I’ve been studying again. Restudying really. Some of the punctuation lessons I thought I’d learned have drifted away like smoke. I threatened to hit you with another set of punctuation and now I’m following through. What I’m attaching here is a summary sheet of the punctuation rules that I gathered from Writing Well in the 21st Century and The Elements of Style. I wanted a one-page summary so I didn’t have to keep flipping around, and I wanted a single page that I could put up on the wall by my writing desk. I’m not sure the summary will be adequate for those that haven’t read either book, but this quick reference has been great for me when I’m trying to remember where to place a comma. I’m including the text of the document below as well as an attachment for printing.
Best of luck.
Commas – never use commas between subject and verb
1. Oxford comma – choice (…apple, banana, and pear.)
2. Compound sentence – choice (They bled, and they died.)
3. Introductory modifier – choice (In 1492, she…)
4. Appositive (phrase =subject) – necessary (Sue and Ali, both noted lawyers in DC, …) If phrase or word does not = subject then no commas (Sarah’s sister Fatima was not…)
5. Nonessential clauses – necessary (When the clause can be removed without affecting the meaning of the sentence that you must use commas) Essential clauses never use commas
6. Miscellaneous – Necessary
a. Contrast (Her speech was factual, yet interesting.) Em dash can be used instead.
b. Geographical (Boston, Massachusetts)
c. Dates (December 7th, 1941, is…) International style = no commas (7 December 1941)
d. Direct address (Thank you, Dr. Colombo)
1. Use to join independent related clauses not joined by a conjunction.
2. Use to join independent clauses joined by a conjunction if the clauses have internal commas
3. Use to separate dependent clauses in a series if they are long or have internal punctuation
En Dash – no spaces on either side
1. Use to separate numbers 1860–1880
2. Use to add a prefix to a proper noun, not a hyphen. (post-Depression)
Em Dash – no spaces
1. Show a change in thought (She finished her homework—yet not in time to get credit.)
2. Join independent compound sentences instead of a conjunction—do this for emphasis.
3. Join informative phrases that used to be set off by parenthesis.
Colon – is an announcer. It tells readers to pay attention.
1. As an announcer before an item or list of items. (The warlord said two words: murder them.)
2. On the web to announce a vertical bulleted list.
3. Dramatically emphasize phrases or words. (The warlady shouted: Kill!)
Hyphen – the connector
1. Join two words to form a compound adjective (award-winning)
2. Join two words to form a compound noun (fire-fly) Beware open compounds (coffee mug) the dictionary will be the guide. Beware closed compounds (notebook). Find them in the dictionary.
3. To add a prefix (re-pay) although, in the 21st century, these are generally closed (prenuptial)
4. …but, prefixes have a hyphen if two vowels would connect (pre-election)
5. …except, most dictionaries in the 21st century are eliminating the hyphen altogether (proactive)
Parenthesis – interrupt and add to the subject of the sentence.
1. Use around words, phrases, or sentences that add to the sentence (not change the sentence).
2. Use it to slow the reader down
3. Period placement for parenthesis—word or phrase=outside; complete sentence=inside
Quotation marks, ellipses, brackets, slashes, and apostrophes all work as expected.