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The Power of Punctuation

If you question the necessity of punctuation, here is a story that should illustrate its power.

A professor wrote on the chalkboard: A woman without her man is nothing.
He asked students to correct any punctuation errors. While most of the male students saw nothing wrong with the sentence, most of the females rewrote the sentence as follows: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” As you can see, meaning is often derived from punctuation.

The use of the comma can be tricky with lists, particularly when appositives are used. (Appositives are words that clarify a word or words that came before.)

Example: Her book dedication read: To my parents, Sophie and Andrew

If Sophie and Andrew are her parents, then no comma is used after Sophie. If the dedication were meant for her parents, for Sophie, and for Andrew (three sets of people), then another comma after Sophie would be needed to avoid ambiguity.

Example: They took in Maddie, a student, and a puppy.

Do we mean two beings: a student named Maddie and a puppy? If so, we should rewrite the sentence for clarity.

Example: They took in a student named Maddie and a puppy. OR They took in Maddie, a student, as well as a puppy.

If we mean three beings, then we should also rewrite the sentence for clarification.

Example: They took in Maddie plus a student and a puppy. OR They took in Maddie as well as a student and a puppy.

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Posted on Saturday, August 9, 2008, at 7:59 pm


Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons

Many of you have been asking for help with punctuating between clauses and phrases within sentences. You want to know when you should use a comma and when you need a semicolon. Here are a few rules with examples that I hope you find very helpful.

Commas

Rule: Use a comma between two independent clauses when conjunctions such as and, or, but, for, nor connect them.

Example: I have painted the entire house, but she is still working on sanding the floors.

Rule: If the clauses are short (your call), then leave out the comma.

Example: I painted and he sanded.

Rule: If you have only one clause (one subject and verb pair), you generally won’t need a comma in front of the conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house but still need to sand the floors.
This sentence has two verbs but only one subject, so it has only one clause.

 

Semicolons

So when does the semicolon get to have its time in the spotlight?

Rule: Use the semicolon if you have two independent clauses you are connecting without a conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house; I still need to sand the floors.

Rule: Also, use the semicolon when you have commas for smaller separations, and you need the semicolon to show a bigger separation.

Example: We had a reunion with family from Salt Lake City, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and Albany, New York.

 

Pop Quiz
Select the correctly punctuated sentence.

1a. I attend the fashion shows and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
1b. I attend the fashion shows, and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
1c. I attend the fashion shows; and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

2a. I love fashion and he loves jazz.
2b. I love fashion, and he loves jazz.
2c. I love fashion; and he loves jazz.

3a. I attend the fashion shows but not the jazz clubs.
3b. I attend the fashion shows, but not the jazz clubs.
3c. I attend the fashion shows; but not the jazz clubs.

4a. I attend the fashion shows my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
4b. I attend the fashion shows, my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
4c. I attend the fashion shows; my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

5a. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.
5b. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market, apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market, and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.
5c. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market; apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market; and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1b. I attend the fashion shows, and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

2a. I love fashion and he loves jazz.

3a. I attend the fashion shows but not the jazz clubs.

4c. I attend the fashion shows; my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

5c. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market; apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market; and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.

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Posted on Saturday, January 5, 2008, at 9:30 pm


Capitalization After Colons

Have you run across the situation where one sentence ending with a colon is followed by another sentence? Do you capitalize the first word of that second sentence? Why would you use a colon between the two sentences rather than a period or a semicolon?

Rule for colons between sentences: Use a colon instead of a semicolon or a period between two sentences when the second sentence explains or illustrates something in the first sentence.

Capitalization rule with sentences after colons: If only one sentence follows the colon, it is often not necessary to capitalize the first word of the new sentence. If two or more sentences follow the colon, capitalize the first word of each sentence following.

Examples:
One of my favorite novels is by Kurt Vonnegut: his novel Slaughterhouse-Five is often funny yet packs an emotional punch.

Garlic is used generously in Italian dishes: It greatly enhances the flavor of pasta. Garlic also enhances the flavor of lasagna, one of my favorite dishes.
Now, should you capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins a list rather than a new sentence?

Rule: Do not capitalize the first word of a list after a colon.

Example: I like the following Italian dishes: pasta primavera, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna.

Pop Quiz
Add or remove capitalization as needed.
1. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: Skylights and large glass windows have been added.
2. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: skylights and large glass windows have been added. You will also find more inventory and friendly sales help.
3. I need the following items from the store: Bread, salt, and sugar.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: skylights and large glass windows have been added.
2. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: Skylights and large glass windows have been added. You will also find more inventory and friendly sales help.
3. I need the following items from the store: bread, salt, and sugar.

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Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007, at 6:46 pm


Commas with Appositives

The definition of an appositive is a word or word group that defines or further identifies the noun or noun phrase preceding it.

Rule: When an appositive is essential to the meaning of the noun it belongs to, don’t use commas. When the noun preceding the appositive provides sufficient identification on its own, use commas around the appositive.

Example: Jorge Torres, our senator, was born in California.
Explanation: Our senator is an appositive of the proper noun Jorge Torres. Our senator is surrounded by commas because Jorge Torres is a precise identifier.

Example: Our pediatrician, André Wilson, was born in California.
Explanation: Our pediatrician is still a relatively precise identifier so André Wilson is not considered essential.

Example:
CEO Julie Minsky will be our featured speaker.
Explanation: Julie Minsky is necessary to help identify CEO, so no commas are used.

Example: Julie Minsky, CEO, will be our featured speaker.
Explanation: Julie Minsky is a precise identifier so the appositive is surrounded by commas.

Example: The girl who received a scholarship is my sister.
Explanation: The girl by itself is not sufficient information.

Example: My sister, who received a scholarship, will attend Harvard.
Explanation: My sister is a relatively precise identifier.

Example: My friend Harvey is an animal lover.
Explanation: My friend is not a precise identifier because one may have numerous friends.

Example:
Harvey, my friend, loves animals.
Explanation: Harvey is a precise identifier.

Pop Quiz
Add commas if needed.
1. Ella my little sister will escort you to your seat.
2. My little sister Ella will escort you to your seat. Hint: You have two younger sisters.

 
Pop Quiz Answers:

1. Ella, my little sister, will escort you to your seat.
2. My little sister Ella will escort you to your seat. CORRECT. No commas if you have two (or more) younger sisters.

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Posted on Sunday, September 2, 2007, at 7:11 pm


Commas Before and in a Series

In American English usage, many writers and editors feel that a comma should precede and with three or more items in a series.

Example: I would like to order a salad, a sandwich, and dessert.

Newspapers and magazines do not generally use this rule as print space is too valuable to use on what might be considered extraneous punctuation. However, print publications will use the final comma before and if it is needed to avoid confusion.

Example:
Her $10 million estate was split among her husband, daughter, son, and nephew.

Omitting the comma after son would have led the reader to believe that the son and nephew had to split one-third of the estate (each receiving one-sixth) rather than understanding that each relative received one-fourth of the estate.

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Posted on Wednesday, January 17, 2007, at 8:58 pm