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Margie Church

I love it when an author says they wrote a sentence that way on purpose because it's their style.

Michelle Seabrook Pierce

I freely admit I do not know what is wrong with some of those sentences! This is frightening because I am actually writing things for publication. Can't wait for the answers.


Well, some of the sentences could be changed, but the changes are optional, as far as I'm concerned. I, too, eagerly await the answers.


Contextualization is everything, isn't it?


Agreed, SJR. I've seen many sentences like 2 and 3 before. I don't think it's wrong to break the rules when you're phrasing for effect.

Miriam St. John

My guesses:
1. Word missing after "to."
2. , and ruined - though it's a matter of choice.
3. Leave out second 'or.'
4. where, when, and by whom.
5. An em dash instead of ellipsis.
6. Leave out comma.
7. Obtained wrong word choice. Existed.
8. Remove commas before and after Charles Lindbergh (restrictive clause?)
9. After eggs, stronger punctuation. Dash , possibly colon.


1. I've never seen "lager" used as a verb.
8 depends entirely on context: Is Lindbergh the pilot of an aircraft we've been discussing? If so, perfect. If not, remove nonrestrictive commas. Query: Do we need to clarify which "he" is throwing the party?
Otherwise, I would leave these sentences as the author wrote them. If it works, it works.


At least a few Random House editors have seen the verb “to lager”: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/lager

ben w

1. I've never seen "lager" used as a verb.

It's in the OED (first citation 1946) and talk of lagering beer is pretty common among homebrewers. It is used correctly as a verb in the sentence, given reasonable assumptions about context. Confusingly, one can lager both ales and lagers.

3. Leave out second 'or.'

Resulting in "Sometimes I wish I had a dog, or a cat, a gerbil."?

ben w

I should have previewed. The lines beginning with "1." and "3." were meant to be italicized to indicate quotation, and "both ales and lagers" was meant to contain a link to a URL. (Despite the notice under the comment box advising "URLs automatically linked", when I preview with the URL in the comment box it's simply stripped out, so you may never know what the link was supposed to be.)

Natasha Fondren

Numbers 2, 3, and 4 are totally style, in my book. I agree with Danica. The context would tell you if it's a mistake or the author's style (or a failed attempt at style).


1. If you want to lager beer, you’ll need a reliable refrigerator.
-insert _chill_ after _to_..

2. The dress was splattered, torn, ruined.
-add _and_ before _ruined_.

3. Sometimes I wish I had a dog, or a cat, or a gerbil.
-delete the first _or_.

4. He was eager to explain where and when and by whom.
-replace the first _and_ with a comma after _where_.

5. And if I had seen it . . . But there’s no point in wondering.
-lowercase _But_.

6. We are ready, should something worse oppose us.

7. The purists claimed that a strict parallel obtained between examples.

8. When the mayor learned that the pilot, Charles Lindbergh, was in town, he threw a party.
-delete commas before and after the name of the pilot.

9. Her omelettes inspired several new lines of thought about the use of eggs, lines of thought that are now central to culinary theory.


I haven't read the comments yet. I would suggest the following edits.

1. ...to brew lager...

2. ...spattered, torn--ruined.

3. ...dog, a cat, or a gerbil.

4. This is a tough one without the context. The "whom" needs a verb or a preposition. I'll guess: "He was eager to explain where and when the murder happened and by whom it was done [better: ...and who did it]."

5. ...if I had seen it--but...

6. Remove the comma.

7. "obtained" is the wrong word.

8. ...the pilot Charles Lindbergh was...

9. ...use of eggs: lines of thought...

George Ernsberger

I would anticipate arguments about most of these, but I'd offer:
1. Reliable in what way? (All I know about refrigerators is they just keep running or they don't. Brewers might well know more, but wouldn't need to be told this.) I don't think the comma's needed at all, though.
2. ...splattered, torn--ruined.
3. I'd kill the first comma; "gerbil" is some sort of hard left turn--in the direction of "fern." I might even insert an "even" before the gerbil.
4. That isn't explaining; s/b something like "specify."
5. lc the "but"
6. The "should" is crappy, but I don't how how to say why, except that it's sand in the gears of this sentence--stops me in my tracks. But then, worse than what? Than us?
7. A parallel just exists--it isn't "in force," and doesn't bear any other sense of "obtains." But what had purists to do with this--was something like "is required" meant?
8. Sloppy in an impressive number of ways for a short, simple sentence, but surely kill the commas around Charles Lindbergh, at least.

N. Hawekotte

Why start at the beginning?

2. "The dress was spattered and torn--ruined." Or, less dramatically: "The dress was spattered, torn, and ruined." (I just can't get comfortable with that second comma rule).

3. Style. "...wish I had a dog or a cat, or a gerbil." (add a beat, as in "hey, maybe even a gerbil." It *is* an odd turn).

4. Agree that this is style, which would unravel with the swap of "ands" for commas and addition of "it was committed."

5. lower case b in "but."

7. What a curious sentence, and seems context-dependent. It could be revised to "were obtained between examples," but seems more likely that the purists would "*insist* that strict parallels *be* obtained between examples."

8. When the mayor learned that [delete "the"] pilot Charles Lindbergh was in town, he threw a party.

9. Ditch the redundancy and punctuation: "Her omelettes inspired several new lines of thought about the use of eggs that are now central to culinary theory." Say if quickly, and there's no inference that eggs are central to c.t., even if they are.

That was fun!

George Ernsberger

Well, okay, good lesson, and I remain your humble admirer. But . . . in 5, surely if But begins a new sentence, a "4-dot ellipsis" (or period at the end of sentence one, followed by an ellipsis, if you like) is called for, no?

Carol Saller

No, George, not really. A fourth dot serves as a period, so the thought must be complete, e.g.:

I'm not certain. . . . But there’s no point in wondering.

But the admiration is mutual! You're such a good sport.


George Ernsberger

Hm-m. Spare me just another minute or so, please. (This is the one of all of the examples where I felt sure I really should win the expected argument with the author.) It nags at me that the "but," there, can't be the beginning of a new sentence if the old one never ended--actually wasn't one, I guess that would be. I am not, these days, near a copy of CMOS, but if that's what I need, here, let me know. I miss it anyway. I'll learn to love the new Tiffany's-gift-box dust jacket. Probably.

Carol Saller

George, the closest I can come to an example in CMOS 16 is at 13.53, which shows this example:

Everyone knows that the Declaration of Independence begins with the sentence “When, in the course of human events . . .” But how many people can recite more than the first few lines of the document?

Will that do?

George Ernsberger

Thanks very much for allowing me to monopolize for a bit, there. I'll buy a new CMOS--I always loved having it at hand--but I'd probably try to persuade that author that the sentence that begins "Everyone knows" ends at "events . . ." and should have its . uh, somewhere. After the "? Ugh. Aargh.


None of these are wrong?

John Cowan

#4 reminds me of well-known limerick, here presented without insulting epithets:

A lesbian lass from Khartoum
Took a gay fella up to her room.
But they argued all night
Over who had the right
To do what, and with which, and to whom.

The commas here evidently provide the necessary pauses to allow the complex syntax to sink into the hearer's mind.

This woman was perhaps related to the hero of another limerick:

There was an old man of Khartoum
Who kept two black sheep in his room.
"They remind me," he said,
"Of two friends who are dead,
But I cannot remember of whom."


I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a good source of quizzes/copyediting practice like this. (I know that the Copyeditor's Handbook has exercises, but it doesn't include answer keys so is of little value from that perspective.) Do you happen to have a recommendation? Thanks! I recently read your book and very much enjoyed it.

Carol Saller

Shanna, thanks! Maybe other readers have some suggestions. I don't actually know of any editing exercises for you. Anyone who writes such exercises would have to choose a particular style guide to base them on, of course. Your best bet might be to take a class in the style you most want to practice.


That's a good thought. Thank you.


1. If you want to lager beer, you need a reliable refrigerator.

2. The dress was: splattered, torn, ruined.

3. Sometimes I wish I had a dog or a cat or a gerbil.

4. He was eager to explain where, when and by whom.

5. And if I had seen it . . . . But there’s no point in wondering.

6. We are ready--should something worse oppose us.

7. The purists claimed that a strict parallel could be obtained between examples.

8. When the mayor learned that the pilot, Charles Lindbergh, was in town, he threw a party.

9. Her omelettes inspired several new lines of thought about the use of eggs--lines of thought that are now central to culinary theory.

Sheila Carter

Honestly, I only see something wrong with #1 as I would take out the to before lager as lager is a type of beer, and to lager beer it makes it seem as if one is bootlegging the beer not just wanting to have some. The rest I am not sure as editing is a skill I m here to learn.

Carol Saller

Sheila, I hope you went on to read part 2 of the quiz! If you did, you know by now that you are wrong.

If you took out the "to" you would be changing the meaning of the sentence. To lager a beer (according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary) is not to bootleg it, but "to store (beer and especially lager) at cold temperatures during a period of aging often accompanied by a secondary fermentation to improve flavor and clarity."

One of the first things to learn as a new editor is to never change anything unless you're absolutely certain that you aren't doing harm!

Sheila Carter

I have to say I really did not know the answers to any of these. The one I thought I was correct on was number one in that I would take out the word two before the word lager as lager is in reference to a type of beer. So, "to lager beer" sounded as if one was bootlegging instead of wanting lager beer. However, after seeing the answer I see I was incorrect. The rest I tried, but really did not know so whether they were incorrect or not. Editing is definitely a skill I need to learn, thank you for allowing me to see this.

Carol Saller

You've already learned the most important thing: that you still have a lot to learn. Being honest and humble and kind are among the best qualifications for becoming a copyeditor! Good luck in your learning -

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