Punctuations are vital parts of written pieces. Their absence or misplacement could make your pieces look really amateurish and unprofessional to your readers. This is because they serve as torches lighting the way to the piece for your reader.
It is therefore very puzzling to see many writers ignore them, seeing such role.
Truth is: punctuations are usually the most ignored aspect of written pieces. Yes, many people throw those little grammar bits anyhow.
But why do they do that?
Most times, it is pure ignorance — many writers — especially budding Writers don’t know basic punctuation rules.
To this end, this post would educate you in 8 crucial punctuation aspects by teaching you the most common punctuation mistakes and how to avoid them.
8 Punctuation Problems And Appropriate Solutions to Them
1. The Comma
Commas have one special function — injecting necessary breaks into the text. This way they lead intonation and divides thoughts into separate logical parts. Without commas, it would be difficult to choose when to stop and how to say something contextually.
The problem: it is common to put too many of them or leave them out in your piece.
I. As a rule of thumb, always read your sentences out loud. This is one of the stages I teach in my post on rewriting. It helps you know the pause points where you need commas most.
II. Don’t put commas after “but” or “and” if the second sentence doesn’t have a subject.
III. If you observe that your Sentences have too many commas, it could mean that they are too long. Consider, replacing some of the commas with full stops and creating two or even three sentences out of one.
IV. All the introductory words (Moreover, In addition, However) are separated with a comma.
V. You should also use it before a direct quotation.
VI. Lastly whenever you need to specify some unessential information in the text, you’d better separate it with commas too.
2. It’s or Its
Aside the comma, the inappropriate use of any of these forms is the most widespread punctuation and grammar goof today. The two forms may look similar but they mean entirely two different things.
The problem: Writers, even experienced ones carelessly use one form for the other. Most times, it’s even accidental and not intentional.
I. Always remember that: ‘it’s’ is a short form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ while ‘its’ is the a possessive adjective used to symbolise relatedness or belonging of one thing to another. I must admit I make a lot of this mistake when I was just starting out too but ever since I discovered the need to always rewrite my pieces, I’ve not been caught again because I spot them easily during rewrite.
II. Just as with the comma problem above, as a rule of thumb, always read your text aloud during rewriting. This will help you spot even such mistakes as these.
This is another delicate punctuation aspect. Indeed, deciding how to correctly use apostrophes is oftentimes a headache, especially for budding Writers and non-native speakers of the English language.
The problem: misplacing the apostrophe and ignoring it in some necessary places.
Solution: it is easier to explain this with examples:
I. The ball their’s — there shouldn’t be an apostrophe here.
II. Also, carefully note the kind of noun used. If it serves as an adjectival label (e.g. Speakers retreat). In this case, no apostrophe is required either.
III. Finally, when creating possessive form for plural words, keep in mind that they already end in a plural form (usually s) and thus the apostrophe has to be placed at the end of the word (e.g. Artists’ sins).
4. Quotation marks
This is less common for professional writers. However, it sometimes appear hence the mention here.
The Problem: using quotations marks when nothing is quoted.
I. Bear in mind that: quotation marks are for quotations. Hence, you should only use them when you quote someone’s words.
II. To create emphasis, italicise or use bold font or even write it in a different colour. Just don’t use quotation marks.
III. Finally, and more importantly, the combination of quotation marks with commas, periods, exclamation marks and basically all other punctuation marks. They should be placed inside the quotation marks.
5. The Exclamation Mark!
It is commonplace to see writers – especially budding Writers, spot their pieces all over with exclamation marks. Ask them why and most would tell you that they want to create an emphasising effect. That they want to catch attention. I don’t argue, exclamations create resounding effect, but when they are too much they become simply annoying.
The problem: excessive use of exclamation marks. For instance, using them after each sentence or using three or more marks in a row.
I. As a rule of thumb, always remember that excessive use of exclamation marks won’t make your information more meaningful. Therefore, leave them for some really impressive facts or details that you want to resound.
II. Try your best to use active word forms so that instead of looking for emphasis from exclamation marks, your sentences would be active in their own strengths. This way your pieces become more and more visually attractive.
6. Hyphen or Dash
This is another popular punctuation goof among budding Writers.
The problem: although, the difference between the two is quite clear, many still mix them up. It could also be because some keyboards don’t have the proper forms of these grammar bits.
I. Understand this: the Hyphen (short line) is used to bridge two or more related words (e.g. face-to-face) while Dash (long line) is used to describe things in detail or show a better explanation of something.
II. If your keyboard doesn’t have the correct form, don’t use it, simple!
7. Colons and Semicolons
These are tiny pieces of grammar bits that like other punctuation marks have grown in misuse over time among writers.
The Problem: some Writers mistakenly use them interchangeably. Others use them in places where starting a new sentence would be much better.
I. Please note: colons are used in a text to introduce one or more items. However, try not to use colons when the list follows the verb (e.g., Jane wants loaves, Wafers, and Juice).
II. Also note: they could also be used when you are listing items one per line or when two independent clauses are used, and one of them explains another one (e.g., He truly deserves this: the dude worked his butts off for this job.).
These are increasingly getting popular as they help present information and list things in a more orderly fashion. This post you’re reading which is a classic example of what bloggers call “a listicle” is one.
The problem: most Writers see them as mere numbering of points and nothing more. They don’t know that there are grammar and specifically punctuation rules guiding their usage.
Please note these rules:
1. If one bullet covers a full sentence, use periods at the end of each. Use no punctuation marks after single words or phrases. However, the last item in the list will be followed by a period.
2. Do not use semicolons to separate the list items.
Inappropriate punctuations can make your writing look unprofessional and amateurish; they make your readers look down on you and your writing. To this end, you need to take them seriously. Deliberate practice and regular rewriting and proofreading are your way out — take them!
Question: what other punctuation goofs do you see often? Tell us by leaving a comment.
Also published on Medium.