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Common Punctuation Errors

Professionalize your writing by fixing common punctuation errors. Don't you wish you paid attention in English classes?

Apostrophe for Plurals

A very common mistake. The apostrophe is used to form contractions (e.g., It’s time to go) and to indicate possession (e.g., Mary’s car is blue), but never to form plurals.

NO: The boy’s will go to the school tomorrow.

NO: The Johnson's

OK: The boys will go to the school tomorrow.

OK: The Johnsons

It - Special Case

It has a special case of its own. Only use an apostrophe as a contraction. Say it out loud - if it sounds right, it probably is.

NO: Its perfectly normal.

OK: It's perfectly normal.

The Comma Splice

When the comma is used to separate independent clauses, there must be a conjunction connecting them. If the conjunction is not there, we have a comma splice. You can fix this mistake by using a period instead of the comma, or by adding a coordinating conjunction. A semicolon can be used, too.

NO: The car costs little, I am going to buy it.

Right. The car costs little. I am going to buy it.

OK: The car costs little, and I am going to buy it.

Quotation Marks for Emphasis

Quotation marks are mainly used to quote speech, sentences or words. They can also be used to denote irony. They cannot be used, however, to add emphasis to a word or sentence. It is common to find advertisements or promotional flyers carrying this error. If you want to add emphasis to a word, use the boldface type or all capital letters and not the quotation marks.

NO: This grammatical tip is “free”.

OK: This grammatical tip is free.

OK:  This grammatical tip is FREE.

Multiple Punctuation Marks

Unless you want to sound like an overly emotional teenager writing on MySpace, you should limit yourself to one exclamation point, regardless of how excited you might be when writing that sentence. The same applies to question marks and to the ellipsis (which should have only three dots). Also, keep in mind that exclamation points are not used that frequently in business and formal writing. If your text is loaded with them, you probably should review it.

NO: This is amazing!!!!

NO: The man was silent……

OK: This is amazing!

OK: The man was silent…

Punctuation Outside the Quotation Marks

Punctuation should go inside the quotation marks, even if it is not part of the quotation itself.

NO: Uncle John said, “My car is blue”.

OK: Uncle John said, “My car is blue.”

OK: “It won’t be necessary to inform the president,” said Emerson.

The Missing Comma After Introductory Elements

Sometimes you want to give an introduction or provide a background to a certain sentence. That is fine, but do not forget to place a comma after that introductory element. Notice that an introductory element can be a sentence (like in the example below) or a single word (e.g., however, ).

NO: Before going to the school Joe stopped at my house.

OK: Before going to the school, Joe stopped at my house.