- Education and Science
How to Punctuate Any Sentence with Grace and Ease
Correct Punctuation Can Be Easy!
As a copy editor and writer, it's my job to know how to punctuate any sentence with grace and ease.
Because I'm one of those annoying people who has a couple of eyes that see misspelled words and an ear for bad grammar, this is the perfect job for me.
But if your eyes and ears don't naturally lean this way, have no fear! I'll outline how you, too, can punctuate your own sentences with grace and ease.
Learn to edit your writing to make it clear and error free.
Photo Credit: rapeze artists in circus, lithograph by Calvert Litho. Co., 1890. In the Public Domain.
Use Proper Punctuation
To get your point across, punctuation
is important. Here's an example:
"Woman, without her man, is nothing."
"Woman: without her, man is nothing."
This book has a fun title for a serious topic.
Punctuation -- The Period - Full Stop
A period looks like this . .
The period's use: to stop a thought.
Example: Heather stayed in bed all day.
In this sentence, there is one thought and the period ends that thought.
Because when we write, we can sometimes get verbose (that is, we can sometimes go on and on yammering away, blah blah blah), it's important to know when to stop.
The period is used to stop a thought in its tracks. When several thoughts are mushed together and a period is forgotten, that is called a run on sentence.
Here's an example of a run on sentence: Heather stayed in bed all day she read all of her book and started another. A period is needed after "day" and the word "she" should be capitalized to start the new sentence.
The Serial Comma
Use it or not?
The debate continues of whether to
use a comma after the last item in a list.
I prefer to use the serial comma
because it is crystal clear.
Tom, Dick, and Harry wore the company
uniform, cap, and pocket protector.
Punctuation -- The Comma - Pause
A comma looks like this , .
The comma's use: to pause or separate items in a list or words in a sentence or to separate two complete sentences (a compound statement) when using a conjunction
Example: Heather ate lunch with Tom, Mike, and Sarah, and then she drove home.
In this sentence, commas separate items in a list (Tom, Mike, and Sarah) and allow a pause between the two complete sentences (the first phrase: Heather ate lunch with Tom, Mike, and Sarah, and the second phrase: then she drove home). The conjunction "and" separates the two complete sentences.
The phrase "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," which is the title of this great grammar and punctuation book comes from a classic case of the improper use of commas.
It began when someone wrote something along the lines of "The panda eats shoots and leaves."
It was incorrectly punctuated as "The panda eats, shoots, and leaves" like he's some common restaurant criminal!
Read Your Writing Aloud
When you pause,
you might need a comma.
When you complete a thought, you probably need a period, question mark, or exclamation point.
This is the best short book that touches on all of the grammar and punctuation issues you'll ever need.
Punctuation Marks -- Colons and Semicolons - Let me introduce you and let's pause to link like thoughts
A colon looks like this : .
The colon's use: to introduce new information that you just talked about
Example: Heather ate lunch with her three of her best friends: Tom, Mike, and Sarah.
In this sentence, the colon introduces the three friends.
A semicolon looks like this ; .
The semicolon's use: to pause or separate thoughts that are related but interdependent
Example: Heather ate a big lunch; at dinnertime, she still felt full.
In this sentence, the semicolon could also be replaced by a period, but since the two complete thoughts are related, the semicolon works.
Punctuation People - A Fun, Quick Look at Common Punctuation Marks
Exclamation Points - Shock! Awe! Surprise!
A exclamation point or exclamation mark looks like this ! .
The exclamation point's use: to end a statement that shows strong feelings
Example: That was the best lunch ever!
In this sentence, the exclamation mark shows how the diner felt about the quality of lunch.
Run a spell check if you're a bad speller.
Your readers will thank you.
Punctuate -- Question Marks - Ask a question
A question mark looks like this ? .
The question mark's use: to end a statement that asks a question (also called an interrogative statement)
Example: Are you coming to lunch with us?
In this sentence, the question mark ends the thought and indicates a question has been asked.
Apostrophes are often used incorrectly.
The apostrophe in 1950's should only be used
when it shows possession.
For example: Her 1950's vintage dress is cool.
When talking generally about that decade,
1950s is correct (not '50s or 1950's).
Proper Punctuation -- Apostrophes - Possession, Contraction
An apostrophe looks like this ' .
The apostrophe's use: to show possession or to use in contractions
Example: Heather's dessert arrived, but she couldn't eat it all.
In this sentence, the dessert belonged to Heather so the word Heather's shows whose dessert it was. The word couldn't is a contraction for the words could and not.
The words its and it's are both correct:
Here's how to use them:
Its is an adjective that shows
possession like hers and his.
"The dog smelled its food before eating it."
(Note: The dog wouldn't smell it is food,
would it? So, we wouldn't use the word it's.)
It's is a contraction for it is.
"It's a crying shame about Mary."
(Note: It is a crying shame about Mary.)
Its' is not a word.
Parentheses contain extra information.
(This could be details or dates that aren't
necessary for the meaning of the original sentence.)
Brackets are often used within parentheses.
(The details could include the color of clothing
[yellow shirt, khaki pants, brown shoes].)
Parentheses and Brackets - Extra information
Parentheses look like this ( ) .
Note: The singular word indicating one of these punctuation marks is called a parenthesis.
Parentheses are used: to contain information that is extra; the information could be deleted or omitted and not change the meaning of the sentence
Example: Heather's dessert (a piece of cherry pie) arrived before her salad.
In this sentence, the parentheses describe what kind of dessert Heather ordered.
Brackets look like this [ ] .
Brackets are used: most often to include more information within parentheses and in mathematics
Example: Heather wrote a restaurant review (for the Hometown News [June 16, 2012]) of her dining experience.
In this sentence, the parentheses contain the name of the paper where Heather wrote the review. The brackets contain the date when the review was published.
Parenthese / Brackets
When using parentheses or brackets, the period (or question mark or exclamation point) goes inside the end parenthesis or end bracket if the information
is a complete sentence.
Example: I saw the dog sitting by the road.
(The dog was tired and thirsty.)
But if the information is not a complete sentence,
the punctuation goes outside the ending paranthesis:
The dog was tired (and thirsty).
How to Use Quotation Marks
Correct Use of Quotation Marks
"To be or not to be."
Incorrect Use of Quotation Marks
"To be or not to be.
If you've made it this far, thank you!
I hope some of this information was helpful.
One more thing, please use a capital letter at the
beginning of a sentence. It's a rule!