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Common Punctuation Mistakes

Updated on October 15, 2014

Punctuation Errors Abound

I was just reading an online article that was well written, but it had several common punctuation mistakes. I'm a copy editor and see grammar errors and punctuation mistakes everywhere. It's a curse, I tell you.

I really enjoy reading articles for their content--to learn something new, to find something like a recipe, or just to goof off and be entertained for a few minutes--but if an article has grammatical errors, I often can't enjoy it.

These grammar mistakes are so obvious to me and it is really, truly distracting. I see so many common punctuation mistakes that I decided one way to ease my stress would be to write this Squidoo article to get it off my chest and onto the page. Here goes.

Photo of a page of text, full of punctuation marks.

Photo Credit: Peggy Hazelwood

Punctuation Marks - A quick review

Punctuation marks help make our writing make sense. A few examples of punctuation marks are to tell us when to stop (periods), when to pause (commas), and when someone is speaking (quotation marks).

  1. . The Period: The period is used in the following ways: at the end of a sentence, in abbreviations, and at the end of a sentence that asks an indirect question. Here are some examples:

    The casserole was hot.

    Mr. and Mrs. Smith brought a casserole.

    I wonder when Mary will arrive.

  2. , The Comma: Commas are used to separate items listed in a series and to separate two independent clauses in a sentence. Here are some examples:

    Mrs. Smith drank iced tea, and Mr. Smith had coffee.

    Mary, Tom, and Susan brought desserts.

  3. ' The Apostrophe: Apostrophes are used to combine two words to make a contraction and to show possession. Here are some examples of apostrophes:

    I'm hungry. (I'm is a contraction for the words I am.)

    Mary's peach cobbler was a hit with everyone. (Mary's is possessive. Mary made the peach cobbler.)

Apostrophes -- Misused Punctuation

Apostrophes show possession and help two words become one in contractions, but apostrophes are often misused too. Here are a few examples of how apostrophes are used incorrectly.

  1. In years to make them plural.

    Wrong: In the 1960's, bell bottoms were in style.

    The apostrophe before the "s" in 1960's is incorrect unless it is used to show possession. In this usage, it does not show possession. So it should be written as

    Correct: In the 1960s, bell bottoms were in style.

  2. The words it's and its are often confused.

    It's is a contraction (two words combined to form one word) for it is.

    Its shows possession.

The Elements of Style (4th Edition)
The Elements of Style (4th Edition)

This book is a classic and has stood the test of time. Buy it. Read it. Refer back again and again.

 

The Elements of Style - Strunk and White Know Their Stuff

This is a little but mighty book. Use it as a refresher when punctuation has you down for the count.

Commas -- Common Punctuation Mistakes

Commas are great little punctuation marks. They really are, but when they're used incorrectly, it drives me crazy! Here are a few of the wrong ways I see commas used all the time.

  1. After a phrase but before a parenthesis.

    Wrong: I went to the store, (Target this time) to buy tennis balls.

    The comma after the word "store" is not necessary. The writer is working too hard using "double punctuation." Either the comma could be used OR the parenthesis, but not both. It could be written as

    Correct:

    I went to the store, Target this time, to buy tennis balls.

    or

    I went to the store (Target this time) to buy tennis balls.

  2. After the month and before the year.

    Wrong: May, 1989

    The comma after the month is not necessary. If you're writing the complete date, include the comma after the date, such as May 12, 1989, but the month and year should be written thusly:

    Correct: May 1989.

The Perfect Pop-Up Punctuation Book

The period is a versatile punctuation mark. When it's used correctly, it puts a stop to things such as at the end of a sentence: I weeded the garden today. But when the period is used incorrectly, it's just confusing:

  1. In the middle of a sentence, also called an independent clause:

    Wrong: Mary ate the. toast and the jam

    The period goes at the end of the sentence.

    Another more pervasive problem is when writers use no period at the end of a sentence then start another sentence. The reader then has to reread the information to see where the break is.

Affiliate Disclosure

This author, Peggy Hazelwood, participates in Amazon, eBay, All Posters, and other affiliate advertising programs. When you click an advertising link on this page and make a purchase, I receive a small percent of the sale. Thank you for reading this far!

What grammar and punctuation mistakes do you hate to see?

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    • OneManShow profile image

      OneManShow 4 years ago

      @Scarlettohairy: Thank you. This thing has always confused me. I am not a professional writer and I haven't learned writing. Whatever I write is based on the instructions I was taught at school. I am very bad at using punctuations. Thanks.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Apostrophes where they don't belong, like in the 1960s example above,, and in it's when it ought to be its, quotation marks where italics would be better - these are real pet peeves.

    • aprildawncreati profile image

      aprildawncreati 4 years ago

      Thank you for your instruction on punctuation and grammar. I grew up with a grandmother who was very strict about this. I try really hard to get it right but for some of us it is just confusing. My personal pet peeve in writing is misspelled words.

    • profile image

      myspace9 4 years ago

      Very interesting and informative lens.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @anonymous: According to Merriam-Webster (m-w.com), thusly is a word. I know there will always be discrepancies but doing your best is a great idea!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @OneManShow: The period goes inside the quotation marks, so she is "beautiful." is correct.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Very interesting, I did a writing course because I loved writing. It was while writing short stories that I learnt how bad what I thought was my good use of English. So I stopped writing for years then I found article writing was not as critical. So now I write articles - No I am not good at it I do not know one clause or contraction from another but I enjoy it so that is why I now continue.

      Good article and I can see your point:

      BUT your use of these letters thusly - which on the internet some say is not a word. and it is explained: Thusly is a superfluous word. Because thus is an adverb in its own right, the adverbial -ly adds nothing.

      People are continually knocking each other in one way or another. I think humans should not give up altogether, whether writing or anything they try to do but do the best of their ability. No one can ask more than that. But...

    • OneManShow profile image

      OneManShow 4 years ago

      I have a question. which one is correct?

      She is "beautiful".

      she is "beautiful."

      hope you'd like to answer.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 4 years ago from USA

      Misuse of the semi-colon.

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 4 years ago

      Ohhhh Miss Scarlettohairy! I have been looking for you all my life.

      I learned to write items listed in a series with commas, including before the "and," but today's media-style drops that comma and I have been beaten by others for dropping it into my sentences. The other staggering struggle is with punctuation inside quotation marks. I still believe in the value of punctuation in speech, especially written speech. My good sense tells me to keep that punctuation, but I have faced conflicting information. I love your work around dates -- I need to reread those. It might, also, be useful to explain the "M" dash. :)

      I am delighted that you profile Strunk and White. You have chosen such a magical topic.

    • profile image

      poutine 5 years ago

      My problem is with comma.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @gottaloveit2: Love it!

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 5 years ago

      Uh oh - I think I see some issues I have. in, my writing...

    • franstan lm profile image

      franstan lm 6 years ago

      This is a perfect topic because so many people make mistakes in punctuation.