Most of us rely on written communication to get our message across, at least to some degree. Though we now have the benefits of tools like spell-check, there are plenty of punctuation typos that can slip in under the radar and sabotage our writing.
Avoiding these common punctuation blunders will help your prose become cleaner and more professional, which, in turn, reflects on you and your business:
Misplaced apostrophes – Sometimes we get a little bit “apostrophe happy,” tossing a few in just in case we might need them. However, this little punctuation mark is often abused and misplaced. Keep in mind that you don’t need an apostrophe for a word that is plural, like when you change the word “boy” to “boys.” The only exception is when it’s the possessive form, meaning the boy or boys own something. This gets tricky two, depending on how many boys we’re talking about. If you’re talking about one boy’s ball, the apostrophe goes before the “s,” but if a number of boys share the ball, it becomes the “boys’ ball.”
A final point of confusion about this deals with words that already and in an “s,” like the name “James.” Though it may be tempting to write something like “James’s ball,” that extra “s” is not necessary. “James’ ball” is appropriate.
If the "its" fits – Along these same lines, the words “it’s” and “its” get mangled quite a bit. This one can be confusing, since, like we noted above, you usually use an apostrophe to indicate ownership. However, “its” is a unique animal, only requiring an apostrophe when used as a contraction for “it is.” If used as a possessive, we can just simply use “its.” With no extra punctuation. So if you want to say that a marble is in the bag where you left it, you would write, “It’s in its bag.”
“You’re” or “your?” – This may be the most common typo we see, though distinguishing when to use “you’re” instead of “your” is straightforward. The only time - and I mean the only time – you ever use the word “you’re” is as a contraction for “you are.” Otherwise, you always use “your.”
Colon vs. Semicolon – Some folks seem to enjoy using colons (:) and semicolons (;) as nice decorative items to make their writing look fancy. However, there are specific guidelines about when to use each one. You use a colon to separate two related thoughts, one of which cannot stand on its own as a sentence. A semicolon, however, separates what would be two separate sentences, but the content is so closely related that we don’t want them to stand completely alone.
Here is an example of the appropriate use of a colon:
“Cedric is a superstar in track: the best of the best.”
The first part of the phrase is an independent sentence, but the send half, “the best of the best,” is not a sentence, so it needs to hang on to the first have of the phrase to borrow its subject and verb.
Here we have a semicolon in action:
“I am not a fan of asparagus; I am far too picky of an eater to enjoy such things.”
In this case, both phrases can stand alone, but the second phrase does borrow an idea from the first. The words “such things” refers back to “asparagus” in the first phrase, so they’re closely related. So the second half is a continuation of the thought begun in the first half, borrowing on the subject, but it could also grammatically stand up as a sentence by itself.
Do you find these tips useful? Let me know. If response to this article is positive, I’ll plan to post more in the future to help you tighten your writing style.
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