With the dozens of rules, technicalities and contradictions surrounding punctuation, it can be a headache knowing how and when to use properly. This blog won’t be a 30,000-word lecture about every small rule and detail of written English. It’s a crash course in the big ones surrounding three of the most common (and commonly misused) punctuation marks.
Apostrophes – Punctuation mark used to combine two words into a contraction or signify possession.
Can’t – Can not
He’d – He would
They’ll – They will
In most instances, the apostrophe will go at the point where the two words are joined, like in the examples above. But, there are some funky instances where it doesn’t, like in the word doesn’t.
- Singular Nouns
The captain’s ship was dinged up after the storm.
The captain has possession of the ship, so you simply add an ‘s to the end of captain.
The two businesses’ shareholders were becoming increasingly agitated.
The same as above but since “businesses” is a plural noun, you just add the apostrophe to the end of the word instead of adding the ‘s like you do with singular nouns.
Commas – Used to separate one part of a sentence from another.
1. Joining Two Independent Clauses
The man wasn’t sure whether or not he could make the jump, so he decided to take the long way around.
In the above sentence, there are two independent clauses joined by the coordinating conjunction, “so.” When that’s the case, you add a comma before the conjunction. How do you know what’s an independent clause? It’s any part of a sentence that could stand by itself as its own sentence.
2. Separate Items in a Series
Proforma offers eCommerce, graphic design, digital media and printing services.
When you’re listing out three or more things in a sentence, you’ll need to use a comma to separate them. There’s some debate on whether or not to use a comma after the second to last item in the series, (digital media in the above example) but no one’s going to bat an eye either way you use it.
3. Before a Quote
The prosecutor asked, “How do we know you weren’t there on the night of August 13th?”
When writing a quote, add a comma after the lead-in word (asked in this example) to introduce the quote.
4. After Each Part of an Address
The man lives at 123 Sequoia Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Above, you can see that the commas come after each part of the address.
5. Before Three Numerals
There are an estimated 30,000,000 people living in the country.
An easy trick here is to start at the end of the number and count by three until you get to the beginning of the number.
Hyphens – Used to join two words together when they have a combined meaning.
1. Numbers Written Out
Eighty-nine people were at the carnival last night.
When writing out a number and not using numerals, you should add a hyphen in-between the words.
2. Two Words Acting as a Single Adjective
According to Jared, the new show was must-see television.
Although they’re two separate words, “must-see” acts as a single adjective and should be hyphenated. Other examples are long-lasting, record-breaking and old-fashioned.
There’s dozens of more rules associated with commas, apostrophes and hyphens but these are just the main ones that will get you through writing your daily emails and communicating with your team. If you’re interested in learning all the rules and becoming a grammar master, I recommend checking out HubSpot’s blog on the subject.
What are some of your biggest grammar and punctuation pitfalls that we didn’t include? Leave them in the comments below!