Why Punctuation Matters
Next to common grammatical errors, like spelling mistakes (alot vs. a lot) and misused words (loose weight vs. lose weight), punctuation is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be.
Punctuation makes a huge impact! Take for instance this popular example of the power of punctuation:
An English professor wrote the following words on the chalkboard and asked the students to punctuate it correctly:
“A woman without her man is nothing”
All of the males in the class wrote:
“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”
All of the females in the class wrote:
“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”
Punctuation is powerful.
You can harness this power to attract new readers and keep your current readers engaged with the free Top Punctuation Howlers PDF guide.
Unlike other style guides that imprison your writing or as one author put it, cause you to “type on eggs,” Top Punctuation Howlers is easy to understand with its plethora of examples and open-writing style recommendations.
Most Experts Agree: Use Parentheses with Caution
Great for stream-of-conscious writing, parentheses are adaptable to most informal situations and can even on occasion make the reader feel like they’re part of your club. It conveys natural interjections that may occur in day-to-day conversations with those you trust, but there is also a dark side to parentheses …
Parentheses can often be jarring, lead to confusion or misinterpretation, contort the meaning of a sentence, and dangerously approach run-on sentence status.
In Brief: Use Parentheses Sparingly!
Many English language experts will warn writers that parentheses often convey a snarky, sophomoric tone to your writing with its abrupt asides and gossip-like tone. Instead of using parentheses, it’s recommended to try writing a sentence in another way or to use commas for nonrestrictive clauses.
If you won’t let that little warning dissuade you from using parentheses (as so many authors do), bear these guidelines in mind to keep your credibility and intent intact.
The Dash – The Tool for Informal Authors
The dashing and dynamic dash is used when commas, parentheses, semicolons, etc., just don’t have the empathetic oomph to convey an idea or interject a thought. However, the overuse of the dash can make your writing appear overdramatic and never ending without the finality of other stops or end punctuation marks.
Similar to the days of old typewriters, in the plain text world of online publication, creating a true dash (–) just isn’t possible. To appease dash purists – if it’s not possible to create a long dash – two hyphens side-by-side will suffice. However, it’s becoming more widely acceptable to use one dash with a space on either side – which we do here.
Is your mother in law (e.g., a lawyer or a judge)? Or is it your mother-in-law?
Perhaps it’s lost in the shadow of more grandiose punctuation marks, such as the apostrophe, comma, or semicolon, but the hyphen is a fantastic tool.
Not to be confused with the dash (which is deployed to separate ideas or sections in a sentence), the hyphen is used to join words together to make new ones and to link syllables when a word breaks off at the end of a line and continues on the next. More importantly, the hyphen brushes away ambiguity. For instance, when you tell your boss you want to re-sign your contract, he won’t think you wanted to resign instead.
Try out these hyphen usage tips to maintain your credibility and provide your readers with a little clarity!
You’ll Love the “Chicken” at Toucan’s Bayou Kitchen!
Besides quoting another person or organization, quotation marks can imply more than meets the eye.
Notice the difference between the following two menu items:
Today’s special: Chicken
Today’s special: “Chicken”
The former implies what we all know as chicken; however, the latter implies it could be anything. Perhaps it’s skunk that’s been stewing in chicken stock or it could be so good, it’s hard to believe it’s actually chicken.
Don’t leave your audience guessing! Always deliver a clear message to your readers. Try out these quotation mark tips to maintain your credibility.
Is it a Colon? Is it a Comma? No, it’s a Semicolon!
Do you feel inclined to join two independent clauses with – GASP – a comma?
Stop the presses! This isn’t a job for a comma; this is a job for the semicolon.
The Villainous Comma Splice
In case you’re not familiar with the comma splice, here’s the lowdown on this common error. A comma splice occurs when an author joins two complete sentences. For example:
The Comma Splice was last seen fleeing the crime scene, Super Semicolon was hot in pursuit. (Wrong)
A semicolon can be deployed to save the sentence:
The Comma Splice was last seen fleeing the crime scene; Super Semicolon was hot in pursuit. (Correct)
You may be thinking: “Why not just use a period?” When periods and commas can usually handle the job, the semicolon is overlooked. However, the semicolon can add a little style and clarity as well as offer a greater advantage when conveying balance or contrast.
Discover how you can use the semicolon with these tips!
Lists, Independent Clauses, Expressions, Quotations, and More
Punctuation can be difficult to get right. As one Expert Author put it, “how can anyone learn English when colon means a punctuation mark and the lower part of the digestive tract?”
The colon is more commonly used to introduce a list, a quotation, or to explain the preceding part of the sentence. The colon is also used in declarations, proclamations, formal salutations, and more. It can be a fun little piece of punctuation, but most authors tend to steer clear of its formality and confusing usage by exchanging it for the period or the more exciting hyphen.
Discover how this stout punctuation mark can add clarity and amplify your message when properly used with these tips!
Commas Help Separate You from the Cannibals
What’s so great about the comma? It clears away ambiguity, confusion, and on occasion steers us away from cannibalism. For example:
Martha finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.
Martha finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dog.
There are many, many rules for comma usage …
So many that we’re going to break it down to the most common grammatical errors involving the comma.
Prevent confusion and uphold your credibility by using these comma tips:
To Use or Not to Use the Oxford Comma
Commas are used to separate elements in a series. Some authors choose to use the Oxford Comma (a.k.a. the serial comma) and some don’t. The argument for not using the Oxford Comma generally revolves around printed publications, like newspapers, to save on space.
Possession, Contraction, Omission, and Other Apostrophe Tips
Similar to the many accents and dialects of the English language, there are many punctuation rules that vary from region to region. Many Expert Authors will follow a style guide, such as APA, Chicago, MLA, The Associate Press, etc. to ensure their writing is consistent and to uphold their credibility. You may choose a particular style based on your audience, your niche, etc. Whatever the style you use, make sure you are consistent throughout your articles.
Which brings us to today’s top punctuation howler: The Apostrophe.
Have you ever walked past an eatery and cringed when you saw the daily menu: “Come on in! Were serving burger’s, frie’s, and salad’s”?
Did it make you think: “Why would you tell me what you were serving? Or is a werewolf taking lunch orders? And what’s with the burger, the fry, and the salad? Are they fighting over possessing some mysterious object?” And then you might think it’s probably best not to go into that eatery for lunch.
If only the owners of the eatery had followed these basic apostrophe tips! Prevent confusion and uphold your credibility by using these apostrophe tips:
This Just In: Thieves Steal Critical Punctuation
Let’s say there’s a burglar on the loose. You turn on your television just as the newscaster is finishing the news alert:
“It has been reported the burglar is carrying a deadly firearm. Police caution all residents to stay indoors and lock all exterior doors. And now for your weather forecast-”
The bulletin behind the newscaster should have filled you in on the critical details, i.e. the burglar’s relative vicinity to you. However, the “Reports of a burglar in the … neighborhood” is hardly informative and it’s undoubtedly nerve-wracking.
Proper punctuation is critical to create a good user experience, as well as maintain your credibility and your message. This brings us to today’s top punctuation howler: the period, as well as its close relative the ellipsis.
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