Explained: The punctuation you have no idea how to use
CAN’T get your apostrophes sorted? Don’t know an em dash from an en dash? We’ve got you covered.
Please meet the punctuation most commonly abused and misused.
It’s National Punctuation Day today, so there’s no time like the present to finally master the points, marks and dashes that constantly get the better of us.
(By the way, we here at news.com.au know we’re not always perfect.)
1. THE APOSTROPHE
For such a small flick of the pen, apostrophes sure cause a lot of grief. But the rules are pretty simple.
When you’re turning something into a plural, don’t use an apostrophe — even if the word ends in a vowel. So boy becomes boys, pizza becomes pizzas, CD becomes CDs.
But if you’re expressing ownership, an apostrophe is needed. E.g. Daniel’s books, the woman’s hat, the dog’s bone.
Ownership gets trickier when dealing with more than one thing or a word ending with s. Generally, the apostrophe goes after the s at the end of the word. So if you’re writing about a group of boys and their pets, you would write the boys’ pets.
Another point on ownership: his, hers, its, ours and yours don’t need apostrophes. Ever.
Also deploy an apostrophe when you’re contracting a word — like the one in this sentence. You are became you’re. NOT your.
2. THE EXCLAMATION MARK
This one drives us nuts. It’s become ubiquitous in recent times, we think, because of text messages and emails.
How else are you going to convey your enthusiasm in writing if you don’t exclaim what you’re saying, right?! Wrong. So wrong.
Unless you rein it in a bit, the exclamation mark will lose all its usefulness! You’re diluting its power! (See what I’m getting at?!)
3. COLONS AND SEMICOLONS
These ones have really unfortunate names but are super useful. They share a key on your computer, but the similarities pretty much stop there so don’t get them twisted.
A colon is often used to introduce a list of items. I needed three things: a comma, a full stop and a question mark.
Also use a colon to introduce an explanation or definition. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do: I’m going to scream if you misuse a colon.
A semicolon is used to join two statements that could be separate sentences, but you want to convey a relationship between them, like this: John likes steak for dinner; Joan likes a roast.
4. SMILEY FACES, SAD FACES ... FACES IN GENERAL
A bit like the errant exclamation mark, faces have joined the end of our sentences with the advent of texting and emailing.
While it’s undeniably a friendly (and pretty) way to express something, :) is not punctuation. Try showing you’re a nice person through the words you choose, not the pictures you draw. That’s called manners.
5. QUOTATION MARKS FOR EMPHASIS
You’ll see this one “all” the time. To emphasise a word in a sentence, the writer often incorrectly pops quotation marks around it.
It’s unnecessary. The same goes for figures of speech. Just because you’re using a well-worn phrase, doesn’t mean you’re quoting someone.
The pool is not “a stone’s throw” away. It’s a stone’s throw away.
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