GrammarPhile Blog

Punctuation in the 21st Century: What You Need to Know

Posted by Kelly Sherman   Feb 8, 2017 7:30:00 AM


A Very Brief History of Punctuation

Did you know that some early Greek and Latin texts lacked any punctuation whatsoever? There often weren't even distinct line breaks or paragraphs either. It was up to the reader or orator to figure it out. Can you imagine reading dense philosophy or a mathematics lesson without the information being separated into paragraphs with sentences? Yikes!

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Topics: punctuation, periods, em dash, question mark, exclamation point

Why Punctuation Matters More Than You Might Think

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Jun 30, 2016 7:30:00 AM


Any proofreader worth their salt will tell you that a single punctuation mark can mean the difference between success and disaster. (If you don’t believe us, just ask a constitutional lawyer about the Great Semicolon Debate of 1787.)

More often, incorrect punctuation sends a message to your audience, and it’s not the one you intend. It signals that you’re sloppy in your written communications and don’t care enough to make it right. And if you’re careless in that area of your business, prospective clients will wonder if you’re sloppy in other areas. Can you afford to take that chance?

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Topics: punctuation, commas

You Want an Apostrophe with that Name?

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Dec 11, 2014 7:00:00 AM

When we proofread documents for our business clients, we often find that writers don't know how and when to use an apostrophe. Today, let's explore some rules about using an apostrophe when writing the names of organizations and products that contain words that could be considered either possessive or descriptive terms.

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Topics: proofreading, punctuation, apostrophe

Polite Requests

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Jul 16, 2014 5:30:00 AM

We're often asked how to punctuate requests properly and politely. Today's post addresses this issue.

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Topics: punctuation, question mark

"Where do question marks go?" he asked.

Posted by Phil Jamieson   May 28, 2014 6:00:00 AM


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Topics: punctuation, question mark

Quotation Marks and Other Punctuation

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Mar 19, 2014 5:00:00 AM


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Topics: quotation marks, punctuation

More About Commas

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Mar 5, 2014 6:00:00 AM

Today we'll add a few more guidelines about using commas.

The comma, aside from its technical uses in mathematical, bibliographical, and other contexts, indicates the smallest break in sentence structure. It denotes a slight pause. Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of reading being the primary goal.
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Topics: punctuation

Using Brackets in Quotations

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Jan 15, 2014 6:30:00 AM

Press releases, news reports, and newsletters often include quotations. As the writer, you sometimes find the need to explain or elaborate. You can use brackets to do so. Here's how.

Parentheses within a quotation enclose material that is part of the quotation. Brackets are the only mark of punctuation that indicate that the enclosed material is not part of the quotation.

The mayor said, "John is my choice for treasurer" may not be clear if John has not been identified or if more than one John has been mentioned. The mayor said, "John [Smith] is my choice for treasurer" uses brackets to give the surname without misquoting the mayor.

The mayor said, "He is my choice for treasurer" can be clarified by replacing the pronoun with the bracketed name: The mayor said, "[John Smith] is my choice for treasurer." The pronoun could be allowed to stay—The mayor said, "He [John Smith] is my choice for treasurer"—but it is usually better to omit the pronoun.

Here's another example:  Smith said, "The Bard of Amherst [Emily Dickinson, 1830-86] is my favorite poet." This example uses the bracketed material after The Bard of Amherst rather than in place of it, because it is not just a pronoun that would be displaced; the writer does not want to lose the epithet that Smith used but does want to explain it.

The mayor said, "Smith [who is now out on bail] may not seem the obvious choice" uses brackets to supply material that may not be essential to clarify what the mayor said but that the writer thinks readers will find relevant.

Smith said, "I base my oratorical style on that of Pliny the Elder [actually, Pliny the Younger; the elder Pliny was a naturalist] and expect to overwhelm the electorate with my eloquence" uses brackets to enclose a correction. This type of bracketed correction seems snide and often is snide—which is all right when writers are being frankly derisive. But this can be objectionable if the writer is just slipping in a little dig to make himself appear superior to whomever he is quoting.

The overuse of [sic] indicates such a smart aleck. This can be a useful device when it is important to point out an error, but it should not appear after every minor error. Minor errors should either be allowed to stand for readers to notice themselves or else be quietly corrected, except in works of literary, historical, or legal significance in which such correction would be an unacceptable violation of the text.

Excessive uses of [sic] sometimes expose themselves: "Who [sic] shall I say is calling?" she warbled indicates that the writer, ignorant of proper grammar, thinks Whom would be correct. And GrammarPhile blog readers know "Who shall I say is calling?" is indeed correct!

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Topics: quotations, quotation marks, punctuation

Common Spellings - Common Questions

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Dec 4, 2013 5:30:00 AM

2013 12 4 blogAs you can imagine, we see thousands of documents weekly at ProofreadNOW. We're cataloging a huge collection of contextual errors as we solve more and more problems for our clients.

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Topics: numbers, quotation marks, punctuation, abbreviations

Comma Comment

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Apr 10, 2013 5:30:00 AM

Don't use a comma to indicate an understood word unless the sentence requires it for clarity.

His office gave him little satisfaction, and his wife, none requires the comma after wife so that the reader can be certain that something has been omitted there--a repetition of gave him. Without the comma, the sentence could easily be taken to mean His office gave him little satisfaction and gave his wife none. (The comma after satisfaction in the original sentence does not prevent this misreading, because it may be there just to give the second predicate a parenthetical effect.) Note that the comma after wife, required as it is, is really rather a nuisance; His office gave him little satisfaction, and his wife gave him none gives more satisfaction as a sentence.

He quit his job, and his wife, her excessive social engagements does not require the comma after wife, because the only possible meaning is his wife quit her excessive social engagements. We can take out the comma and still be sure both where a word is missing and what the word is. Since the comma has no function, it should be taken out.

He had always had a secret yearning for a more contemplative life, she for a life of toil and accomplishment requires no comma after she, even though the omission-- had always had a secret yearning--is quite long.

He now has ample time to dream, she the self-respect of the breadwinner, they the loving marriage both had longed for, and I the suspicion that their solution would not work for us requires no commas to indicate the omissions, even though the omitted word changes form: she has; they have; I have.

The use of a comma to indicate an understood word or group of words is apt to make a sentence seem old-fashioned and fussy. If a sentence does seem to require such a comma for clarity, perhaps the sentence can be improved by supplying the omitted word or words or by otherwise changing the basic sentence to make the comma necessary.

From The Handbook of Good English by Edward D. Johnson.

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Topics: punctuation

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