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Apostrophes, commas, and other punctuation trouble spots

August 7, 2012

Tags: grammar, style, commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, italics, British vs. American punctuation, punctuation problems

How important is punctuation? Compare these two sentences:
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.

If you don't use copy editors routinely and aren't sure when and where to place commas and apostrophes or when and whether to capitalize words, please read and bookmark some of the sites and explanations linked to below:

Acronyms and initialisms. From an informative Wikipedia entry: "...The New York Times’ guide recommends following each segment with a period when the letters are pronounced individually, as in K.G.B., but not when pronounced as a word, as in NATO. The logic of this style is that the pronunciation is reflected graphically by the punctuation scheme."

Apostrophes
• Apostrophe abuse (visual examples)
• Apostrophe Catastrophes: The Worlds' Worst. Punctuation;
• Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe. Read Richard Littlejohn's tribute to Keith Waterhouse , the legend of Fleet Street, then scroll down and read read a reprint of the classic column in which, more than 20 years ago, he launched the Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe.
• The Dreaded Apostrophe (where you can download a PDF file of this tutorial)
• How to Use an Apostrophe (Oatmeal's delicious decision chart)
• It's vs. its (Gary D. Shapiro, "changing the world one apostrophe at a time")
• Possessive apostrophes (Michael Quinion, World Wide Words)
• Problems with Apostrophes and other English language issues (Paul Doherty)
• Sharon Colon's Erring Apostrophe Picture Gallery (images of signs that drive the grammar police crazy: Sign's of the Time's, sausage sandwich's, tattoo's, jet ski's, entertainment at it's best, up-do's, water taxi's, and the like)
• Taming the Apostrophe (Write101.com)

British versus American punctuation:
• British versus American Style (The Punctuation Guide)
• Punctuating Around Quotation Marks (Quizzical, American Psychological Association blog, 8-11-11)
• Correct punctuation, British style
• Oxford English says goodbye to 16,000 hyphens (Reuters, IBN Live, 9-22-07, but American style was never "ice-cream" or "Bumble-bee" anyway)
• 'The British style'? 'The American way?' They are not so different (David Marsh, The Guardian, 5-19-11
• The Rise of "Logical Punctuation". The period outside the quotation marks is not a copy error. (Ben Yagoda, Slate, 5-12-11)
• Lickety splits: two nations divided by a common language. Are there too many 'Americanisms' in the Guardian? (David Marsh, Guardian, 11-26-10) Notice all the comments? This (albeit not about punctuation) is a hot topic!

Capitalization
• A Little Help with Capitals (OWL, the excellent Purdue Online Writing Lab)
• Capitalization (Colorado style)
• Quiz Bowl: To Capitalize or Not to Capitalize (AMA Style Insider 10-7-11). Which letters would you capitalize in this sample title: "tolcapone in patients with parkinson disease: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial"
• Capitalizing Titles (test yourself in this column by Pat McNees, APH newsletter)
• Capitalization (Dr. Abel Scribe's Guide to Chicago Style Research Papers--but of course you will HAVE the The Chicago Manual of Style

Commas
• The case for and against the Oxford comma (Warren Clements, 'Word Play,' Globe & Mail 7-18-11, with 118 comments on that date)
• CommaRules (Alisa Miller's excellent comma tweets)
• That, which, and commas (test yourself on setting off nonrestrictive phrases, Pat McNees's column for APH newsletter)
• Commas, Turning Up, Everywhere (The Onion, newsbrief)
• Going, Going, And Gone?: No, The Oxford Comma Is Safe ... For Now (Linda Holmes, NPR, 6-30-11).
• The Most Comma Mistakes (Ben Yagoda, Opinionator, NY Times, 5-21-12). An excellent survey and explanation of the comma mistakes I find most often when editing even good writers. See also Fanfare for the Comma Man (4-9-12).
• The Comma (Brazilian Press Association spot: "This one, Judge, is corrupt")
• The Comma That Costs 1 Million Dollars (Canadian) (Ian Austen, NY Times, 10-25-06)
• To comma or not to comma (OWL)
"I'm exhausted," wrote Oscar Wilde. "I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out."

Dashes, em dashes, ellipses, colons, and commas
• Dashes, Colons, and Commas (Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, 4-19-12)
• Em Dashes and Ellipses: Closed or Spaced Out? (AP vs. Chicago, 5-10-11)Dashes and Ellipses: Closed or Spaced Out? (AP vs. Chicago, 5-10-11)
• To Hyphenate or Not-to-Hyphenate (Pat McNees on appropriate hyphenation, Grammar Corner, APH). For help links about hyphenation, including when and whether to hyphenate compound words, see Hyphens and Compounds (Writers and Editors)

Editing and proofreading marks (believe me, many of these will be to fix misplaced commas, apostrophes, and other punctuation marks)
• Copyediting and Proofreading Symbols (PDF, SUNY)
• Editing and Proofreading Marks (English Teachers' Friend)
• Proofreaders' Marks (University of Chicago Style Manual)
• Proofreaders' Marks (EEI)

Quotation marks and italics
• Gallery of Unnecessary Quotation Marks
• The "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks (misinterpreting bad punctuation since 2005)

Punctuation generally
• A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman
• The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson (a book I found disappointing)
• Is This the Future of Punctuation!? (Henry Hitchings, author of The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, WSJ, 10-22-11). On the misuse of apostrophe's (did your eye just twitch?) and our increasingly rhetorical language. "Graphic designers, who favor an uncluttered aesthetic, dislike hyphens. They are also partly responsible for the disappearance of the apostrophe....Defenders of the apostrophe insist that it minimizes ambiguity, but there are few situations in which its omission can lead to real misunderstanding. The apostrophe is mainly a device for the eye, not the ear. And while I plan to keep handling apostrophes in accordance with the principles I was shown as a child, I am confident that they will either disappear or be reduced to little baubles of orthographic bling."
• Punctuated Equilibrium (John McIntyre’s excellent synthesis of the most common punctuation problems)
• Punctuation (OWL)
• Punctuation Games
• Punctuation Made Simple (Gary A. Olsen)
• Seven Punctuation Errors That Make You Look Stupid, Bill Walsh's Blogslot
• 76 Online Opportunities to Build Your Punctuation Skills (Writing Matters blog provides links to Purdue University's Online Writing Lab's exercises and quizzes on specific punctuation practices)
• The Rise of "Logical Punctuation". (Ben Yagoda, Slate, 3-12-11). "For at least two centuries, it has been standard practice in the United States to place commas and periods inside of quotation marks....But in copy-editor-free zones—the Web and emails, student papers, business memos—with increasing frequency, commas and periods find themselves on the outside of quotation marks, looking in. "
• The Tongue Untied (guide to grammar, punctuation & style for journalists--turn the pages!)
• The Alot Is Better Than You at Everything (Hyperbole and a Half)

"Punctuation to the writer is like anatomy to the artist...." ~ Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, quoting Thomas J. McCormack

This blog entry is adapted from Mastering Comma Abuse and Other Punctuation Problems on theWriters and Editors website