Hello, Lovelies! Happy New Year.
Today, I’m giving you a quick list of the top five punctuation mistakes I see most frequently while editing for clients. Now, you can watch for these errors and correct them yourself BEFORE you have to pay someone to find them. Visit the links for full discussions on each topic and examples of execution.
In no particular order:
1-Comma Splice and Missing Comma: Thinking of a comma splice as an extra or unnecessary comma without its accompanying conjunction will suffice for this quick lesson. For a full discussion on the comma splice, see Self-Editing Tip #2. To spot a comma splice, ask yourself if your sentence is actually comprised of two (or more) complete sentences linked by a comma. If yes, is there a conjunction after the comma? If no, it’s a comma splice. To fix it, your options are to add a conjunction after the comma, to change the comma to a semi-colon, or to replace the comma with a period and capitalize as necessary to form to complete and independent sentences. Similarly, a missing comma is identifiable by asking if there are: three (or more) items in a list or series, two (or more) complete sentences connected by a conjunction, or a complete sentence preceded or followed by a dependent clause. Each of these requires a comma between list/series items, independent clauses/complete sentences, and dependent and independent clauses respectively.
2-Uneeded Apostrophes: I see a lot of apostrophes used to make words plural. This is incorrect. The pluralize a word, like going from one apple to many, simply add “s.” Apostrophes are used to show ownership. They precede “s” in possessive nouns and pronouns. In the occasional instance that a plural noun shows ownership over a plural object, the apostrophe comes AFTER “s.”
3 & 4-Incorrect Placement of Quotation Marks & Paragraph Formatting of Dialogue: If you follow the link, you’ll find a full discussion on the purpose of quotation marks and how to (and not to) use them. For this tip, though, I want to assume you already know the basics and focus on where the marks belong in a sentence when there are other punctuation marks in the vicinity. Quotation marks go OUTSIDE of periods and commas at the end of a sentence of dialogue (“Sentence here,” the author said.). Quotation marks precede and follow the word or inner punctuation WITHOUT a space (“Sentence.”). Quotation marks are not necessary at the beginning and ending of EVERY sentence by the same character speaker. Place one at the beginning of a character’s dialogue and one at the end where the character is completely done speaking. 4-The next piece of text, whether narration, description, or another character speaking, will begin on a new line as a new paragraph. (“Sentence of first character is long. There are multiple sentences. You see that there only needs to be a quotation mark at the final end of that character’s speaking. After I’m done here, I will start a new paragraph–new line, indent.”)
5- Hyphens: Knowing the difference between a compound word (one word made of two parts that are, on their own, also words) and two words that we conveniently slap together linked by a hyphen is important. Some words are correct–or at least accepted–written with OR without the hyphen (anti- or anti). Some are not (weekend, not to be confused with weakened, please). In addition, some words have different meanings depending on their usage or lack of a hyphen (makeup, make up, and make-up, the former as a noun for cosmetics, middle as a verb for catching up on something or resolving and issue, and the latter used as an adjective for something being completed after the fact). In most cases spell check functions will either allow any variation because it does not have precise enough understanding of sentence and word meaning. On occasion, these programs will encourage you to correct to the wrong punctuation. Watch out.
Thanks for reading. Happy writing!
Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™