The way we use commas either helps or hinders our writing.
What punctuation mark has caused more problems than the comma? Rhetorical question, you say? What’s rhetorical? you ask. I’d tell you if I knew. But today I’d like to discuss the most abused, misused, overused, and misunderstood punctuation mark of them all: the comma.
Author Amy Einshon calls commas the “copyeditor’s nemesis” because comma misuse is one of the toughest grammar nuts to crack. Yes, commas can be difficult, but with a little effort, we can master them (or die trying). Continue reading “The Lowly Comma: Eight Ways to Fix Its Misuse and Abuse”
Do you struggle with any of these?
Whether you’re an employee writing a business letter, report, or memo; a job seeker crafting a cover letter to submit with an application; a student working on a dreaded writing assignment for class; or a social-media poster, you’ll want to avoid these common punctuation errors.
1. Quotation marks inside of punctuation. Ninety-nine percent of quotation marks in American English go outside of adjacent punctuation*—specifically, commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points. For example, Continue reading “Five Common Punctuation Errors to Avoid”
Today’s featured “punctuation problem” is apostrophe use and misuse.
Let’s review the main uses of the apostrophe:
- Singular nouns are made possessive with an apostrophe-s, even if the noun ends in -s: (ex. the blog’s writer; my boss’s office).
- Plural nouns ending in -s are made possessive with an apostrophe alone (ex. the students’ papers).
- Plural nouns ending in another letter are made possessive with an apostrophe-s (ex. the children’s toys).
Use an apostrophe to form contractions. The apostrophe represents a missing letter or letters and connects (or contracts) two words together into one new word. The first sentence of this article has three contractions:
- it’s (for it is)
- you’d (for you would)
- haven’t (for have not)
Missing Letters or Numbers
Apostrophes may be used to represent or “stand in for” letters or numbers, similar to their use in contractions:
- I love rock ‘n’ roll (note the two apostrophes: one for the a and one for the d).
- I’m dancin‘ and singin‘ in the rain (the apostrophes “stand in” for the missing g’s).
- I graduated from high school in the ‘70s (note: the apostrophe represents the 19, and there is no apostrophe following the number. This is written wrong frequently).
Use an apostrophe, rarely, when needed to avoid confusion:
- Be sure to mind your p’s and q’s.
But Not Most Plurals
Use only an -s (with no apostrophe) to form the plurals of dates, acronyms, and family surnames:
- The Great Depression occurred in the 1930s [not the 1930’s].
- The high school students took their SATs [not SAT’s] on Saturday.
- The Garcias [not the Garcia’s] invited everyone to their home for Thanksgiving.
Avoid Apostrophe Misuse and Abuse
- Do NOT use apostrophe’s to make word’s plural (as in this sentence). We see this form of apostrophe abuse so often at the market that it has its own label: the green grocer’s apostrophe.
- Do NOT use an apostrophe in the pronoun its:
Wrong: The dog is chasing it’s tail.
Correct: The dog is chasing its tail.
Please share your examples of apostrophe misuse and abuse. And feel free to share this article on your social media sites.
© 2017 by Dean Christensen.
Do you make any of these common punctuation errors?
The purpose of punctuation isn’t to trouble us with pointless, hard-to-remember rules but to increase the clarity of our writing.
With this in mind I invite you to test your grasp of punctuation basics by taking a short, ten-item quiz. Keep in mind, there is one thing wrong with each numbered item. Find it and make a mental correction (paper and pencil are not required). This will be simple for some and more challenging for others. In all cases, reviewing the explanations below ought to reinforce your punctuation skills. Have fun. (And feel free to like, share, or make a comment.) Continue reading “Fun with Punctuation: A Short Quiz”
Often humorous, always educational, this website promotes standard written and spoken American English.
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