Join ACFW |  Forgot Password |  Login: 

March 2011

Well, you asked!

Elaine C. asked: Gotten or got? Is “gotten” a legitimate word in today’s modern English?
Interrupting Chicken SidebarSteph: Absolutely. The correct way to conjugate the verb “get” is get-got-gotten. The confusion comes from our British heritage. British English conjugates “get” as get-got-got. You’re safe using either got or gotten, as long as your feet are on American soil.

Wordsmithing: Interrupting Chicken

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?



Interrupting Chicken 1Interrupting Chicken!

Don’t be afraid, chickie. I’ll take you under my wing and help you through this.

Hahaha—cute, isn’t it? In a five-year-old. But not in your manuscript if interruptions aren’t correctly punctuated.

Toss in a comma, exclamation point, question mark, quotation marks—uh huh, do you know which side of the dash each goes on? Same for the ellipsis … which side?

Don’t be afraid, chickie. I’ll take you under my wing and help you through this.

In fiction, the dash is used in dialogue to show interrupted speech or thoughts. A dash shows breaks that are abrupt and strong.

For example, changing one’s mind (internal interruption):

Interrupting Chicken  2

“I might—no, I will—do what you want.”

Or, another example, cutting short one’s speech (usually because of an external interruption):

“Leave me alone or I might—”
“Might what?” [How rude!]

The ellipsis, in contrast, shows faltering or fragmented speech to indicate confusion or insecurity:

“I might … no … I will … do what you want.”                                                         
“Leave me alone or I might …” [voice trails off]
“Might what?”

Interrupting chicken 3The difference between using a dash and an ellipsis in your writing is that you’re setting up a visual signal to the reader on how to “hear” the dialogue. Ahh, power to the author! Use it!

On which side of the dash and the ellipsis does other punctuation fall? Chicken feed—not a problem!

Commas and quotation marks follow them:

“Please, don’t tell me—,” she began, but her husband cut her off.
“But … but …,” said the old goat.

Exclamation points and question marks precede them:

“I told you—or did I forget?—to pick me up at nine o’clock.”
“You’re telling me—heaven forbid!—that you drank all that?”
“I told you … or did I forget? … to pick me up at … nine.” [scratch head]
“You’re telling me … please, no! … you drank it all?”

Interrupting Chicken  2Rarely used (but still good to know) is that in an interruption that belongs to the surrounding sentence instead of to the speaker, dashes are placed outside the quotation marks:

“Come closer and”—she lowered her voice—“I’ll tell you another chicken joke.”

Interrupting chicken 3And here it is: What goes peck, peck, peck, boom?

And your reply?

“I dunno—oh, wait—I do know the answer!”                                                         


“Um … well … you’d better tell me …”

If your reply incorporated ellipses, then here’s the answer: A chicken in a minefield.



back to ezine