Punctuation or Chaos



She said I saved the company

No one knows for sure what the above sentence means. It consists of six everyday words, and the first five are monosyllables, yet this simple declarative sentence has at least three quite different
meanings—maybe more, because with no period on the end, the reader can’t even be sure the sentence is complete. As it stands, we don’t know whether “she” or “I” saved the company. We don’t even know who was talking. Look:

She said I saved the company.
• She said, “I saved the company.”
• “She,” said I, “saved the company.”

Without punctuation marks, a sentence is thrown into chaos. So please spend a few minutes assessing your punctuation proficiency by taking the quiz below. The answers directly follow the test.

* NOTE: This quiz addresses punctuation rules and conventions of American English.

Punctuation Quiz

1.
A) The ship arrives at 8 p.m.. Be on time.
B) The ship arrives at 8 p.m. Be on time.
C) A and B are both correct.

2.
A) The teacher said, “This is an example of ‘an eye for an eye.’ ”
B) The teacher said, “This is an example of ‘an eye for an eye’.”
C) The teacher said, “This is an example of ‘an eye for an eye’ ”.

3.
A) Lamar is a bright, happy, child.
B) Lamar is a bright happy child.
C) Lamar is a bright, happy child.

4.
A) If I may be perfectly frank I think it’s a bad plan.
B) If I may be perfectly frank, I think, it’s a bad plan.
C) If I may be perfectly frank I think, it’s a bad plan.
D) If I may be perfectly frank, I think it’s a bad plan.

5.
A) Ask me Wednesday. We will know more then.
B) Ask me Wednesday; we will know more then.
C) A and B are both correct.

6.
A) We have come up with a travel choice for this summer; Mexico City.
B) We have come up with a travel choice for this summer: Mexico City.
C) A and B are both correct.

7.
A) The four siblings can read each other’s minds.
B) The four siblings can read each others’ minds.
C) The four siblings can read each others’s minds.
D) The four siblings can read each others minds.

8.
A) All the student’s favorite teacher is Mrs. Baines, but Mrs. Baine’s idea of a good time is fishing.
B) All the students’ favorite teacher is Mrs. Baines, but Mrs. Baine’s idea of a good time is fishing.
C) All the student’s favorite teacher is Mrs. Baines, but Mrs. Baines’ idea of a good time is fishing.
D) All the students’ favorite teacher is Mrs. Baines, but Mrs. Baines’s idea of a good time is fishing.

9.
A) Our daughter is two-years-old now.
B) Our daughter is two years old now.
C) Our daughter is two-years old now.
D) Our daughter is two years-old now.

10.
A) After reviewing the up to date documents, she pushed for environmentally-friendly practices.
B) After reviewing the up to-date documents, she pushed for environmentally-friendly practices.
C) After reviewing the up-to-date documents, she pushed for environmentally-friendly practices.
D) After reviewing the up-to-date documents, she pushed for environmentally friendly practices.

11.
A) These are just words on paper- you can choose to disagree with them.
B) These are just words on paper – you can choose to disagree with them.
C) These are just words on paper—you can choose to disagree with them.
D) A, B, and C are all correct.

12.
A) I hope you enjoyed yourself (why do I worry about that?).
B) I hope you enjoyed yourself (why do I worry about that?)
C) I hope you enjoyed yourself (why do I worry about that.)
D) I hope you enjoyed yourself (why do I worry about that).

 

ANSWERS

1. B) See Periods, Rule 2

2. A) See Quotation Marks, Rule 7

3. C) See Commas, Rule 2

4. D) See Commas, Rule 4a

5. C) See Semicolons, Rule 1a

6. B) See Colons, Rule 1a

7. A) See “Each Other vs. One Another” (Newsletter of Sept. 29, 2015, tenth paragraph)

8. D) See Apostrophes, Rules 1c and 2a

9. B) See Hyphens, Rule 4

10. D) See Hyphens, Rules 1 and 3

11. C) See Hyphens, intro (first paragraph)

12. A) See Parentheses, Rule 2b

Posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, at 9:43 am

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16 Comments on Punctuation or Chaos

16 responses to “Punctuation or Chaos”

  1. Robert says:

    Help . . . I have been studying English for many years, yet I have come to the realization that I will never know enough to properly write a novel. Am I wrong? I just can’t know every rule. That said, my new struggle has do do with question 10 (environmentally as an adverb). As you might have guessed, I got the question wrong as I thought environmentally acted as an adjective.
    Thanks

  2. Corinne H. says:

    For #12, is the below phrase also an option?

    I hope you enjoyed yourself. (Why do I worry about that?) Continue paragraph like this.

    In other words, can’t we isolate a parenthetical phrase as its own sentence with all punctuation inside the parenthesis? I’m always confused about this.

  3. S.L. says:

    Hello!
    Can the word “but” be considered an introductory phrase? For example, in the following sentences, should there be a comma after “But”?
    “But they may well say:” or “But many newspapers report…”
    (The sentences are supposed to start with “but” even though some may disapprove).
    Thanks

    • No, the word but is not considered an introductory phrase. It is a conjunction. Therefore, no comma is necessary. Most style guides do not disapprove of beginning a sentence with a conjunction; however, the Chicago Manual of Style says the following in regard to the word but:

      “Still, but as an adversative conjunction can occasionally be unclear at the beginning of a sentence. Evaluate the contrasting force of the but in question, and see whether the needed word is really and; if and can be substituted, then but is almost certainly the wrong word. Consider this example: He went to school this morning. But he left his lunch box on the kitchen table. Between those sentences is an elliptical idea, since the two actions are in no way contradictory. What is implied is something like this: He went to school, intending to have lunch there, but he left his lunch behind. Because and would have made sense in the passage as originally stated, but is not the right word—the idea for the contrastive but should be explicit. To sum up, then, but is a perfectly proper word to open a sentence, but only if the idea it introduces truly contrasts with what precedes. For that matter, but is often an effective word for introducing a paragraph that develops an idea contrary to the one preceding it.”

      • Alisande Cutler says:

        I’m just now reading this in January 2017. In the first paragraph of your reply, shouldn’t there be a semi-colon instead of a comma before “however”?

        • We are allowed some discretion in these situations. Our Rule 7b of Commas could permit a comma, while Rule 2 of Semicolons would lead us to a semicolon before however followed by a comma after. Since we do have a complete sentence following the word however, we lean toward the semicolon as you suggest, but however also would need to be followed by a comma. We’ve made these changes.

  4. lousanders says:

    Are the following 100% correctly punctuated?

    When she yelled, “Go to hell!” he became engaged. –Comma after “yelled”?

    When he asked, “Where’s the toothpaste?” Merrill said that the dog had eaten it.
    –Comma after “asked”?

    If she asks, “Where’s the wine?” tell her we’re out.
    –Comma after “asks”?

    If she says, “I’m thirsty,” tell her there’s Kool-Aid in the fridge.
    –Comma after “says”?

    The questions “Who?” “What?” “How?” and “Why?” remain unanswered.
    –Fine as punctuated –i.e., no commas?

    Her “How old are you?” “Are you single?” and “Will you go out with me?” questions vexed Mark.
    –Fine as punctuated –i.e., no commas?

  5. Ben C. says:

    I am currently writing to you because I have been reading all the information on commas and how to use them. But I still am very confused about how to use them, I understand that you use them to mark a breath in a sentence. However I have read all the rules, but I still am having trouble on knowing where to put them.

    • We understand your frustration. There are many rules about commas, and sometimes they seem contradictory. Familiarity with these rules, common sense, and thought and care when writing will pay off in the end.

  6. Astronumismatics says:

    Double Dot “..” Imminent (or more to follow). Punctuation Submission

    Punctuation Submission Double Dot “..” Imminent (or “more to follow”)

    Example: The Imminent in this sentence is placed at the end to indicate “more to follow”..

    The single Dot in punctuation is called a Full Stop or Period.

    The triple Dot is called an Ellipses… “for something has been left out” (or as we know it as well, “see below”).

    Here is my global submission on punctuation, that the Double Dot following a sentence be linked to Morse Code for 2 shorts meaning “I”, therefore my submission is that 2 Dots in punctuation at the end of a sentence to mean “Imminent” or “more to follow”.

    Full Stop, Period .

    Double Dot, Imminent ..

    Ellipses …

    Appreciate your view..

  7. Stephen Floyd says:

    I have a question regarding dashes and capitalization of the 1st letter of the word following the dash. To best explain my question I am going to put an example from a weekly prayer list I do for a local church.

    Example (this is the current way it is done)
    Jane Doe – she will begin radiation treatments in early August. (8/1)

    I have been told that people are saying that I should be capitalizing the 1st letter of the word right after the dash.
    Jane Doe – She will begin radiation treatments in early August. (8/1)

    My own personal research on quora.com showed that you do not capitalize the 1st letter of the word right after the dash unless it is a proper noun.

    Can anyone provide a definite answer for this question?

    • There are many styles and variations of lists (see our article Colons with Lists, for example).

      If all of the items in your weekly prayer list are of similar format to your example, you could simply make a sentence of each one and dispense with extraneous punctuation:
      Jane Doe will begin radiation treatments on August 1.

      If you wish to use a dash with each item, capitalization is a matter of style and preference. The Chicago Manual of Style would not follow introductory punctuation with a first-letter cap. The Associated Press Stylebook typically would.

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