By no means am I a grammar expert. However, I have been collecting tips for self-editing. Below are my notes for punctuation. Most of the information comes from Grammar Girl.
Never use both a period for an abbreviation and a period for a stop at the end of a sentence.
- It is 3 A.M. (correct)
- It is 3 A.M.. (incorrect)
In the case of a question flurry, you do not have to capitalize the new fragments.
- May I have a pencil? Two pencils? Three pencils? (correct)
- May I have a pencil? two pencils? three pencils? (also correct)
Indirect questions should end with periods.
- I wonder why he went to the store.
Indirect questions mixed with quotations are a different story.
- The question is, did he go to the store?
Question Marks vs. Exclamation Points
In the case of a single word, such as “what,” use the most appropriate punctuation to convey meaning.
- A basic question – “What?”
- An OMG moment – “What!” (Even though it is a question, if the shock is more important than the inquiry, use an exclamation point.)
Use to avoid confusion when two adjectives modify a noun.
- I want a short-haired dog. (The hair is being modified, thus the need for a hyphen.)
Use a hyphen for clarity.
- You re-press pants. You repress memories.
A dash is like a comma or parentheses in that it offsets part of a sentence. Em dashes are used to draw attention to something.
- You are the one, the only one, who offered me help. (correct)
- You are the one—the only one—who offered me help. (correct and more emphatic sounding)
Em Dashes vs Ellipses
Use an em dash when someone is cut off mid thought or sentence. Ellipses replace dropped words. Use them when omitting part of a quotation or when a thought is trailing off.
- “You said he was—”
“Yes, I did.” (The first person was cut off.)
- I wonder if he… (The thought has trailed off.)
How to type an ellipse! Technically, they are written as “space dot space dot space dot space.” However, you are to include the spaces yet also be sure that the ellipse is not broken over two lines. That can get tricky and is thus why many people place the three dots not only next to each other, but also immediately next to a word.
Note: Punctuation can come at the end of an ellipse. Hmm . . . !
Word will turn three consecutive periods into an ellipse so they will not wrap on the page. Hmm…! (Technically, this is not what you want, but it is very effective when producing electronic documents like ebooks.)
A complete sentence followed by an ellipse totals four periods….
If the parentheses include additional information, the punctuation used for the main sentence resides outside of it.
- I went to the store to buy a few things (apples, peaches, bananas).
- I went to the store to buy a few things (apples, peaches, bananas), and then I went home.
If a complete sentence resides inside the parentheses, it is treated as such.
- I went to the store to buy a few things. (I bought apples, peaches, and bananas.)
In the United States, punctuation occurs within quotes.
- “No,” he said.
- I said, “No.”
In England, often the reverse is true.
- “No”, he said.
- I said, “No”.
Quote marks within quote marks act like brackets in algebra. So does punctuation.
Is this punctuated properly? “So, I just walk in and say, ”Hi, Dad.”?”
The Oxford Style Manual seems to say that in this particular case you’d drop the full stop, but it’s not completely clear. In section 5.13.2 (quotation marks – relative placing with other punctuation) it states, “Usually, only one mark of terminal punctuation is needed. When the requirements of the quotation and the main text differ, use the stronger mark.” So theoretically, if you consider the full stop to be less important to the sense of the sentence as a whole than the question mark, you should drop it and just use the question mark. HOWEVER, it then goes on to say that if the punctuation inside and outside the quotation marks are EQUALLY important to the sense, you should keep both. The example they give is: Did he really shout “Stop thief!”?
So, it’s a matter of judgement – is the full stop as important to the sense of the sentence as the question mark is? Decide that, then follow the appropriate rule, but basically, yes, “So, I just walk in and say, ”Hi, Dad.”?” is correct.
Apostrophes – showing possession
If a name ends in s, possession can be shown in one of two ways. The choice is stylistic.
- “This is Niles’s hat.”
- “This is Niles’ hat.”
One school of though states that the sound of the s dictates the apostrophe. If it sounds like a z, using an apostrophe at the end is preferred. If it does not, using an ‘s is preferred.
Note: Many would argue that consistency between the use of s’s and s’ is more important than the z sound. Therefore, in Scary Modsters I chose to consistently use s’ for these two names.
For the plural of something ending in s, use ‘.
- I went to the Joneses’ house.
The Serial Comma separates more than two items in a list.
- I want apples, peaches, bananas, and pears.
Separate adjectives are distinguished by a comma.
- I have a small, blue ball.
Two complete sentences (independent clauses) are spliced with both a comma and a conjunction. (Conjunctions are FANBOYS; for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.)
- I have a ball. I went to the store.
- I have a ball, and I went to the store.
Commas offset Subordinating Conjunctions where two independent clauses are placed together, thus making one dependent (or “subordinate”) upon the other. (Subordinating Conjunctions are: after, although, as, as if, as long as, as much as, as soon as, as though, because, before, even, even if, even though, if, if only, if when, if then, in as much, in order that, just as, lest, now, now since, now that, now when, once, provided, provided that, rather than, since, so that, supposing, than, that, though, til, unless, until, when, whenever, where, whereas, where if, wherever, whether, which, while, who, whoever, why.)
- Because it is raining, we have an umbrella. (When the dependent clause is placed first in a sentence, use a comma between the two clauses.)
- We have an umbrella because it is raining. (When the independent clause is placed first and the dependent clause second, do not separate the two clauses with a comma.)
Use commas around non-essential elements where the absence would not change the meaning of the sentence.
- His friend, Johnny, went to the store.
- His friend went to the store.
Use commas in “if clauses” where the action depends on something else.
- If you have any questions, let me know.
If a sentence starts with an interjection, use a comma or an exclamation point.
- “Hey! I can ride a bike.”
- “Hey, I can ride a bike.”
Use a comma to separate an introductory word (or phrase) from an independent clause. Introductory words are frequently adverbs, such as above all, actually, finally, for example, furthermore, hesitantly, in fact, instead, quickly, nevertheless, right now, slowly, still, suddenly, therefore, thus, and (un)fortunately. An exception can be made when the introductory phrase is short (fewer than 5 words) and begins with a preposition (to, for, at, etc.).
- Slowly, he walked down the road.
- Instead of walking, he ran.
- By flashlight we walked down the road. OR By flashlight, we walked down the road.
A semicolon splices two complete (closely related) sentences that use conjunctive adverbs. You should be able to replace it with a period and the sentences will make as much sense.
- The temperature was below zero; I wondered if I would freeze to death. (correct)
- The temperature was below zero. I wondered if I would freeze to death. (correct)
Use semicolon with conjunctive adverbs to splice two sentences. (Conjunctive Adverbs are accordingly, additionally, also, besides, comparatively, consequently, conversely, finally, further, furthermore, elsewhere, equally, hence, henceforth, however, in addition, in comparison, in contrast, in other words, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, namely, nevertheless, next, now, on the contrary, otherwise, rather, similarly, still, subsequently, then, therefore, thus, yet.)
- The drive to Reno is long. I will stop on the way. (correct)
- The drive to Reno is long; hence, I will stop on the way. (correct)
Note: If a conjunctive adverb is used in any other position in a sentence, it is set off by commas. “Nonetheless, some colleges are making efforts to trim budgets and pass along the savings.” “Secretary Bennett, however, maintains that more federal aid would only encourage universities to count on the government to meet any increases they might impose.”
Never use semicolons with coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS) unless for clarity in a list that requires commas.
- I will visit San Francisco, California; Reno, Nevada; and Provo, Utah. (correct)
- I will drive to Reno, Nevada, and I will fly to Provo, Utah. (correct)
- I will drive to Reno, Nevada; and I will fly Provo, Utah. (incorrect)
Colons work great in a list. If you can substitute the word “namely” for the colon, you are using it properly.
- My favorite foods are pizza and chocolate.
- I have two favorite foods: pizza and chocolate.
- I have two favorite foods, namely pizza and chocolate.
Colons can splice two sentences together without an additional word, thus emphasizing the relationship. Never use a colon after a fragment.
- This band is wildly popular: they sold out Madison Square Garden. (correct) (Note, the attached sentence is not capitalized.)
- This band is wildly popular. They sold out Madison Square Garden. (correct)
Got any more tips? I’d love to hear them.