Common Punctuation Errors

Copyblogger had a great post the other day on common punctuation errors that keep people’s writing from looking as polished as it could be. Master these few tips to keep your work looking good.

He’s given his advice on each one, but I’d like to add my own thoughts on what to watch for with each one.

1. Apostrophe for plurals- Ask yourself is you’re talking about an owner or if you’ve created a contraction. If you haven’t done either, leave the apostrophe out.

2. The Comma Splice- Ask yourself if you’re joining two related clauses or two independent full thoughts. If it’s the second, make them separate sentences. (A number of my students commit this error because they know long complicated sentences are supposed to be the sign of better writing. They learn fairly quickly that this doesn’t help.)

3. Quotation marks for emphasis- I’ve never seen this one happen, but if you feel compelled to use quotation marks, then ask yourself who you are quoting. If you aren’t quoting anybody, leave out the quotation marks.

4. Multiple exclamation marks- Your words should convey the emotion of your sentence, not your marks. Keep that in mind.

5. Punctuation outside the quotation marks- I wrestle with this one. It’s really a matter of where you live whether or not this is true. That said, if you’re writing a sentence inside the quotation marks, then the punctuation must go inside as part of the sentence.

6. The missing comma after introductory elements- Ask yourself if part of your sentence could just as easily come at the end of the sentence. If it can, put a comma behind it to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

He gives some great examples of the right and wrong way to approach these.

If you’d like to learn more about punctuation, read Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss.


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