Special thanks to our summer intern, Betsy Romenesko for your contribution to this article!

We all have our strengths.  Even the best writers have issues with punctuation, grammar and structure. Sometimes, it’s because we

  • think it sounds right that way;
  • it’s due to reading the content over and over and when we lose sight of what is wrong;
  • or we just don’t know.

When we write, we are so into what we are doing, we will stop and think, “Wait, where does that comma go?”  Never fear; frustration be gone!  It’s never too late to strengthen your writing weaknesses.  Here are a few tips to offer closure to your curiosity.

APOSTROPHES

Apostrophes can be confusing.  Used primarily to indicate ownership of a noun’s object, it’s difficult to differentiate the possessive use.  Apostrophe Anna has big toys.

  1. When Anna owns the toys, use an apostrophe and then the ‘s’.
    – Anna’s toy is pink.
  2. When Anna’s friends own the toys, use ’s’ and then an apostrophe.
    – Her friends’ toys are purple.
  3. If the noun is plural and doesn’t end with an s, use the apostrophe and then the ‘s’.
    – The children’s toys are striped.

COLONS AND SEMICOLONS

Colons and semicolons are also difficult because they are so similar. It’s easy to forget their purpose.

  1. A colon ( : ) is used to introduce or define something.
    -There are four seasons in the United States: winter, spring, summer and fall.
  2. Semicolons ( ; ) separate two main clauses that could actually also be two complete sentences. However, the sentences relate so well to each other, they flow better together when used with a semicolon.
    -The weather is nice today; I want to go outside.

COMMAS

Comma-chameleon. To use or not to use; that is the question! People are literally known to pull their hair out when making such critical decisions. How many of us received a ‘B’ for comma usage? Comma Connie’s favorite foods are ice cream and cookies.

  1. The greatest faux pas is the run-on sentence. Hopefully, you don’t get PTSD from that phrase!
    – First, know your conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet
    – Second, when two complete sentences (or clauses) are combined with the conjunction, a comma is placed after the first sentence and prior to the conjunction
  • Correct: Comma Connie loves to eat ice cream, and she loves to bake cookies.
  • Incorrect: Comma Connie loves to eat ice cream, and loves cookies.
    – Why is this incorrect? “loves cookies” is not a complete sentence, nor is it a clause. Since the noun, “She” or “Connie” is not included on that half of the sentence, it not a complete sentence.
  1. The second most common error is when it is used in a list. First, know that when the comma is used just before the conjunction, it is known as the “Oxford” comma.
    – Comma Connie likes cats, dogs, and people.
  2. In online writing and journalism, the Oxford comma is oftentimes omitted. I, personally, don’t care for the extra comma. In the US, in most cases, the last comma is optional.
    – Comma Connie likes cats, dogs and people.

QUOTATION MARKS

Punctuation around quotation marks is often confusing.  Quotation Quinn gives us the scoop.

  1. Semicolons, colons, and dashes always go outside of a quote.
    – Quinn said going outside “sounded fun”; she played in the snow.
    – Quinn thought of her “three favorite outdoor hobbies”: baseball, snowboarding, and swimming.
  2. When a period, question mark or explanation point are part of the quote, it will go inside.
    – He asked, “Does Quinn want to go outside?”
    – Quinn said, “I need to go outside!”
    – Quinn said, “I will always choose outside over inside.”
  3. If the question mark or explanation point is not part of the quote, it will be placed outside of the quote.
    – Does Quinn say, “booya”?
    – Quinn should never tell “Irish stories”!

DOUBLE QUOTES vs. SINGLE QUOTES

I don’t remember a single quotation mark ( ‘ ) in typing class. I also don’t remember it in English class. Prior to this, it was just an apostrophe. Important as that is, the single quotes have always been confusing to me. It’s finally time to put it to bed.

According to Scribendi, various countries use this mark differently. Here are some rules of thumb for those of us in North America.

  1. When using double quotations ( “ ) for a quote, use single quotations ( ‘ ) for a quote within the quote.
    – My friend said, “When my mom says, ‘come inside soon’ she means any time before dinner.
  2. For specialized fields or when referring to something, single quotes are called forward.
    – such as a letter like ‘s’
    — Use an apostrophe and then the ’s’.
    – referring to something
    — The arboretum is my ‘happy place’
    – comparing two objects
    — My son prefers ‘relaxed fit’ to ‘boot cut’ jeans.
  3. When indenting block quotations, quotes do not have to be used for the block text. However, if there is quote within the block, doubles or single quotes can be used when and how appropriately.
  4. Doubles may be used for speech and singles for thoughts.

IT’S vs. ITS

A very common mistake is using [its’} instead of [it’s].

1. [Its]* is possessive.
– Unfortunately, the local toy store closed its business.
2. [It’s] is the contraction for ‘it is’.
– It’s my mistake.

*[] brackets are used because when we used the single quotation marks, it confused the placement of the apostrophe.

Writing is difficult for everyone. No matter the issue, it’s important to be aware of the proper rules. Doing so creates an air of intelligence that will lead to respect in a plethora of fields.  Next time you want to pull your hair out, visit http://SoConnectedLLC.com/content-articles/  for these helpful tips!

About Cindy Tschosik

Professional writer, Cindy Tschosik, crafts superior content with her formula, “4 C’s and a D”:  clear, concise, creative, consistent and direct.

Close-knit relationships with clients are definitely the secret sauce that defines a succinct message and uncovers the extreme value offered.  Once defined, Cindy has the magic needed to craft high quality and compelling writings found in books, speeches, articles, blogs and marketing collateral.

When Cindy is not behind her laptop, she spends precious time with her three teens and her husband, ‘wine-ing with friends and reveling in nature’s beauty.

If you are ready to partner with a writer, get SoConnected with Cindy Tschosik at www.SoConnectedLLC.com.

P.S. (Pronounce Tschosik: TS is silent; long o – Cho-sick)