We have all seen funny photos and quotes on Facebook, where the absence of commas make the sentence, well… ridiculous. ”We are going to learn to cut and paste children.” Don’t worry, no one is cutting children, and I am not preaching violence. This sentence, even though in a creepy way, illustrates how bad the misuse of comma is. It is not only commas, all the components of punctuation have a function and they do make difference. We certainly do not want you to cut and paste children, and make a fool of yourself, so let’s go over some of the punctuation errors that you should be avoiding.
Ugh, these commas
Since we have started with commas, let’s continue with them, shall we? It does not matter whether English is your native language, or your second, third or 100th one, you will make a comma mistake. There are generally two types of comma-error-people, those who don’t use commas, and those who overuse. It is hard to say which one is worse and I am not here to judge, so ladies and gentlemen, here are comma rules that you must know.
- Always use a comma between all items in a series
e.g. I bought a new book, a pen, couple of highlighters, and colorful stickers.
- Gotta separate those independent clauses
Don’t mind my slang for a moment. Suppose you are using conjunctions (and, or, but, etc.) in your sentence. Use a comma to separate the clauses if and only if they are two complete ideas.
USE: Jerry went to watch a movie with his friend, and then they had dinner.
Do NOT use: I need to copy and paste this whole article.
- Introductory phrase comma, introductory phrase comma, introductory phrase comma
I’m sorry I made you read it three times, I just want to make sure that it’s stuck in your head. A comma has to follow introductory and/or transition verbs .
e.g. However, I still believe that aliens do exist.
As a matter of fact, I used to be very bad at punctuation.
- Commas after relative pronouns
Now, I have to accept that this rule is a little tricky, so I want to ask you to be a little more attentive. Use a comma before a relative pronoun if the information afterward is not so necessary. That is to say, the sentence would have made sense without it.
USE: Albert Einstein, who was a great physicist, came up with the theory of relativity.
The girl who is standing in front of the mirror is my sister. HOWEVER, if you skip the pronoun who in the second sentence, you have to use a comma.
The girl, standing in front of the mirror, is my sister.
- With quotation comes a comma
This is an easy one, you just need to put a comma before you start a quotation.
e.g. Tom said, ” I can’t wait anymore, I have to leave.”Speaking of quotation marks, there is something to keep in mind: commas, periods, question marks and exclamation marks always go inside the quotation.
- Use commas with dates, addresses, and titles
e.g. On July 28, 1914 World War I started.
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, U.S.
William Gardner, Ph.D, teaches teaches Law at Harvard.
- Oxford comma: yes or no?
Hmm, tough question. Some style guides say that it is mandatory to use comma before and, some say no. Currently, pro-oxford-comma people seem to be winning. I suggest using the Oxford comma because there is a logical pause at the end of listing words.
The wrong apostrophe
It’s is not its and your’s is not yours. You will be surprised to find out how unprofessional this error makes you look. The rules of using an apostrophe are very simple. Go grab a paper and a pen, because I am going to teach you the basics.
- Indicates possession
You learned this in elementary school, I am sure you recall that to form a possessive noun, you have to add ” ‘s ” at the end of the noun (e.g. boy’s, toy’s, my father’s, etc.). There are a few exceptions so let me go over them real quick. If the noun ends with an s or it is already plural like games, then you can just add the apostrophe (e.g. My friends’ families like me).
- To shorten words or phrases
This rule basically refers to auxiliary verbs. Instead of writing do not, you can write don’t, is not – isn’t, will not – won’t, he is – he’s, and so on. Please, do NOT ever confuse it’s and its, they mean different things: its is the possessive form of it and it’s stands for it is. I know your spell check wants to correct you and that red line gets on your nerves but hey, there is the ignore button. You are smarter than your computer and you are well aware of the rule, so don’t let that piece of machine mislead you.
Common mistake: A lot of people mix these two rules together and use apostrophe, to change pronouns into a possessive form. Let’s all make a pact that from now on you are going to remember that yours, his, hers do NOT require ” ‘ ” to indicate possession.
What is deal with the semicolon?
Maybe a weird combination of a comma and a period that does not make any sense? No, semicolon IS important and you need to learn how to correctly use it. Just like the symbol, it is a combination of a comma and a period. We use commas for pauses and periods to end a sentence. There you go, that is a hint for you. Semicolon is a little more powerful than the comma and not exactly like a period. You should use it in between two clauses, which have different ideas but are too related to be in separate sentences.
E.g. My supervisor assigned me a hard task; I had to stay up late to complete it.
See, it is quite simple once you follow the examples. One last piece of advice – follow your mental grammar. Read what you have written out loud and you will literally sense what kind of punctuation you need. I hope you found this useful, and you will never copy and paste children.