Celebrating National Punctuation Day with Commas and Apostrophes

Phyl CampbellStarred Page By Phyl Campbell, 26th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1kucczsv/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Languages

I'm a day late, but in honor of National Punctuation Day, this Grammarian wanted to share some tips on comma usage.

National Punctuation Day, September 24

Since 2004, grammarians have been celebrating National Punctuation Day. Founder Jeff Rubin encourages participants to point out errors found in everyday life. I had forgotten about today, but fellow Wikinut Connie McKinney was so good to remind me! Thanks, Connie!

There are more types of punctuation than what I refer to here, but I only chose punctuation with a large number of errors. To learn more about punctuation in general, visit this link.

Like Oxygen, we need commas to breathe

Commas are very useful punctuation tools. But they are often misunderstood.
Typically, commas are used to set off part of a sentence from the rest of a sentence. In that way, commas allow the speaker to pause or the reader to take a small mental break in order to assimilate information. Look at the way that I have used the commas in this section. After the word "typically," the speaker can take a small break (breathe) before continuing with the rest of the sentence.

Commas in a list are pretty simple. If you have a list of items, use a comma to set off items in the list.

John, Paul, George, and Ringo are members of the Beatles.
The comma between George and Ringo is optional (it is called the Oxford Comma). Without John and Paul, if only two items are in a list, no comma is needed.

Did you notice the phrase, "if only two items are in a list"? Because that information is optional (the sentence will make sense without it), it can be set off by commas. Other acceptable forms of punctuation for extra information like that include parentheses and hyphens.


If you'd like to practice, or offer someone a link to a place to practice, visit this link or this link.

Apostrophes show ownership and missing letters (and that's it!)

Apostrophes

  • show ownership
  • replace missing letters
  • do not make plurals

There is a difference between it's (it is) and its (possessive pronoun that means belongs to it).

It is correct to say 1990's fashions included parachute pants, because the era "owns" the fashions in question.

But when referring to the decade that is the 1990s, no apostrophe is needed.

The same is true for multiple CDs, kids, babies, or any other plural. If it does not show ownership, and no letters are missing, please leave the apostrophes at home!!

There is a great article on apostrophes with more examples. Check it out here. My image for the first section came from a website which is very dear to my heart. You can find it here.

More English Grammar, Spelling, and Language Tips

If you found this article helpful -- and I hope you did -- check out some other articles I've written on the topic:

better spelling
sounds and silence
open letter

Or write your own Wikinut article! Follow this link to get started: click here.

Tags

Apostrophe, Commas, Connie Mckinney, English, English Language, English Online, Grammar, Mechanics, National Punctuation Day

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
I am "Author, Mother, Dreamer." I am also teacher, friend, Dr. Pepper addict, night-owl. Visit my website -- phylcampbell.com -- or the "Phyl Campbell Author Page" on Facebook.

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Comments

author avatar LoverOfGOD
26th Sep 2013 (#)

I am always reading and rereading my work before publishing it or whatever I'm doing. It's just who I am, I guess. Anyway, thanks so much for the grammar article. One day I'll get it right. Take care.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Everything in your comment was fine! Thanks for honoring the "holiday.";)

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author avatar Connie McKinney
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Great job, Phyl. I think I needed a comma there. Lol

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author avatar Terry Trainor
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Great post I am honouring the the holiday too.

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author avatar Terry Trainor
26th Sep 2013 (#)

.-- . / ... .... --- ..- .-.. -.. / .- .-.. .-- .- -.-- ... / -.-. .... . -.-. -.- / --- ..- .-. / .-- --- .-. -.- / -... . ..-. --- .-. . / .-- . / .--. --- ... - / .. - .-.-.-

It's Morse Code day too.

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author avatar Delicia Powers
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Very good information, thanks Phyl.:0)

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Connie, I usually set off names because I was taught to do that . However, newer rules say that because a person's name is important, the commas are optional. Here's more examples on that, if you're interested:
http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/general-language-discussions/3147-commas-before-after-names.html

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Terry -- you crack me up! I love the way you honour the holiday, and it's funny that Morse Code follows so soon after! And you're right, we should always check our work before we post it. Using any tools we have available will help us ensure we understand the messages meant for us, so I went to http://www.csgnetwork.com/morsecodedeconv.html to clarify your message. How sage you are, Terry!

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author avatar Terry Trainor
26th Sep 2013 (#)

You clever person you!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Terry -- you crack me up! I love the way you honour the holiday, and it's funny that Morse Code follows so soon after! And you're right, we should always check our work before we post it. Using any tools we have available will help us ensure we understand the messages meant for us, so I went to http://www.csgnetwork.com/morsecodedeconv.html to clarify your message. How sage you are, Terry!

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author avatar Mariah
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Interesting idea Terry, perhaps you could write an article on Morse Code to add a bit of fun to the grammar school curriculum.
Mariah

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

I've done one on magnets.

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author avatar Mariah
27th Sep 2013 (#)

Excellent

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Yuck -- shows what I get for typing with my computer in my lap. I've actually got a comma splice after the word "holiday" (where I should have written a dash instead), and then it posted twice. Oh, my! Just more proof that practice makes proficient -- not perfect!!

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

If I put in loads of comma's will the reader hyper ventilate?

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author avatar Mariah
27th Sep 2013 (#)

No worries there Terry, not with the quality of your writing.
You could put smiley faces on your pages and nobody would bat an eyelid.

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

Thank you Mariah

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Delicia, dear, thanks as always!

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Insightful post Phyl, thank you. I have to return to check the links. I used to make liberal use of commas to make my writings clearer. Now I do not have to feel guilty for their usage - siva

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks, Siva!

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks for your article. This quotes always make me smile:

“Making love to me is amazing. Wait, I meant: making love, to me, is amazing. The absence of two little commas nearly transformed me into a sex god.
”
― Dark Jar Tin Zoo, Love Quotes for the Ages. Specifically Ages 19-91.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Yes! I love things like that! I also love things like "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" versus "Eats shoots and leaves" or "Let's Eat Grandpa" versus "Let's Eat, Grandpa"!

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
26th Sep 2013 (#)

One of the things that I have discovered over time is that commas also add depth to a sentence and a good writer will use join words, like "and", "but", "it", as well as commas, in order join multiple propositions together into a more complex sentence which allows the writer to paint an in-depth painting to the reader and take them on a journey through their prose.

I highly recommend "Building Great Sentences" by Professor Brooks Landon of University of Iowa, he will teach you how to enhance your writing style.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
26th Sep 2013 (#)

Good thoughts, Peter.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
27th Sep 2013 (#)

thank you for this Phyl...

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
27th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks, Carolina!

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
27th Sep 2013 (#)

Terry -- your extra comments snuck in there and I almost missed them! If you put in extra commas, the reader probably would not hyperventilate -- but that's an interesting idea. I also thought your decision to show commas written as a possessive was too cute tongue-in-cheek, given that you were making an apostrophe mistake while commenting on commas!! All-in-all, too, too droll, my friend!

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

What about the semi-colon; do you ever use it instead of a comma?

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
27th Sep 2013 (#)

Well, if a semi-colon belongs, I wouldn't want to use a comma. As you point out in your question, semi-colons are effective when making two complete statements that stand on their own independently but are very related to each other in thought. Thanks, TT!

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

I was taught that one person may use a semi-colon where another might use a comma or possibly a full stop. The semi-colon is intermediate in strength it signifies a more definite halt in the flow of a sentence and the decision to make that distinction is the writer.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
27th Sep 2013 (#)

I'm sure there are occasions where that is true. In those hard-to-determine situations, I tend to employ the dash. The dash is hardly ever incorrect, and it's a lot of fun!!

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

That may be so but what if the writer considered this would weaken the striking effect of contrast which the writer wished to produce?

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

Again I was taught that a dash or a bracket was a parenthesis mark inclosing or separating a phrase that is not a grammatical part of a sentence if I use a dash then the sentence is incorrect.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
27th Sep 2013 (#)

I don't think so, but there are some strict constructionists who frown on the dash... :)

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

Hi Phyl. The dash has to be two dashes to enclose the interrupting word or phrase. What is the meaning of just one dash?

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
27th Sep 2013 (#)

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

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author avatar Terry Trainor
27th Sep 2013 (#)

Depends on what you're clapping it against.

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author avatar SusanWritesPrecise
5th Oct 2013 (#)

Great article. I'm all about punctuation! :-)

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
6th Oct 2013 (#)

Thanks, Susan!

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