Wednesday, June 22, 2011


am the proud owner of a summer cold. I can tell you right now that I need to get better ASAP because I have had a turkey defrosting since Monday (I defrost it in a cooler so it takes a while) and I do not want to stuff/roast a turkey and mash potatoes, etc., while I’m sick.

In order to speed health along, I spent most of the day crashed on the couch. I had the energy levels of a semi-dead slug. But, always eager to redeem the time, I decided to work on getting my YA novel ready. Okay, here’s the problem. Why is it that I always run into weird grammar problems that can’t be answered by The Chicago Manual of Style or Google? Surely, I’m not the only person in the world who has these questions. For example, how do you capitalize these sentences?

You were voted class nerd.


You were voted Mr. Popularity.


They called you The Fish.


Do you use italics because the words are being used as a term and not what the word itself is used for?

Any ideas?

And then there’s my favorite conundrum “that.” Now I know it is a relative pronoun, and I know the difference between “which,” “that,” and “who.” I know that “who” is used for persons. “That” is used for restrictive clauses. And “which” is used for non-restrictive clauses and thus must take commas because it is parenthetical. (Unless it’s the object of a preposition. Or unless you’re British, in which case, you don’t use commas with “which.”)

M’kay, so we have the usage down. But then, I read books and there are no whichs or thats where they’re supposed to be. And it’s not even in dialogue. So what’s up with that?! Can you just leave them out if you so feel led? Is it a readability issue?

Ariel watched me pour over grammar tomes and asked how long I’d wasted on this fruitless project. I told her (that?) I had no idea and I didn’t want to know. She pointed out that if I couldn’t find the answer after all that work, probably no one cared either way.

Ack! She may be right, but I care. So now I pose the question to you all. Do you have any ideas? I’m sure that I’m not the only grammar junkie out there. Help me, please. Thanks.


  1. I find that Class Nerd is a title worthy of the same capitalization of the President of the United States, which means you capitalize it if it's used with their name, such as Class Nerd Andrew or President Obama.

  2. Sorry about your cold! I was feeling rundown yesterday as well. AS for italics I tend to use them if the word is being emphasised or it's something that pertains to a certain thought. MAke sense?

  3. Summer colds are the worst because you don't expect to get COLDS in SUMMER. Anyway, hope you feel better soon!

    As for grammar, I'm all for good grammar and wish more people cared about it. However, it does sound to me that you are perhaps worrying over very tiny things. I think you should use the comma with "which," and I think we could all use with some fewer "that"s (I think people tend to overuse "that").

    Other than that, I'd say if you can't find the proper grammatical answer, just pick what seems the most correct and keep it consistent. I think that's the key, especially with how you decide to capitalize or italicize things. Consistency is key (as is readability).

  4. Hope you get better fast. Jini had a summer cold and it wasn't fast!

    Although my family would put me in the grammar-nerd list, I think readability is more important. Readers probably will read it the way their brain thinks anyway.

    There have been books I've enjoyed, but it seemed like I kept stumbling as I read. Now I wonder if it was because of the "thats" and "whiches" (is that a word?) that slowed down the pace.

    For all of the work involved, I'm glad I'm a reader instead of a writer!

  5. For the most part, I'd say if you can't find anything in your grammar books specifically addressing these issues, that means there's no cut and dry "rule" about them. So, go with your gut, make your choice, and be consistent.

    Get well soon. Summer colds stink.

  6. I ran your conundrums past my mother, who edits for a living. This is her response:

    'Unless "class nerd" is a proper name or a title, use lower case. Italicize words when you refer to them as words rather than the thing that they name. Use a comma before "which" when "which" (here I should use italics instead of quotation marks, but that function is not available here) begins a clause that refers back to the subject of the preceding clause.'

    All of which pretty much left ME in the dark, but I hope might be helpful to you!

  7. Ugh. Summer colds are horrible. I hope you feel better soon! *sends over capitalized alphabet soup* ;-)