Six Common Punctuation Errors that
Bedevil Bloggers

Question Marks

Proofreading your text for misspelled words and grammatical mistakes is essential. What about the punctuation, though?

Despite being more subtle, these errors can equally hurt your credibility. I’m going to point out six common punctuation errors that you shouldn’t be making, and give you examples so you’re sure about the right way to handle these situations.

Ready? Let’s go.

1. Apostrophe for Plurals

This mistake is particularly common among foreigners who are learning English as a second language. After all, you would expect native English speaks to know how to form plurals (right?). The apostrophe is used to form contractions (e.g., It’s time to go) and to indicate possession (e.g., Mary’s car is blue), but never to form plurals.

Wrong: The boy’s will go to the school tomorrow.

Right: The boys will go to the school tomorrow.

2. The Comma Splice

When the comma is used to separate independent clauses, there must be a conjunction connecting them. If the conjunction is not there, we have a comma splice. You can fix this mistake by using a period instead of the comma, or by adding a coordinating conjunction.

Wrong: The car costs $10000, I am going to buy it.

Right. The car costs $10000. I am going to buy it.

Right: The car costs $10000, and I am going to buy it.

3. Quotation Marks for Emphasis

Quotation marks are mainly used to quote speech, sentences or words. They can also be used to denote irony. They can’t be used, however, to add emphasis to a word or sentence. It is not rare to find advertisements or promotional flyers carrying this error. If you want to add emphasis to a word, use the boldface type and not the quotation marks.

Wrong: This gift is “free”!

Right: This gift is free!

4. Multiple Punctuation Marks

Unless you want to sound like an overly emotional teenager writing on MySpace, you should limit yourself to one exclamation point, regardless of how excited you might be when writing that sentence. The same applies to question marks and to the ellipsis (which should have only three dots). Also, keep in mind that exclamation points are not used that frequently in business and formal writing. If your text is loaded with them, you probably should review it.

Wrong: This is amazing!!!!

Wrong: The man was silent……

Right: This is amazing!

Right: The man was silent…

5. Punctuation Outside the Quotation Marks

If you are writing in American English, other punctuation should go inside the quotation marks, even if it is not part of the quotation itself. British English, on the other hand, places punctuation that is not part of the quoted sentence outside of the quotation marks.

Wrong in American English: Uncle John said, “My car is blue”.

Right in American English: Uncle John said, “My car is blue.”

6. The Missing Comma After Introductory Elements

Sometimes you want to give an introduction or provide a background to a certain sentence. That is fine, but do not forget to place a comma after that introductory element. Notice that an introductory element can be a sentence (like in the example below) or a single word (e.g., however, moreover and so on).

Wrong: Before going to the school Joe stopped at my house.

Right: Before going to the school, Joe stopped at my house.

What other punctuation mishaps do you make, or what drives you crazy when others fracture the rules?

Daniel Scocco is the editor of Daily Writing Tips. For more great advice on becoming a stronger writer, subscribe today.

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  1. And there is one more confusing thing about the apostrophe. As you pointed out, it is used for contractions or when we are showing possession. “Mary’s cat.” HOWEVER, when the word is IT — oh, boy, we have a problem!! The rule has an exception. The correct use of it in the possessive has NO apostrophe. This is so confusing for people! Don’t despair — I have come up with the perfect solution. NEVER USE AN APOSTROPHE WITH THE WORD IT. All you have to do is this: If you are saying “it is,” don’t use “it’s.” Use “it is.” There is no other situation where you use an apostrophe with the word IT. “The paper is ruined. Its ink is smeared.” Look strange? IT IS correct. There is no apostrophe for the possessive IT. So, if you just write “it is” when you are saying “it is,” (for example, instead of “it’s all right,” say “it is all right”), you can stand out like the intelligent person you really are. Never ever ever ever use an apostrophe with the word “it.” Voila! Brilliant! (You might want to leave out the multiple words too. Ha ha.)
    Cheers, Suzanna
    Author, “Little Shifts”

    • Ha! That is the exact rule that I was looking for – I never know when to use an apostrophe with”it”, and I don’t trust Word to know, either. :)

  2. I recently tackled one of these issues (#5) on my own site.

    To my mind, punctuation should be treated not only as a matter of what’s correct but also, and just as importantly, as a matter of what works. You have to know the rules in order to write well. You’ll write even better when you know how and when to break them effectively.

  3. Don’t forget the semicolon as a common fix for the comma splice. It works wonders when used correctly.

  4. Thanks. You touched on a number of my punctuation pet peeves that even experienced writers miss.

    Also, shouldn’t number 5 read:

    Uncle John said, “My car is blue.”

    with the M in My capitalized?

  5. Indeed. The editor missed that one. :)

  6. Whew! That’s ok…I am guilty of the over-eager ellipsis!

  7. Tari Akpodiete :

    How about using the word ‘people’ instead of ‘foreigners’?

    And sorry to disagree with commenter #!, but one absolutely can use an apostrophe that way. It’s not incorrect at all.

  8. I love the dash.

    It’s designed, I think, to indicate a sudden break or change in thought (perfect for navel-gazing bloggers!)

    It’s also great to use when you’re on the fence between a too-extreme full stop and a wishy-washy comma, but I’m sure the punctuation police would lock me up for abusing it :)

    S.

  9. Leslie-Jean Thornton :

    Well, the “that/who” issue is often overlooked… Sorry!

  10. Anyone else notice that Google went bezerk with pagerank? I mean I have a site that went down from 6 to 3, and now it’s back up to 5 (which I’ll gladly take). And a few sites I’ve had a hand in that are pretty damn new, went right to PR 2 or PR 3. Two sites I have went down to PR 2 from PR 5 – but that was expected. Serious this is pretty great…but the SERPS are so messed up, I’m not ranking for a few of mine when I used to be doing really well..but still PR boost was good news.

  11. Emphasis can also be express by all uppercase, as in:
    This gift is FREE!

    (notice the single exclamation mark that fits nicely with error number 4)

  12. Nice article about a unduly overlooked body of irritants. My friends and family are always accusing me of being overzealous in the punctuation department.

    And I’m glad to see I wasn’t the only one nitpicking about the unfortunate errors in a piece about unfortunate errors.

    BTW, since it’s people he’s referring to, and not objects, wouldn’t it more properly be “who” in the phrase “among foreigners that…?”
    (I surely could be wrong in this, but please note only 3 periods for the ellipses and the question mark inside the quotation.)

  13. Nice set of rules. All I would take issue with is the assertion that “Before going to the school” constitutes a sentence. It doesn’t; rather it is a phrase or a clause.

  14. I know how to write. I know that now, and yet I felt so illiterate when I moved to this country (America) when I was thirteen. I was born and brought up in South Africa. Do you have any advice for literate immigrants from other standards?

    (I know this artictle is written for bloggers, and there are no real boundaries online, yet…)

    Choice A: Learn American standards ASAP (including acronyms.)
    Choice B: Explain that you reject their (American) reality and subsitute your own (regardless of consequences)?

  15. Suzanna: thank you! I shall forever be indebted to your sound advice.

  16. I have done a couple of these mistakes before. Thanks fort the heads up.

  17. Ron, perhaps we should have listed that one as well: starting quoted sentences with a capital letter.

    Thanks for the heads up; it was an oversight.

  18. 2. The Comma Splice – more commonly known as “where to put a semi-colon”.

  19. Steve, in reality there are several ways to fix the comma splice: period, semicolon, coordinating conjunction, subordinating conjunction, and so on.

    I just listed the simpler ones, in order to keep the article concise.

  20. As Scotland et al. have their own native languages, and their own takes on English, I used to like to refer to it not as British English, but English English… then, of course, I realised that English would suffice. Do please use ‘American English’ if you wish, but ‘British English’ is an inflammatory term that seems to suggest that the user is unaware of the origins of English.

  21. What about spelling mistakes that bedevil bloggers?

    Elipsis instead of ellipsis, for example…

    :-)

  22. ^Tee hee, there’s always a risk when writing about grammar. Looking on the MLS is really scary; the lack of basic grammar and punctuation skills among real estate agents is appalling.

    Excellent post; thank you very much!

  23. There seems to be a new “rule” that people have made up, where single quotes can be used to indicate emphasis. I’ve had people explain to me that double quotes are only for actually quoting what someone has said; single quotes are for everything else. I’ve been an editor/copyeditor/proofreader for decades, and I was unaware of this development. This seems to happen a lot with online writing. Anyone else get this? It happens so much, I fear it’s becoming accepted.

    Am I ‘behind the times’? It burns my eyes.

  24. Oh my God, the quotation marks! Totally random quotation marks make me insane! We have a sign by a river near our house that says:

    Positively “no” trespassing.

    Who are they quoting? Who said “no”? (Neal’s post above says I can break # 5.) And why didn’t they capitalize it if it was so damn important?

    “No” Payments Until July
    The Shipping is “Free”!
    Take Advantage of This “SPECIAL” Opportunity

    I’m getting cranky now. I think I’ll go take a “Xanax.”

  25. Not punctuation, but could you review effect and affect sometime? Thanks!

  26. I’m guilty of #3 and #5:( This has been very helpful. Thanks Brian.

  27. Not punctuation, but could you review effect and affect sometime?

    Effect vs. affect is covered in this post.

  28. This is my favorite blog post ever.

  29. It’s a little thing, but that southern form of the second-person plural is spelled:
    y’all

    • Exactly, ChrisB. Every time I see “ya’ll” it drives me crazy. The contraction of “you all” is “y’all.” As with any other contraction, the apostrophe is placed where letters or spaces have been omitted.

      And for those who may argue that “y’all” is not a valid word in the first place, see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/y%27all.

  30. Erin, I do not think that such usage of the single quotation mark is correct.

    Both single and double quotation marks, in fact, are used for the same purpose. The difference comes from the geographical region in question.

    Double quotation marks is the standard in the US while the single one is used in the United Kingdom.

    Lately, however, even mainstream British publications like The Guardian are starting to adopt the double quotation marks.

  31. Thank you so much for explaining where to put punctuation when using quotation marks. I’ve struggled with this for years. I’ve looked up the rule online several times and have always found contradicting advice. Now I know why.

  32. Spelling amnesia seems to be on the rise. Lots of folks are mis-remembering its versus it’s, who’s versus whose, their and there versus they’re – not to mention where punctuation goes in relation to quotation marks.

    Is it because we’re writing more these days, with more opportunities for mistakes? Or because writing is faster and easier with computers, so we pay less attention to detail? Or are we relying on spellcheckers to do our proofreading for us?

    I’m a fussbudget when it comes to spelling… and I catch myself making these mistakes, too.

    On Quotation Marks for Emphasis, I’ve read in marketing books that people are more likely to read a headline if the whole thing is placed inside quotation marks. Not a good idea?

  33. >Double quotation marks is the standard in the US while the single one is used in the United Kingdom.

    That’s not quite true.

    Both double and single quotation marks are used in the UK. It’s a constant source of debate.

    I was taught at school to use doubles for quotes, and singles for quotes within quotes. But most books printed in the UK nowadays do the exact opposite.

    Just to confuse things, newspapers almost exclusively use double quotation marks.

    So much for British English. I mean English English. Or do I mean just English? (I should just mention in the interests of full disclosure that I’m Irish.)

  34. Kevin, I might be wrong, but I think that the standard used to be the single mark in the UK. Over the time some people started shifting to the double quotation marks, and now there is a mixed scenario as you pointed out.

  35. Thanks! I love these types of posts. I hated English in school but now that I blog, I’ve tried to improve my grammar and punctuation. Comma’s seem to always throw me for a loop (I probably misused the one in this comment) :)

  36. Amen.

    I’ll just add, though, that if you’re using ellipses at the end of the sentence, you need four dots: one to end the sentence and then three to indicate trailing off…. (Um, what was I saying?)

    Oh, and affect/effect? I actually addressed that this morning with my “Mangled Monday” post! Funny timing.

  37. “When the comma is used to separate independent clauses, there must be a conjuction connecting them.”

    For those of you who subscribe to Copyblogger, this is an excerpt from the email which drew me to this post. It’s pulled from #2. Notice the incorrect spelling: “conjuction.”

    Great post, otherwise. Very helpful.

  38. Love this post, Daniel.

    The punctuation mistake that has me gnashing my teeth is the public version of your #1 … in other words, signs outside homes that proclaim the inhabitants’ last name.

    * The Martin’s
    * The Scocco’s
    * The Clark’s

    Aaaargh! Excuse me, while I go pry my jaws apart….

  39. This is important because your writing style and grammar lends to your personal brand.

  40. Being Canadian rule #5 has always been a challenge for me. Do I keep the punctuation inside or outside the quotation? Our British influence suggests it is outside, but so much of what I see in North America follows the American format. In any event, I thought it was a great post!

  41. Good overview! I delved into apostrophes and plurals a bit myself.

  42. Interesting.

    How many bloggers know about these rules and, possibly more importantly, how many care?

    I agree with the rules, but is it fair to say that some people care more about grammar than others? What is more important, the story or the finer details of grammar? Interesting.

  43. Gordon:
    If you are trying to build your business with your blog, it matters.

    Some things may be “nit picky” and may not be noticed by your average reader (such as the placement of the punctuation within quotes.) Other elements of language do matter – if you can not grasp elementary grammar, then how can you handle deals that involve complicated contracts and hundreds of thousands of dollars?

  44. thank you for the quotation mark lesson sir. Great job as well on your first time posting to CB.

    Lawton

  45. Unnecessary quotation marks? I hope you’ve see this blog.

    On number 2, I’m a little confused about the last example being correct. I was taught to avoid conjunctions like and, but etc after a comma. Words like and/but are enough of divider between phrases and clauses so the comma isn’t required.

  46. A while ago, I wrote a piece covering use of the apostophe in more detail, inclusing plural possessives. It’s here.

  47. Tom, using the comma before expressions like and or but is a matter of styling and personal preference.

    Perhaps your teacher preferred to avoid it, but it is definitely not incorrect.

    It is the same when you use lists. For example:

    “I like three colors: green, white and yellow.”
    “I like three colors: green, white, and yellow.”

    Both sentences are correct, but they use a different style to form the list.

  48. Tari Akpodiete :

    Actually, it’s the “Queen’s English” (or the King’s).

    And if it’s allowed, I’d like to recommend this fantastic book based on the hit BBC4 series: “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss”. I believe there’s a kid’s version out too. Plus she also co-wrote: “The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage without Apostrophes!”

  49. Nice article! In the comma splice part, you quote a price as $10000.

    That’s hard to read and easy to make mistakes – much better to write it as $10,000 – with a comma after the first three zeroes, and indeed after every 3 zeroes.

    $1,000,000 is easier to see as 1 million that $1000000.

    And it also make it easier to spot mistakes – $100,00 has something missing. Or is the comma in the wrong place?

    Either way, the alert sub-editor can spot a potential problem.

    Cheers!
    Richard

  50. Daniel, I was just about to ask about your example in comment #50 with regard to the comma within a list of items.

  51. Remember to use small caps, because it saves disk space. Equally, why use a colon, when a semicolon would be enough…

  52. I’m more bothered with blog commenters’ mistakes, commenters who refuse to use either full stops or commas, but write like this

    unless you want to sound like an overly emotional teenager writing on MySpace….. you should limit yourself to one exclamation point…. regardless of how excited you might be when writing that sentence…. the same applies to question marks and to the ellipsis (which should have only three dots)…..

  53. Remember flowers for Algernon?

    Punctuation;,!* IS#-”!FUN!**?!!’–!!

  54. Re #2: I’m from the Caribbean and grew up learning English…from England. I was taught (and I believe quite correctly so) that you don’t put a comma before ‘and’. I also believe I used the singular form of quotes correctly here.

    Re #5: The punctuation mark inside the double quotes is the correct form of ALL English as far as I’m aware, be it North America or ‘over the pond’ ;-)

    Someone correct me.

  55. Three old jokes about the English language, archived on my web site:
    http://www.planetmike.com/jokes/misc/english_is_easy_2.shtml
    http://www.planetmike.com/jokes/misc/a_point_to_ponder.shtml
    http://www.planetmike.com/jokes/puns/why_i_flunked_english.shtml

    Of course, the one I was looking for, I couldn’t find.

  56. Thanks Daniel for the tips!

  57. Richard, yeah I omitted the divisor comma on that number to avoid confusion with the comma splice itself.

    We have covered the rules for writing numbers and numerals extensively on the following article if you are interested.

  58. Sherwin, I answered to your first question on comment #50.

    As for the punctuation going inside quotation marks, this is not a global rule as you stated. Take a look at some famous British publications such as The Economist (www.economist.com).

  59. Re #57. Sherwin, I’ll correct you. If you’re quoting a full sentence as spoken or written by someone, the punctauion belongs to the quote and sits within the quote marks. If, however, you are simply quoting a word or phrase, you’d usually puctuate outside the phrase, because that punctuation belongs to your sentence rater than what you’re quoting.

    e.g. John said, “Why did you hit me?” The puncutation mark sits correctly within the quotes.

    But, consider this one. Have you ever heard people speak of a substance called variously “horse”, “H” or “skag”? The punctuation marks are correctly placed outside of the quote marks.

  60. “As Scotland et al. have their own native languages, and their own takes on English, I used to like to refer to it not as British English, but English English… then, of course, I realised that English would suffice. Do please use ‘American English’ if you wish, but ‘British English’ is an inflammatory term that seems to suggest that the user is unaware of the origins of English.”

    Ah, the various peoples of the British Isles with their quirky pet peeves. Sorry, but plain “English” is a broad term that encompasses all variations of English spoken all over the world. So the use of “British English” is appropriate to distinguish it from other flavours of English. There is nothing wrong with it, and it does not imply that no other languages are spoken in the U.K.

    “Being Canadian rule #5 has always been a challenge for me.”

    Argh, there is an error already. What does “being Canadian” modify? “rule #5″? Obviously not. This is a dangling participle goddam it!

    Anyway, my advice to you would be to put the punctuation outside the quotes, simply since it is more logical that way. Why put punctuation in if it is not part of the original quote?

    “I agree with the rules, but is it fair to say that some people care more about grammar than others? What is more important, the story or the finer details of grammar”

    These are not such fine details. They make a difference between a text that’s easy to read and understand, and a text that you have to fight through because the meaning is unclear.

  61. Hey Gang:

    Clearly the most important notion about knowing the rules of grammar is the ability to communicate—in writing—effectively. As one attends to the idea that a multitude of languages are being used on the Internet it becomes all the more important to know these rules. However, I do agree with neal s. insofar as we do indeed learn the rules to break them albeit effectively.

    Erin you are absolutely correct regarding your assumption with double and single quotes. No! You are not behind the times whatsoever; rather, I fear that we are experiencing the abrupt change in language. Text messaging, chatting, and the entire language of the Internet is evolving at an alarming rate. I do empathize with you.

    All of us should realize that language is never constant. The very dictionary we use to look up information is really after the fact inasmuch as by the time it is printed changes have already occurred. I am finding this situation particularly troublesome especially when I read the #1 post by Suzanne, although she did a wonderful bit of balancing in her explanation.

    I love language and words. Some may find this difficult to believe, but I enjoy studying language; however, there are times when it does become frustrating. My example of this is of course, Suzanne and Erin’s dilemma: On one page of an English manual I read where it stated never use it’s for it is; yet, just 26 pages away in the very same manual the instructions clearly state definitely use it’s for it is. So who really knows? We do—the writer’s—whereby it is incumbent upon us to make sure we are communicating properly.

    In point #1 the mistakes are: foreigners that (who); and native English speaks (speakers).
    In point #2 Well, it just depends… be a conjuction (conjunction) the word is misspelled and there is a continuity mistake with Right: and Right.
    In point #4 I believe everyone picked this one up ellipsis or ellipses has was misspelled.
    In point #5 I am still struggling with this one!

    Hopefully someone can assist me with it? Up to this point I haven’t found anything remotely close to verifying capitalization of a possessive pronoun following its antecedent. Not to worry, as for me it would stick out and therefore I’d just leave it alone. Love the post and idea!

  62. Whoa.. It is good for me to learn English…
    Good tips..

  63. What about the full stop (period) after brackets which end a sentence? (E.g. in this sentence here).

    I was taught the above is correct, though so many books put it here .) and others chop and change, even within the same paragraph.

  64. On using periods and commas with quotation marks, the 8th Edition of Lois Hutchinson’s Standard Handbook for Secretaries, published by McGraw-Hill in 1969, describes the inside method–with the period or comma always inside the quotation marks–as preferred in printing, as it facilitated typesetting. The outside method was said to be used for exactness by the U.S. Government Printing Office and was also the European method. It placed the comma always outside the quotation marks; the period was placed outside when it punctuated the whole sentence and inside when it punctuated the quoted matter.

    Since blogging requires no typesetting, and the outside method is more accurate, there seems to be little reason to use the inside method in blogging other than to avoid drawing the disapproval of the many who may be unaware of the propriety of the outside method.

  65. Erm, i guess we are just used to “Bloglish”?

    p.s. dont shoot my bloglish…

  66. @jaybong (#67): My understanding of parentheses is this: if the parentheses are placed after a period, then they should contain a full sentence and that sentence’s period should be inside the parentheses.

    E.g., I love pizza. (It’s best with pineapple topping.)

    However, if the parentheses are within a sentence they do not contain their own sentence and thus the period should be outside.

    E.g., I love pizza (especially with pineapple topping).

  67. An exception to #5: semicolons always go outside the quotes, even in American English.

  68. Responding to Karen: “If you are trying to build your business with your blog”

    I agree with that, but the large number of bloggers are NOT doing this.

    But perhaps that is a different argument, maybe we need to classify bloggers by type, the probloggers and the amateurs?? ;-)

    My main point is that yes, grammar is hugely important if you write for a living but the finer details generally matter only to those people. I know many hugely successful people who can’t spell properly, let alone punctuate a sentence correctly.

  69. Re #73. Gordon, whether you’re writing professionally or not, when you post on a blog you are writing publically. I believe that means you should take care to do it properly. I absolutely will not persist in reading content that is badly presented, badly written or badly spelled when there is enough good content that doesn’t suffer from these flaws.

  70. Gordon, I agree with Ray. You never know when a future employer might come across your blog.

  71. I will not read a blog that is imbued with errors, whether it is professional in nature or simply for entertainment. It is neither entertaining nor fun to read typos & other grammatical aberrations.

  72. …but fragments work in creative writing! (and this is from a grammar teacher)

  73. Lately, everyone seems to be spelling “definitely” wrong.

    Whereas I don’t mind the multiple exclamation points (and reclaiming the inner hello-kitty-loving teenage girl within), I roll my eyes whenever I see the word “definately.”

  74. I enjoyed this article about proper punctuation. Very interesting and informative. I think many new writers and experienced writers can use this information.

  75. Great article! RE Suzanna’s comment (#1) about apostrophes with ‘it’, my rule of thumb is to leave out the apostrophe with possessive pronouns (its, his, her, their, our) and possessive adjectives (its, his, hers, theirs, ours).

    If you think of ‘it’ as a pronoun (rather than a regular noun), it’s easy to remember! I hope this helps.

  76. I actually just featured an article on my blog about people who judge you if “ur grammuh ain’t no good”:
    Check it out: http://blog.p-twice.com/2007/syntax-grammar-errors/

    Love your post. I added a link. Thank you. Philipp

  77. The easiest way to understand how punctuation works is to use a dictionary to define the symbol being used. An example is ellipsis, which is defined as a symbol that indicates words are missing or suppressed, or that there is more to come.

    A period ends a sentence and means full stop. Therefore, if you put the quotation marks after the period (as in the example: Uncle John said, “The car is blue.”), you’ve finished the sentence before completion and the quotation marks mean nothing. I think we all know these definitions and are slightly confused when punctuation is used illogically.

  78. Re #83. Susan, I’m not sure what you’re saying. Are you proposing that the full stop should be outside the quotes? If so, that’s wrong (see the article.) The sentence being finished with a full stop is the one that starts with the word ‘The’, not the one that starts with the word ‘Uncle’.

  79. Actually, I am disagreeing with what is in the article. The quote is part of the sentence, therefore the period is after the quotation mark. If the sentence had the quote in the middle, one would not write:
    Uncle John said, “My car is blue.” in order to discuss the possibility… This would be confusing and incorrect. You would write:
    Uncle John said, “My car is blue”, in order to discuss the possibility…
    I believe the same usage applies to the end of a sentence.
    I’ve seen it written both ways and have had different editors correct it toward both usages. The most important point is at what point the reader comfortably ends the sentence.
    By the way, this is an excellent post. I’m Stumbling through blogs, in hopes of getting enough know-how to start my own, and you’ve managed to create a furor. Quite an inspiration!

  80. Actually, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, the period always goes inside the quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation points, however, may be placed inside or outside of the quotation marks.

    The only exception I’ve been able to find is when the quotation is the start of the sentence. In that case it should be a comma at the end of the quotation, even though it is the end of a sentence. Their example is:
    “It won’t be necessary to inform the president,” said Emerson.

    The original example is correct:
    Uncle John said, “My car is blue.”

    It appears that you have added more to the original sentence and may be referring to the usage of a period within the middle of a sentence. In your example with the sentence continued after the quote ends, the comma still belongs within the quotation marks.

  81. Gang, as I stated in my earlier post #65 the most important issue behind this entire lesson is communication—in written form—and that being done effectively.

    Just to get this off my chest, I have seen a lot of people commenting on how good of a post this is and I’m wondering why. Of the first part I will agree insofar as anything that leads one to style manuals, grammar books, and dictionaries for the sake of written communication has got to be great. However, I do have a bit of a problem with the amount of errors that are in the post. PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING:

    I had the wonderful opportunity of studying with a Pulitzer Prize winning professor; furthermore, I was blessed with two additional professors who were Peabody Award winning authors. The short of it: Imagine a car’s engine running perfectly tuned and just humming down the road. Now imagine that same sound with sputtering, coughing, and rattling. When reading any time that engine begins to sputter it is normally something in the writing. Cheers and have a lovely day!

    paul

    P.S. Christine, (#86) you are 100 percent correct.

  82. You are correct and I stand corrected.

  83. Here’s how I understand punctuation and quotation marks from my grammar reference books (which could be out-of-date):

    1) With commas and periods, the quotation marks go after the comma or period:

    “I love you,” said Mary.
    John replied, “I would follow you to the moon.”

    (2) If you’re using a semicolon or colon, you place the quotation marks before the semicolon or colon:

    I asked you the “question of the year”: do you love me?
    Malcolm was “fit to be tied”; he had just missed the last bus home.

    (3) With a question or exclamatory sentence, place the quotation marks after the the question mark or exclamation point:

    “Do you love me?” asked Mary.
    “You do love me!” Mary gushed.

    However… if you’re using a question mark or an exclamation point around a specific word, rather than enclosing a sentence, the quotation marks go before.

    Do you even know the meaning of the word “love”?
    It’s a girl – and her name is “Mary”!

    I hope this is correct – it’s already posted on my grammar and spelling blog.

  84. Yes, #5 is a tricky one. Changes from British to American grammar and spelling are usually for good reason, but in this case I have to agree that “the correct” way is awkward. It just makes sense to me that you would add the period after a quotation in the middle of a sentence since the punctuation is defining the sentence, not the quote.

    What really drives me nuts though is that there is no “correct” way in Canadian English. The default should be British, but the American way seems to be more widely accepted.

    ‘Course this is a problem in many instances of Canadian English…

    ~Graham

  85. Thanks so much for this article, I’m bookmarking it so that I can refer people to it instantly… I’d really like to see one about common grammar mistakes such as when to use there vs. their, too vs. to, etc.
    Can’t wait.

  86. I totally agree with you Graham, since I also encounter the same problem as a Canadian blogger. To me, both ways of working with quotes feel wrong on some level.

  87. Despite how elementary these fundamentals are, I am constantly surprised how many bloggers are not aware of them. I see this all the time. Is it laziness or ignorance? The internet is plagued by poor grammar.

  88. Right: The car costs $10000, and I am going to buy it.

    WRONG you should not use a comma before a conjunction such as ‘and’ or ‘but’

    One very common problem is that people try to write (type) as if they were speaking. This creates a number of grammatical and punction errors. It is important to remember that the grammar for written text is different to that of spoken speech.
    The above example is a good one. Although one would say ‘and I am going to buy it’, it would be better to write, “so I am going to buy it.” In which case, of course, the comma would be correct before ‘so’.

    Other errors that tend to annoy, include starting a sentence or paragraph with And or But.

    The problem is that, while the internet may be plagued with poor grammar, it may be wrong to blame bloggers. After all they are often exposed to bad grammar and punctuation in the printed press. Journalists are possibly the worst offenders!

  89. Allow me to disagree, Douglas. Fowlers and most other authorities decry the superstition of shunning ‘and’ and ‘but’ at the start of a sentence.

    Fowlers is also happy with the comma separating two clauses related too closely for a semicolon but nonetheless capable of each standing alone, noting that ‘and’ or ‘but’ will usually join them, preseded by a comma of desired.

  90. Allow me to disagree, Douglas. Fowlers and most other authorities decry the superstition of shunning ‘and’ and ‘but’ at the start of a sentence.

    Fowlers is also happy with the comma separating two clauses related too closely for a semicolon but nonetheless capable of each standing alone, noting that ‘and’ or ‘but’ will usually join them, preceded by a comma of desired.

  91. That should read ‘if desired’, of course.

  92. By all means disagree, Ray.
    However, I feel it is not superstition that dictates not using And or But at the beginning of a sentence or paragraph. These words are conjunctions, which mean that they join two parts of the sentence or phrase. To put them at the beginning would be wrong unless writing a very convoluted sentence in which the correct beginning was placed as a sub clause later in the sentence.

  93. just wanted to be #100

  94. I find it very frustrating that so many writers–even really good writers–don’t have a grasp of fundamental rules, especially the rules governing comma use. Commas are used so often and play such a vital role in helping us to express ourselves clearly that I’ve become very anal about making sure they are used correctly. Too many people apparently believe that a comma should always be used before a coordinating conjunction. No, no, no! Learn the rules, please! Stop separating verb phrases from their subjects with commas. Stop using commas to indicate a pause. Stop placing commas after subordinating conjunctions. Stop enclosing restrictive clauses in commas. I beg of you! Okay, I don’t beg, but I will ask nicely. I don’t presume to know everything about grammar–there is simply too much to know–but I do keep several reference guides on my desk and use them routinely. As a former college English teacher who now works as a full-time copywriter, I wholeheartedly believe in breaking the rules, but you have to know and understand the rules first.

  95. Hi Daniel, first off just wanted to say welcome to copyblogger :-)

    Second that you’re a brave man to take on grammar and punctuation! It always makes me smile how many comments these kind of posts generate here.

    I did have a question for you though – about the difference between grammar and punctuation. Surely we can’t have one without t’other?

    Oh and finally, as a blogger from Scotland I’d say it’s more than perfectly okay to refer to British English. There are differences in lots of the words we use between countries – but not the spelling or punctuation. It’s much more important to me that we keep maintaining the distinction with American English – and that I don’t have to start realizing a grammar point or using humor in my posts…

    No, it would just be too weird :-)

    Best wishes, Joanna

  96. 1. Apostrophe for making plurals? Sure, like in 5′s.

    2. Comma Splice? “Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear…” [Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare ]

  97. Maybe I should become British. I am well aware of this rule, and I use it properly in formal settings, but I absolutely hate it. The American version makes no sense at all. Why would you punctuate the sentence inside the quotation marks, especially if the quoted text isn’t the complete quote? The quote is part of the sentence, like a word, and the punctuation comes after the last word in a sentence. You don’t place your period a letter before where it belong.s Do you? (Yes… I did that on purpose.)

    Think about this like you would code HTML, for a moment. The quoted text is a block of text and the quotation marks around it are tags, like a bold or italics tag, that tells you that the quote is beginning and ending. You don’t insert a linebreak before you close a bold tag. That’s improper formatting. Sure, it would still work and show up in a browser, but it’s wrong and it’s stupid. Thus, the period in a sentence should go after the end quote. It just makes sense.

  98. Greg, nicely put. A warm welcome awits you this side of the pond.

    Ray (in London)

  99. Really useful information, I am a foreigner living in Boston MA, and sometimes I have problems with writing issues outlined on this post. I’m reading a complete idiot’s guide for good writing book now, so hopefully that will help.

    thanks for the very useful tips, I will scroll up and read them again.

  100. This is the best post about blogging, that I have ever come across. So many people write about SEO and other struff but basic rules everyone overlooks. Keep it up. I am bookmarking your blog. I would lovw to place your blog’s link on mine. Please let me know.

  101. Joanna, thanks for the nice words.

    The question about the different between grammar and punctuation is an interesting one.

    In my opinion to refer to different things, so they are on the same level rather than one being subordinated to the other.

    Also, one could notice that grammar is more connected with the language itself than punctuation.

    I will need to further research though in order to be able to express clearly what is the relationship between the two.

  102. For me, there’s a clear difference between punctuation and grammar. Grammar is the set of rules which govern the use of the two elements of written language: words and punctuation marks.

    Therefore the use of words PLUS the use of punctuation marks EQUALS grammar.

  103. A further thought on this is that while words can make sense without punctuation marks (though their lack will raise certain ambiguitues), the reverse cannot be said to be true; punctuation marks without words are meaningless.

  104. Improper grammar and punctuation drive me as crazy as improper syntax does! Thanks for the post on this!

  105. I just wanted to point out that, as I noted in my first post (#23), lots of folks here are using the single quotes in the manner I was describing. So it’s not just me.

    Also, I’ve noticed a real trend toward “lead” as the past tense of “lead,” as in, “This is what lead to my nervous breakdown.” Has “led” gone the way of “light” and “night”?

  106. This is such good and valuable tips. I see so many errors on blogs. People forget a space after a comma or full stop (period). Sometimes they have inconsistency in their blog categories names – some would have capital letters, others not.

    I think we all need to take blogging seriously and pay attention to these things. Whenever I publish a post I make sure I read it again carefully to check for any errors.

  107. Very good post, thx fotr this advice

  108. All of these and more are covered in The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This is book is an invaluable resource for any writer.

    I find it especially appropriate as applied to writing for the web. This may be in part due to the author’s fondness of brevity as a style. It is a fairly short book, and full of clear examples.

  109. Yay! Looks like I’m actually more literate than I first suspected. That’s a relief.

    That said, I still need to proofread my posts about ten times to make sure those pesky apostrophes are where they’re supposed to be.

  110. This is an excellent blog and definitely a hot topic for me.

    I have always worried that it is a sign of getting old.

    Things never used to be this bad in my day…

    I certainly learnt a couple of things. I didn’t know about the punctuation marks/full stop conundrum which differs between British and American English.

    I think I’ve been guilty of using too many full stops as well so I will now take a much closer look at my copy.

    On the its/it’s issue, the way it was explained to me was that it is not hi’s, her’s or it’s. While my mind knows it, my fingers sometimes obey a different master.

  111. Great article.

    Readers do judge you by your writing. They certainly do in my area of expertize, resume writing!

  112. The singlemost irksome thing I can think of is apostrophe abuse. However, for in some cases it’s understandable that people get it wrong. In dutch for example, the apostrophe is used for plurals, which is never the case in English. For example, their word for photo (in its singular form) is ‘foto’. When spelt as a plural, the correct version in dutch is actually foto’s (I omitted the puntuation marks to avoid confusion).

    Perhaps not the most profound observation ever to hit the internet…

  113. Marilyn Callahan :

    What about, “Did Uncle John say, ‘My car is blue’ “?

  114. Man! Number 5 got me! I have always thought that was the correct way to close punctuation (thanks High School grammar teacher), but it never looked right, so I placed periods outside. Booooo…

  115. Very helpful blog topic and great feedback. Added this URL into my favourite Blog folder!

    Thanks again.

    Chris

  116. While its nice if you learn punctuation, and your mother would be proud. Its not that important except to english major’s. The important thing is, to COMMUNICATE! — smart ass american who is happy you are learning english !?.

  117. 4. Multiple Punctuation Marks
    Unless you want to sound like an overly emotional teenager writing on MySpace, you should limit yourself to one exclamation point, regardless of how excited you might be when writing that sentence. The same applies to question marks and to the ellipsis (which should have only three dots). Also, keep in mind that exclamation points are not used that frequently in business and formal writing. If your text is loaded with them, you probably should review it.

    Wrong: This is amazing!!!!

    Wrong: The man was silent……

    Right: This is amazing!

    Right: The man was silent…

    The last example requires another period if the sentence is complete. Three for the ellipses and one for the end of the sentence. ; )

  118. Thanks for the great tips. I should have no excuse for any “mistooks” now. Thanks

  119. Love the site and the blogs look cool – Have now started to follow you on Twitter and linked myself to this site.

  120. Very nice set of rules. The multiple punctuation rule is the one that annoys me the most.

    Thanks.

  121. This isn’t a punctuation issue, but I’ve grown to dislike seeing sentences end with prepositions. Yes, I know this is a rule that is pretty much universally ignored (even by newspapers that surely know better) but I’d still like to see it observed more regularly.

  122. Did anyone address the difference between “it’s” and “its”? The first is a contraction as in the phrase “It’s raining outside.” The second is a possessive as in “Its color is blue.” It’s the sort of thing that makes me silly crazy, as its rule is specific should be clear.

  123. Well, that last part was ugly, wasn’t it?! You know it should have read “as its rule should be clear.”

  124. well, seems like,… sometimes” face expressions” conjure up a crazy & weird type of mixed & unscripted emotions that make other people think,”what the” HELL”is on his or her mind?”..same with punctuation on paper,sometimes you never know what that person feeling when their writing or textN or what!!!?….uh?…..

  125. even after reading these tips i’m sure i’ll continue to make them on my cleaning blog :( the comma is what gets me the most, i’m never sure if it should be a comma, full stop, or semi colon. my other half doesn’t appreciate it and thinks spelling mistakes aren’t worth worrying about but the imple example is a perfect way to describe it.

  126. Rule 5, “punctuation outside quotation”, is bull crap. Even the RFC style guide promotes the use of punctuation OUTSIDE of quotation marks.

    In “John said ‘my car is blue’.”, the logic of language dictates that the dot belongs to the sentence, and not to the quoted text. The romanic languages unequivocally favor this logic, whereas American English has had it upside down.

    If you’re gonna say “but these are the rules”, do note that the language is a dynamic entity, one that we can subject to changes for our benefit. Being less flexible, logic that should get the favor here.

    The rule about repeated punctuation marks should point out that exactly one exclamation mark or three exclamation marks are correct. No other number of repetitions in between works. If you want to indicate an acute exclamation, use three, not five or twenty exclamation marks. Written language isn’t intended to capture the ten thousand undertones of an exclamation, you know.

    As far as commas, I believe there is some abuse. Taking the very example in rule 5, a comma separates the quote from the sentence. Ridiculous. The comma adds absolutely no value, and it sure as hell does not alert the reader to adapt their intonation in any way. If you want to indicate a pause in speech, use the colon.

  127. The worst grammatical error is the use of “your” where it is supposed to be “you’re”. It drives me nuts whenever I see it.

  128. chris: you’re right, i see that one to often (another one that is annoying ;) )

  129. Yep, punctuations are just as important, it is very hard to read when people don’t even put a single comma or full stop in their paragraphs.

  130. Great post, I think good grammar is something that can easily get lost when writing online such as on blogs and forums as this style is seen as very casual by many people and so grammar is not concentrated on. However, it is much harder to read and so correct grammar is essential when writing in any form.

  131. Good control of grammar, DTUK; too bad you’re using so many pronouns making it so easy to decode your sentences. Hard to believe one can wreak this much havoc with just two sentences. :)

  132. 1. I’ve seen it all over, both by foreigners and Americans.
    2. Colloquialism. All over the world as well.
    3. This misuse is rampant, not just in English. Look: http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com/
    4. A colloquial form of emphasis, in my opinion. Also in pretty much all languages.
    5. I completely disagree with this one, not just because I learned British English originally but because I think it’s unnatural and counterintuitive. It’s not used like that in any other language that I know (and I know 6).
    6. See #2.

    You forgot using CAPS in the middle of a PHRASE for EMPHASIS. A COLLOQUIAL way to denote a CHANGE in the tone of VOICE.
    Also, where’s are the you/you’re they’re/there problems? These are sadly all over as well.

  133. I was using multiple punctuations for a greater emphasis. Never knew it was not on the guidelines. Will have to keep note of the number of exclamations and full stops that I use.

  134. I do freelance proofreading, and error #5 (Punctuation Outside the Quotation Marks) is one of the most common errors I find.

  135. I think that comma splices are a real problem for many people. Most don’t even understand what a clause is. Semi colons and colons are also widely misused if they are used at all

  136. Wrong: The car costs $10000, I am going to buy it.
    Right. The car costs $10000. I am going to buy it.
    Right: The car costs $10000, and I am going to buy it.

    Re above: A comma should only be placed if the part after the comma could form a sentence in itself.

    • @Bondara: by that rule, the first example is “right”, not “wrong”. I don’t know which you are trying to point — that the rule is right, or that it is wrong — but the rule is obviously wrong.

    • Also right: The car costs $10000: I am going to buy it.

  137. What baffles me is when people put a comma in just because they’ve paused whilst typing.

    i.e. What baffles me is, when people but a comma in, just because they’ve paused, whilst typing.

    When proof reading I also see a lot of capitalisations just because they think the word is important.

    i.e. When proof reading I also see a lot of Capitalisations just because They think the Word is important.

  138. I knew I’ve read you before Brian – Authority Black Book: http://www.copyblogger.com/5-common-mistakes-that-make-you-look-dumb/
    And this is another useful tutorial, especially for me, foreigner – thank you!

  139. The comma splice was the worst for me when I studied and started writing. It still dumbfounds me at times in certain situations, but I think that it happens to me when I try to say too much at once instead of being simple and concise.

  140. What a great blog. Showing how easily it is for people to make mistakes whist writing or typeing. Henceforth the reason ms word and the like have put a spell check into their systems. Allbeit they do not always correct the mistake.
    Anyway there’s no mistake about viewing and buying sex toys for your pleasure at playtimeonline

  141. The car costs $10000; I am going to buy it.

  142. I never knew until now there was a difference between American and British use of punctuation when used with quotation marks. Interesting tidbit! :)

    Patrick Dague

  143. very interesting!

    my girlfiend is always commenting on how bad my punctuation is.

  144. I was using multiple punctuations for a greater emphasis. Never knew it was not on the guidelines. Will have to keep note of the number of exclamations and full stops that I use.

  145. I’ve lived in England for years and if what your saying is true about English punctuation with quotation marks being different to American English I’m really shocked… serves me right for spending too long on the golf course and not on my British English grammar ;)

  146. ‘Uncle John said, “My car is blue”.’ would also be wrong in British English, as “My car is blue” is a complete sentence.

    • @Oliver Lawrence: but then so is {Joe said “My car is blue.”}, or your exact example, {“My car is blue.”}, because the outer sentence is missing a period. :)

  147. #5 (commas outside quotes) is NOT a mistake! It’s a style choice. American publications generally put them inside; British ones generally put them outside. And many American publications, especially more recent ones and ones that have a more computer-savvy readership, adopt the British style because the American style is idiotic and senseless. Quotation marks should contain a quotation, and ONLY the quotation; if the comma isn’t part of it, the only reason to put it inside is to slavishly follow style guides that were written in the age of lead type. If a blogger chooses that style, more power to him; it means he values accurate communication more than blind conformity to stupid conventions.

  148. Periods and commas have to go in between quotations marks; however, question marks and exclamation points may go inside or outside quotation marks depending on whether they apply to the entire sentence or only what is inside the quotation marks.