When it comes to punctuation we tend to do one of two things, we punctuate too much or too little. Improper punctuation can lead to miscommunication so it is important that we get it right. Here are a few basics to keep in mind no matter what you are writing.

The Comma ,

Use commas to separate items in a series

Examples:  Our shopping list included carrots, bananas, and cereal.

The teacher asked students to complete math, art, and geography before the next class.

Use commas to separate nonessential clauses or phrases

Examples: My mentor, who I met last year, just wrote a book.

The Movie, starring Jennifer Hudson, was outstanding.

Use a comma after introductory words

Examples: Well, How do you feel?

Before you go, tell me the rest of your story.

Use a comma to separate two strong clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction such as an, or, but, for, nor. Leave the comma out if the clauses are both short.

Examples:  I have completed all of my work, but he is still behind on his project. I am efficient and he isn’t.

Sam’s cooking skills are good, but they could use improvement.

Avoid comma splicing like this…

I love bananas, I am always eating bananas.

The above sentence should be separated with a conjunction, semicolon or a period. See correct examples below:

I love bananas; I am always eating bananas.

I love bananas. I am always eating bananas.

I love bananas so I am always eating bananas.

Semicolon ;

Use a semicolon between independent clauses not joined by but, and, for, yet, and so

Example: Tell me what you think of it; don’t just read it to yourself.

Use a semicolon between items in a series if the items have commas

Example: The best desserts were the cake, by Donna; pie, by Kitty; and cookies, by Marion.

Use a semicolon between independent clause joined by words such as besides, for example, nevertheless, however, etc.

Example: I think we should go sailing; however, I will check the weather first.

Apostrophe ‘

To form a possessive case of a singular noun, you need to add an apostrophe and an s. If there is a double “s” sound, add only the apostrophe.

Examples: Cara’s house

Moses’ coat

To form the possessive case of a plural noun, you need to add an apostrophe after the s. If the plural form of the word doesn’t end in s, add an apostrophe and an s.

Examples: boy’s teams

Women’s soccer

Always use an apostrophe where letters have been left out in a contraction

Example: It’s (it is)

Colon (:)

Use a colon when you are trying to indicate notes will follow

Example: When you leave for camp, take these items: sleeping bag, pillow, bug spray, and sunscreen.

Use a colon just before a long statement of quote

Example: During his famous March on Washington speech, Martin Luther King addressed the crowd with the following:  I have a dream that one day this nation…

Hyphen –

Use a Hyphen with a compound adjective when it precedes the word it modifies

Example: It was a hard-fought battle.


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