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To or Too: Guide to Proper Grammar & Punctuation

Updated on December 26, 2017
Lily Rose profile image

Punctuation & grammar, when wrong, are huge pet peeves of mine. I enjoy sharing my knowledge on this and a number of other topics.

I have been wanting to write something like this for some time now, as this subject matter is a pet peeve of mine. I try really hard when reading someone’s writings to remember that not everyone is as picky as I am about proper grammar and spelling, but it’s hard. To me a lot of it seems like common sense (like their vs. there). Now don’t get me wrong; I did not major in anything to do with this subject matter, nor am I an expert on it, but I do feel that I have a pretty good base of knowledge simply because I pay attention to it. I actually enjoy proof-reading other peoples’ writing.

Like I said, I’m no expert. I think my first sentence up above sounds just fine, but the Microsoft Word Spelling & Grammar checker tells me that it should read “I have wanted,” rather than “I have been wanting.” You be the judge.

I’ve compiled a list of errors I see often and here are some of them (you can click each one individually to be taken directly to that section):

Some of the above topics are open for interpretation or preference, such as the use of a colon and hyphen. Some are absolutes that everyone should be aware of. I know there are many people here on HubPages from Europe or other countries and I have no idea if the rules are different there, but I would think that most of this is pretty universal. I hope no one takes this as an insult. I know there are many people out there that just simply don’t give a damn and if you’re one of those people you’ve probably already stopped reading. If you do care, I hope that this “guide” will be a handy resource for you. Feel free to make suggestions if you think there’s anything else that should be covered and I would be glad to edit the article to fit it in. Here we go:


Proper Use of the Comma

The rules for commas are somewhat complicated, but make a huge difference in meaning. Consider the difference between “No dogs please” and “No dogs, please.” Many would understand the first to mean the same as the latter–please don’t bring any dogs in here. But in fact the first does not really say that–it is a wrong generalization that dogs do not please when, in fact, many dogs do please. Dogs love to please!

Another great example is the title of one of my favorite books on punctuation, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” On the cover is one Panda bear erasing the comma, and another walking away with a gun in hand. With the comma, you picture someone eating, shooting, and then leaving. Without the comma, it states what a Panda eats: shoots & leaves.

Amazon is the premiere online place to go for books, and you'll find tons on grammar & punctuation. These all received great reviews:

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

This one is my favorites - the subject matter may appear dry, but this was a very entertaining book to read!


Here are the rules:

  • Commas for lists

Commas divide items in lists. The rule here is that the comma is correct if you can replace it with the words and or or. "I went to the store, grabbed some lunch, and then returned home." It could also be said as: "I went to the store and grabbed some lunch and then returned home."

Many people were taught that commas are not required before the and at the end of a list. The rule here is very controversial. According to an expert linguist I met, "There are two conventions and you simply have to be consistent with the one you have chosen to follow." Some people prefer the example given above (comma before the final and) and some are against it. I prefer it.

Commas in lists of adjectives follow basically the same rule when thay are "coordinate adjectives." Coordinate adjectives are adjectives that are placed next to each other in a sentence wherein both adjectives hold equal importance and function independently. There exists two tests to determine whether or not a comma is necessary between adjectives. If the answers to these two tests are "yes," then a comma should be used.

  1. Can an "and" be placed between the adjectives without changing the meaning of the sentence?
  2. Does the sentence sound okay if the adjectives' order were reversed?

Here are some examples:

"It was a clear, sunny day." "It was a clear and sunny day" sounds smooth. "It was a sunny, clear day" also sounds smooth.

"She was a tall, beautiful woman." "She was a tall and beautiful woman" sounds good, as does "She was a beautiful, tall woman."

Where it can get confusing is where word pairs act as a single word, like young woman or disc jockey, making the comma unnecessary. In this instance, the use of the comma, albeit correct in both of the below examples, changes the meaning of the sentence. Here's an example:

"He was a smart, young man."

"He was a smart young man."

  • Commas for joining

Commas are used when two clauses are joined together, using such conjunctions as and, or, but, while, and yet. Example: I wanted to remodel my kitchen, but I really couldn’t afford it. However, when using however, nevertheless, or therefore to join two sentences, you must use a semicolon before these words instead of a comma, and place a comma after the however, nevertheless, or therefore (also discussed below under "semicolon" rules).

  • Commas fill gaps

Is this almost over? I hope so, but I doubt it. Kade had dark hair; Quince, fair. This one involves missing words implied by a comma.

  • Commas before direct speech

This one is a pause-for-breath comma: The poor girl said, “Doesn’t anyone like me?”

  • Commas setting off interjections

“Stop, or I’ll shoot!”

  • Commas that come in pairs

Bracketing commas are used to mark both ends of a weak interruption to a sentence or a piece of additional information. If the interruption or information was to be lifted out of the sentence, no damage to the sentence would be done. Example: “I am, of course, dragging this on too long.” Also, “Poor John, who never did harm to anyone, really got the shaft this time.”


When to Use a Semicolon

A semicolon is used between two related sentences where there is no conjunction (and, but) and where a comma would be ungrammatical. I remember when she couldn’t even stand up; now she’s running all over the place.

The semicolons also acts as a sort of policeman when too many commas can cause confusion, such as:

"Fares were offered to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, Peru, Chile, on the South Pacific coast, and Venezuela. She thought about it. She’s been to Venezuela once and found it dull, to Argentina, and found it too busy."

The semicolon can restore order:

"Fares were offered to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital; Peru; Chile, on the South Pacific coast; and Venezuela. She thought about it. She’s been to Venezuela once and found it dull; to Argentina, and found it too busy."

When using however, nevertheless, or therefore to join two sentences, you must use a semicolon before these words instead of a comma, and place a comma after the however,  nevertheless, or therefore.


When to Use a Hyphen

Many words require hyphens to avoid ambiguity. A re-formed rock band is very different from a reformed rock band. Get it? Also, it is necessary to use a hyphen when spelling out numbers, such as forty-four. Certain prefixes require hyphens, such as "pro-Americans" or "anti-Obama."

Of course, a hyphen is also used to indicate that a word is unfinished and continues on the next line.

Lastly, when a hyphenated phrase is coming up, and you are qualifying it beforehand, it’s necessary to write, “I have a three- and four-year-old.”

Use of a colon for dialogue:

KYLE: What is she talking about?

TRACY: I have no idea!

KYLE: I sure hope it will end soon.

TRACY: Me too!

When to Use a Colon

A colon is used to announce what is to come and is usually preceded by a complete sentence. Colons introduce the part of the sentence that restates, exemplifies, explains, undermines, elaborates, or balances the preceding part.

More formal roles of the colon are to start lists, set off book and film sub-titles, and separate dramatic characters from dialogue (above).

To or Too?

Uuugghh – this is the one that I find most frustrating!  It’s really quite simple, though.  If in the context of your sentence you are using it to say also, or to refer to an extra or excessive amount of something, use too.  For instance:

"I’m too tired to cook dinner."

"I ate entirely too many beans."

"I would love to have a million dollars, too."

Please, people, this one is so easy to remember, yet it seems almost no one gets it right!  You just need to make a conscious effort to think about it each time you start to write to

Your and You're

People get this wrong all the time. It’s simple-the apostrophe indicates a contraction, so pronounce it and see if it makes sense in your sentence.  A contraction is the shortened form of a word or phrase in which an apostrophe indicates the omitted letters or words

Your is used when talking about something that belongs to someone. “You forgot your briefcase.”

You’re is the contraction of you are. Would you use that in the sentence above? “You forgot you are briefcase.” No, I don’t think so.

There or Their

This may sound extreme, but I pulled my 4-year-old daughter out of preschool and switched her to a new school because her teacher did not know the difference between there and their. On the second day of school, her teacher handed out a letter to the parents that basically outlined what her plans were and how she likes to teach the children. In it she discussed how she prefers to have the children learn to spell there first names first, then once they master that she helps them master there last name. It went on and on like that and there were a total of around six or seven sentences that called for their, but she used there every time!

If it had happened only once (maybe twice) then it could have possibly been overlooked and thought of as an innocent mistake, but getting it wrong every time – six times! – that tells me that she just doesn’t even know the difference. That’s pretty inexcusable for a teacher, and she was very young so she hadn’t been out of school very long. I know it was only preschool and my reaction was perhaps harsh in some eyes, but I felt pretty strongly about not wanting my daughter to be taught by a teacher who doesn’t know proper grammar.

Here’s the difference:

There is used to describe a place. "The magazines are over there."

There is a possessive form of they and is used to indicate possession. "My friends have lost their tickets."

Let’s just throw in they’re for good measure; remember, it is the contraction of the words they and are. "Hurry, they’re coming!"

When to Use I or Me

There’s a very simple way to figure out which is correct. Let’s say the sentence is “Harriet and I/me went shopping.” All you have to do is drop the ‘Harriet and’ and say it with both options and you’ll know which one is right.

Obviously, “Me went shopping” doesn’t sound right, whereas “I went shopping” does. Therefore, “Harriet and I went shopping” Is the proper sentence.

"They did it for Mike and I."  Applying the test, "They did it for I" doesn't sound right, but "They did it for me" does.  So the correct wording would be "They did it for Mike and me."

Final Thought

This is a huge pet peeve of mine, so I just had to add this after seeing someone in a forum thread actually use it correctly (thank you WriteAngled), which is unusual...

I constantly hear people saying "I couldn't care less" about something and it drives me crazy! If you can care less, then do it! If it's already at the bottom of your care list and if what you are trying to say is that you don't care, then it's "I couldn't care less," as in "I could not care less." Please work on this people!

If you've made it this far, thank you for being interested!  I hope this serves to help many, many people - or at least one?  


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    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 4 years ago from East Coast

      Thank you Amy! That's exactly the intent I had when I wrote this hub; love to help!

    • profile image

      Amy Patee 4 years ago

      Fabulous! Thanks for this. I will be bookmarking and using it again and again. I love simple ways to remember proper grammar!!!

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 4 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      Great! My Hubpage for the beginning of this series is

      This is where I will add your HubPage link. Thank you! Hope we can work together. Thanks! Michele

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 4 years ago from East Coast

      Of course, misslong123. I'm always supportive of getting this information "out there!" Let me know when you publish your hubs and perhaps I can link yours as well.

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 4 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      To and Too = my biggest pet peeve. lol. I'm writing a few HubPages on grammar and such, and I was wanting to see if you would give me permission to add this link to mine, so that you will gain more followers and so that my readers can view this valuable information. Michele

    • lindalou1963 profile image

      Linda 5 years ago from Texas

      Very informative, thanks for sharing!

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast

      I hear you, Smilingjimdickson! I get a little overly irritated when I come across most of these common mistakes too. That's not to say that I don't make an error every now and then, but they are usually not obvious ones! Thanks for your comment.

    • smilingjimdickson profile image

      smilingjimdickson 6 years ago from Too close to the moon

      Oh Lily, hopefully a huge percentage of society will read your post and learn that the comma does not go before "And" as it really irritates me. They might notice how to spell it too!!!

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Great ..Thanks for the post..

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast

      Thank you, htodd and deblipp. I, too, am always pleased when I read something that is well written which may not normally be so. I'm having trouble now, though, figuring out if my previous sentence is well written and makes sense! Hmmm...

    • deblipp profile image

      deblipp 6 years ago

      I am always delighted by grammar and punctuation sticklers!

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for writing Great Hub

    • profile image

      Jess 6 years ago

      Oh, lovely article! Things like this drive me bonkers. I play World of Warcraft some, and am constantly seeing people saying "I want to go to", or "he's got to much," or even "I'm headed too the city"... yeah. What in heck has happened to the grammar of this country??

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 7 years ago from East Coast

      Howard, those are two of my favorite things to work with! I don't use the TOC so much because it's not always appropriate or necessary, but the RSS I use on pretty much all of my hubs to help keep readership, provide more information if related, and to keep the page "fresh" for Google. Thanks for your behind-the-scenes help, Howard; I am truly grateful!

    • Howard S. profile image

      Howard S. 7 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

      There are two devices here I need to try: the TOC and the RSS.

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 7 years ago from East Coast

      Glad to be of help to you!

    • astigpinoy16 profile image

      astigpinoy16 7 years ago from Philippines

      Great hub, English is not my native language so it helps me a lot.

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 7 years ago from East Coast

      Thank you, Nelly!

    • profile image

      Nelly Ating 7 years ago

      Wonderful article.I Was actually looking for something to help me write an article. I guess this was very resourceful. I would rate this 10/10.

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 7 years ago from East Coast

      Hi Sufi! I'm glad I'm not the only one that 'could care less' irritates! I must admit, I have yet to encounter 'mute point' - or maybe it I've heard it and because it's so close to 'moot', my ears automatically corrected it!

      Another one that drives me crazy? 'Nother' - a bastardization of 'another', get it right people! Either use another or other; another doesn't break down to "another", it's "an other"!

      Okay, I'm calm now! Thanks for your comment, Sufi!

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Great Hub, Lily - I must admit that I never knew about the semi-colon before however and nevertheless. I shall reform my ways!

      Good call on the 'could care less' - that irritates the crap out of me. The other one that seems to be growing is the 'mute point.' Where the hell did that come from?

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 7 years ago from East Coast

      Thanks Nit Picker! I totally missed that one! Your job is not a sad one - I would love to get paid to review and correct peoples' spelling and grammar!

    • profile image

      Heir-splitting Nit Picker 7 years ago

      "bottom of your care list and If what you are trying to say is that you don't"

      "If" -->"if" / "IF" (as of emphasis.)

      ...sorry, couldn't help. I do this for living. Sad job but it pays my bill. :))

    • OpinionDuck profile image

      OpinionDuck 8 years ago


      I rated your hub with an up, and I also bookmarked it for easy reference.

      For my hubs, I choose to use my own style. I prefer color in written document to highlight and focus my ideas. Writing hubs, I have a limited avenue for my freedom of writing style, so I have chosen non grammatical means to accomplish them.

      For Example, In My Titles, I Capitalize All The Words In It. I would use color and bolding, if they were available to me, when writing my hubs.

      Feel free to comment on the grammar in any of my hubs, I could use the review of proper grammar.

      Although my biggest problem is not proof reading some of my hubs. What I thought that I had typed never made it to the hub.

      Thanks, for the grammar guide. Incomplete sentence.

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 8 years ago from East Coast

      Thank you, 50 Caliber and BPop!

      So, Holle, how did I do, English teacher? Thanks for stopping by!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Don't EVEN get me started! I'm a retired English teacher! Great hub!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 8 years ago

      Terrific hub. There is nothing like a good refresher course to get the brain working again!

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 8 years ago from Arizona

      A fine lesson, as it has reminded me of the proper use, of many things lost to memory of lessons decades old, thanks

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 8 years ago from East Coast

      Thanks, UW!

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 8 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Excellent article and definitely needed.

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 8 years ago from East Coast

      Well, I'm glad I'm not alone!

      I would love an apple, Ralwus; I've not eaten all day as I was working so hard on this. I here you! Ha!Ha!Ha!

      Randy, thanks for visiting. Yes, "that" is quite annoying when used in excess. I can see I missed a lot, but I had to stop somewhere; it was getting too long!

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 8 years ago from Southern Georgia

      This is a much needed hub, LR. One of my peeves is writers using the word "that" throughout their articles.

    • profile image

      ralwus 8 years ago

      Oh I do enjoy an English class now and again to refresh my memory. Especially with such a lovely teacher. Want an apple? Can you here me? LOL It drive me bonkers as well. I do mess up now and again.