Did you know there's a National Punctuation Day? It was established in 2004, is celebrated on September 24th, and includes traditional activities like spotting common gaffes in everyday printed language.
Punctuation is unique to writing; in fact, it's the codified system to represent nuances in texts that are presented in spoken language by inflection and rhythm. But just like the alphabet and English spellings, it has to be studied.
Here are five common punctuation errors that often survive past college:
- Apostrophe confusion. The apostrophe has two functions: to represent missing letters and to indicate a possessive. It takes the place of the "o" in the contraction of "do not" to "don't," and appears before the "s" in "The CEO's office" to denote possession. No apostrophe is used to pluralize: "The CEO's offices."
- Excessive exclamation. Exclamation points should be used sparingly, to indicate surprise or emphasis. Used at the end of every sentence – or worse, multiple times at the end of a sentence (!!!) – actually decreases the impact of the mark by making it appear common. It's also a hallmark of younger, inexperienced writing and can make professional communication appear informal or even juvenile.
- Comma misuse. A general rule is to use a comma in a sentence where, if you were speaking, a pause would appear. More technical rules include using a comma after a form of address ("Reader, take this as an example") and not using it between independent clauses unless a conjunction is present. ("The campaign was effective, and it generated high sales," not "The campaign was effective, it generated high sales.")
- The semicolon. An addendum to the above, if you have two independent clauses that don't have a conjunction linking them, you can use a semicolon where you might be tempted to use a comma. ("The campaign was effective; Sally attributed the high sales to increased marketing.")
- Quotes. Quotation marks mark quotations, not emphasis. They can also be used to indicate that a term may not be credible; in this use, they're called "scare quotes."
Contact Hurley Write, Inc. to learn more about common punctuation mistakes, punctuation tips, and writing well.