6 Cases: How to Write Infrequent Phrases – Part 3

by | Writing | 2 comments

As long as readers know what I mean, does it really matter whether there’s a typo here and there, a comma in the wrong place, or a few words misspelled?’ Yeah. It does.”

Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors, by Kathy Ide, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Used by permission.

image by seeka

image by seeka

We continue with Part 3 of a 3-part series, looking at acceptable ways to write some phrases that may have puzzled you. Your publisher may have a preference.

  1. You want to write a generic name for a sweet, fizzy drink.
Image courtesy of chayathonwong2000 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of chayathonwong2000 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are some options. If your character is from a certain region, you might want to use what most people in that region say. Also for historical fiction, be careful as to when the term was introduced.

I give general locations. Search online for detailed maps that show individual states.


soft drink – (1880) Australia; New Orleans; east Texas

cola – (1920) similar to coke

pop – (1812) Midwest; Pacific Northwest; Mountain West (also soda pop); Canada; England

soda – (soda pop 1863) New England; East and West Coasts; Hawaii

coke – (1909) southern states; Europe

cold drink – southern Virginia and the Carolinas, New Orleans; east Texas

  1. You want to show two sides of something.

You can use a slash (/).

Their relationship was an on-again/off-again whirlwind.

The city stood in the middle of a Smith/Jones war.

More commonly, the / is used to show alternatives: he/she. (Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS))

  1. You want your character to interrupt her dialogue to give a thought or action that happens during the dialogue.
image by Romi

image by Romi

“This”—Deanna held up the cream puff—“is art.” (CMOS)

Note: is isn’t capitalized; no spaces around the em dashes.



  1. You want your character to finish another’s sentence.

Jenna stood with arms akimbo. “You know I love dancing and—”

“—chocolate,” John said.

  1. You want your character to tell that someone said yes or no.

“Mom said yes.” Anna smiled.

What was she going to do? Dad had said no.

(Based on CMOS.)

6.  You want your character to talk about a word.

image by Prawny

image by Prawny

When I looked this problem up in grammar books, the authors addressed cases like:

Using happy as an adjective here …


Using “happy” as an adjective here …

Both of the above cases with the word in italics or quotation marks is valid.

However, I searched five publishers to see what they did with the following cases in fiction:

I wanted to remove the word happy from the dictionary.

The word ladies seemed appropriate for the group.

Note: No italics or quotation marks (or commas) were used. And in the second case, although ladies is a plural, it is still one word.

Acceptable ways to write 6 infrequent phrases – Part 3. Click to tweet.

What is your favorite resource for grammar usage?

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  1. Jane Foard Thompson

    You answered some questions I’ve had in the past week. Thank you!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      My research definitely answered questions of my own. Thanks, Jane.

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