in Effective Revenue Writing 2 (Linton
1962). A rule of grammar or punctuation with a functional basis will not prevent effective statement of ideas, nor
will following all the rules ensure effective writing.
Effective writing requires good syntax, that is, an effective arrangement of sentence elements. Obviously, an
editor is responsible for ensuring that a consistent and correct set of grammar and punctuation rules have been
applied to a report (a process often called copy editing). However, language and substantive edits, as defined by
Van Buren and Buehler (1980), involve revision of sometimes perfectly grammatical sentences to improve
effectiveness of sentence structure. This chapter discusses grammar, and the next chapter concerns sentence
structure with emphasis on methods of revision.
According to Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, grammar means "the study of the classes of words,
their inflections [changes in form to distinguish case, gender, tense, etc.], and functions in a sentence." An
abundance of good, detailed grammar, writing, and usage books are available. This chapter is not meant to be a
definitive grammar reference. It is intended to address grammatical problems often encountered in technical
documents and to indicate preference when grammar authorities do not agree. Please refer to the books cited in
the References section and others to complement and clarify the discussions that follow.

1.2. Nouns

Nouns change form to indicate case and number. The number of a noun is usually not a problem (though the
number of pronouns and verbs corresponding to the noun may be). The three possible cases are nominative,
objective, and possessive. In English, nominative and objective case nouns have the same form.

1.2.1. Possessive Case
At Langley, the preferred rules for forming possessives are as follows (G.P.O. 1984; and Rowland 1962):
• Form the possessive of a singular or plural noun not ending in s by adding 's.
• Form the possessive of a singular or plural noun ending in s by adding an apostrophe only:

Chapter 1. Grammar
Page 2

Singular
Plural

man's
men's
horse's
horses'
Jones'
Joneses'
• Form the possessive of a compound noun by adding 's to the end of the compound:
sister-in-law's home
John Doe, Jr.'s report
patent counsel's decision
• Indicate joint possession by adding 's to the last element of a series; indicate individual possession by adding 's
to each element:
Wayne and Tom's office (one office)
editor's, proofreader's, and typist's tasks
Some authorities (for example, Skillin et al. 1974; and Bernstein 1981) partially disagree with the second rule
above. They state that the possessive of a singular proper noun is formed by adding 's even when the noun ends
in s (for example, Jones's); however, a triple sibilant is always avoided (for example, Jesus').

1.2.2. Possessive of Inanimate Objects
In the past, the possessive case ('s) was not acceptable for inanimate nouns. Instead the preposition of was
preferred, that is, strength of the laminate rather than laminate's strength..
Exceptions to this rule were inanimate words representing a collection of animate beings (for example, company's
profits, university's curriculum) and words expressing measure or time (for example, 2 hours' work). Current
practice is to dispense with both the 's and the of (Skillin et al. 1974):
company profits
university curriculum
laminate strength
2 hours work
In fact, the use of 's on an inanimate object is no longer taboo, particularly if the object has some lifelike qualities
(Bernstein 1981):
computer program's name
Earth's rotation
Whether an 's can properly be added to an inanimate noun seems to be a matter of idiom. We would not say, for
example,
systems' analyst
table's top


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