- Education and Science
Common Punctuation Mistakes
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).
- . 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.
- , 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.
- ' 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
I went to the store, Target this time, to buy tennis balls.
I went to the store (Target this time) to buy tennis balls.
- 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:
- 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.
More Grammar Help
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!