Category Archives: Mechanics

Cumulative Adjectives vs. Coordinating Adjectives

Where do the commas go?

Quick recap: Adjectives are describing words. They describe nouns (people, places, things, ideas).

Coordinating Adjectives

Coordinating adjectives are interchangeable.

Bright, warm sunshine relaxed me.

Warm, bright sunshine relaxed me.


Sparkly, glittery earrings dangled from her ears.

Glittery, sparkly earrings dangled from her ears.

Changing the order of these adjectives does not affect the sentence’s meaning. You may have a preference, but one sentence isn’t “correct” versus the other.

Separate coordinating adjectives with a comma.

Cumulative Adjectives

Cumulative adjectives build on one another.

A few weeks ago I explained the royal order of adjectives. In the royal order of adjectives, there is a very specific order to place your adjectives.

Guess what? These adjectives, in the royal order, are cumulative adjectives.

Do not separate these adjectives with commas.

Master the Comma

I teach this lesson and many others about commas in my online course Master the Comma: Save Face, Time, and Money. It’s hosted by Udemy, which runs fantastic sales and has a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Royal Order of Adjectives

This is one of those fun grammar rules that native English speakers follow without having to be taught it explicitly. Your brain will ping when it hears adjectives out of order. Several years ago, Mark Forsyth had a tweet go viral about this.

What is the royal order of ajectives?

Adjectives are words that describe (modify) nouns. And order is to put items in a sequence. Royal, well, I don’t know why this rule gets the regal treatment. But the royal order of adjectives is the order in which we list adjectives when there are multiple adjectives modifying a noun.

Beth Hill, at The Editor’s Blog, says this order (and other similar rules) are created through use and exist to create clear communication.

Nine adjective categories (that precede the noun):

Determiner: articles (a, an, the), possessives (his, hers, theirs), and numbers.

Observation: can be objective or subjective (hot, cold, tall, short, beautiful, ugly)

Physical Description: Size, Shape, Age, Color (in this order)

Origin: where something is from (American, Australian, Brazilian, Canadian)

Material: what it’s made from (aluminum, cashmere, pipe cleaners)

Qualifier: what kind of noun you’re describing (packing tape, bubblegum tape, masking tape, washi tape)


My aunt always carried an old red plastic purse.

My aunt always carried a plastic red old purse.


Tall black iron poles guarded the fort’s entrance.

Iron black tall poles guarded the fort’s entrance.


The dozen gorgeous long-stemmed orange silk flowers made the perfect centerpiece.

The orange gorgeous dozen silk long-stemmed flowers made the perfect centerpiece.

Your Turn

Give it a whirl.

Write a sentence with your adjectives scrambled and send it my way.

Or see if you can think of an exception.

Handy Dandy Chart

Because I don’t expect you to memorize this, you can print out this chart, created by Guide to Grammar.

Ellipses aka Drama Dots

Dot, dot, dot. Does anything stir your curiosity more?

I recently heard someone call ellipses drama dots, and now I want to rename them. Drama dots sounds much more intriguing.

Figuring out how to use ellipses correctly comes with its own kind of intrigue.

Here are four ways to use an ellipsis in your writing.


When writing nonfiction, sometimes a quote is needed to lend credence to an idea or to illustrate a description. The ellipsis can be used to indicate that the writer has chosen to omit something from the quoted material, usually to maintain brevity and to focus on one idea.

Suspension Points

Fiction writers often want to increase the tension of a scene. An ellipsis can assist the writer in engaging the reader’s curiosity. What is coming after those three little dots?

Example: Now that the tell-all manuscript had been found in the victim’s attic, someone was going to wish they’d been  . . . nicer.


Fiction writers also use ellipses to show a character’s bumbling attempt to respond. Or to show a character is avoiding a direct answer to a question.

Example: “I don’t know . . . um . . . I mean, maybe.”

Trailing Off

Ellipses can also be used in dialogue to show that a character’s words (or thoughts) have trailed away without a conclusion.

Example: “I just wish you’d . . .” She looked away and blinked rapidly. No tears would fall in this argument.

Drama Dots Stand Out

Don’t overuse ellipses. They will bog down pacing in a flash if incorporated too often.

How to Format

Chicago Manual of Style gives these instructions:

1. Use three spaced periods with a space before and after.

2. Make sure all spaces are nonbreaking. This ensures that you don’t have a strange line break, with two dots on line and one lonely dot on the next line. To create a nonbreaking space, hold down Shift+Control+Spacebar.

That said, you, or your formatter, may choose to use a Unicode for ellipses to create e-book files. I will not pretend to understand how to format files in such a way, but it’s A-okay to format ellipses this way, as long as you’re consistent.

Photo by Maria Bobrova on Unsplash

The Very Sweary Dictionary

Someone once told me that cursing indicated a poverty of language. He’d been in the Navy, so I imagine he’d gotten his fill of swear words. If you agree, or don’t write in a genre where cursing is appropriate, then skip this Teaching Corner.

I know many writers are swearbears, though. Nothing can make a writer cuss louder than an unexpected Word update just when they’ve hit a writing groove and all the words are flowing easily.

How do you spell $%^#@?

And sometimes, characters curse, too. The basic swears can be found in most any dictionary. But there are so many creative options that aren’t found in Merriam Webster. And Urban Dictionary can make your eyeballs bleed. So how do you know when to hyphenate or close up that compound swear word?

The Very Sweary Dictionary

My edibuddy, Kia Thomas, has written a blogpost about this very thing. And if that’s not enough, she’s put together her own compendium, called “A Very Sweary Dictionary.” I learned a few new colorful phrases after reading this treat. You’re welcome.

As Kia says, the important thing, as always when writing, is consistency. Mark down your swear-word spellings on your style sheet, and find that writing groove again.

Photo by Ocean Biggshott on Unsplash

Punctuation Pizzazz with the Em-Dash

The em-dash is one of my favorite punctuation marks. No worries if you have no idea what an em-dash is. I didn’t either until I became an editor. Well, I knew what it was, I just didn’t know its name.

I love the em-dash because it’s got some pizazz. As a reader, it catches my eye and makes me pay attention to what follows it. As a writer, I can use it to slow a moment down fast, to create a mood, and to guide the readers’ attention to a detail I don’t want them to miss. The em-dash can’t be ignored.

The em-dash looks like this: — .

It is often confused with the hyphen (-) and the en-dash (–). But the em-dash (—) is longer than the hyphen and the en-dash. In the old days of typesetting, the em-dash was the width of the letter M, hence its name.

How do you use an em-dash:

  • To show an interruption in dialogue

“How could you let the dog eat—”

“Mom, the dog is puking on the rug!”

  • To show an abrupt break in thought

Mmmmm, these peanut butter cups are even better than Reese’s. The kids will demolish these. Where can I hi—

A better mom wouldn’t hide chocolate from her children. I should share—oh yeah, I don’t “should” myself anymore. These babies are all mi—

“Mom, what are you eating? Can I have some?”

  • To set off or amplify information (can replace parentheses, commas, or colons)

I love the heat—scorching, lizard-basking heat—but it’s weird to be sweating this much in October.

  • To show stuttering of whole words

I don’t—don’t think tubing down Deep Creek is a good idea. It’s looking not so deep.

How do you type an em-dash in Microsoft Word:

  • Autocorrect: may change two hyphens with no space into an em-dash (–). To see, type two hyphens (or minus signs), and then hit enter.
  • Keyboard shortcut: Type Control+Alt+NumLock+Minus at same time.
  • Insert Tabà Symbol à More Symbols à Special Characters à Em Dash à Insert à Close

Use with Care

Like any punctuation mark that commands the readers’ attention, use the em-dash with care. If you oversaturate your writing with them, they lose all their flavor.

A Holiday Card Punctuation PSA

Here’s my PSA for holiday card prep:

Apostrophes do NOT make a word (including your last name!) plural.

If you want to make your last name plural, add an “s” or “es” to the end of your name.

Correct: the Physiocs, the Hyders, the Witkopps, the Millers, the Evelyns

Incorrect: the Physioc’s, the Hyder’s, the Witkopp’s, the Miller’s, the Evelyn’s

I know you’re wondering about those names that end in “s” or “z”. What about them, you ask?

Correct: the Ayerses, the Cappses, the Corneliuses, the Martinezes

Now, I do not care for Ayerses. It looks wonky to me. So I opt for a rewrite.

Also Correct: the Ayers Family, the Capps Family, the Cornelius Family

Please, please, pretty please, do not add an apostrophe to your last name when you’re trying to make it plural.

And if you’re still not sure how to make your last name plural, email and ask me. I’ll hook you up!

Style Sheets

Style sheets are one of my favorite organizational tools during the line editing process. They will save you so much time as you move from line editing, or copyediting, to proofreading.

When you’re reviewing your line edits, the style sheet is like a buddy that you can refer to when you’re wondering why I made a suggested edit.

Providing your proofreader with a style sheet is a great gift and will make their process so much easier because they’ll have access to all the decisions we made for your book. And if you’re writing a series, there a must have because there is no way you’ll remember all the stylistic decisions you made when writing the first book.

Style Sheet Organization

But I know from years of working with clients that they can be overwhelming the first time you see one. Style sheets can be organized in a variety of ways, including simple lists.

Here’s what my style sheet looks like:

The style sheet I use to organize editing decisions for a manuscript. There are alphabet boxes to track capital letters and specific spellings, and there are separate blocks to track character names, punctuation conventions followed, number treatment, dates, places, and more.
An Ayers Edits style sheet

And here’s what I track with it:

  • What words are capitalized
  • What compound words are hyphenated, or open, or closed
  • Spellings of character names
  • Dates mentioned
  • Locations mentioned
  • How numbers are styled, or written
  • All the stylistic decisions that are the author’s choice
  • Rules followed for various punctuation marks, per Chicago Manual of Style
  • Formatting decisions (think italics, bold, etc.)

What do you do with the style sheet?

  • Give it to your proofreader to make her job easier.
  • Update it if/when you make changes previously noted on it.
  • Refer to it when you’re writing the next book in your series.
  • Use it to understand why I made suggested edits.
  • Learn more about the mechanics of writing (because I often include short explanations and helpful links).