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What Are the Best Tips for Correcting Punctuation?

By Alan Rankin
Updated May 23, 2024
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The English language is complex, resulting as it does from a thousand years of use and development by millions of speakers. Despite this, most aspects of its usage have been clearly defined by language professionals. Tips for correcting punctuation generally involve understanding the concepts behind commonly used punctuation marks like apostrophes, semicolons, and quotation marks. Whether employed by professional writers or ordinary people in everyday use, these tips make the language clearer. This aids communication, adds strength to the writer’s statements, and fosters correct usage of the language itself.

An important tip for correcting punctuation, spelling, and other technical aspects of writing is to purchase a style guide. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is a recognized classic, with plenty of advice on punctuation and other matters in a compact format. Some people may be reluctant to turn to a style reference for help, fearing it shows ignorance. In fact, the experienced writer will not hesitate to check his or her work against an outside reference for accuracy.

One of the most important tips for correcting punctuation involves the commonly confused words “it’s” and “its.” “It’s” is a contraction of the phrase “it is,” while “its” is a possessive like “his” or “her.” To remember this difference, mentally replace “it’s” with “it is” in the sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, for example, “it is two o’clock,” then the word “it’s” requires an apostrophe. Conversely, a phrase like “the cart lost its wheel” makes no sense with this replacement.

Other tips for correcting punctuation surround the correct use of the semicolon. Despite its prominent place on the computer keyboard, the semicolon’s function is not clearly understood by many non-professional writers. In most usages, the semicolon should separate two complete phrases; the phrases should be able to stand on their own as complete sentences, as if the semicolon were a period, as shown in this sentence. If the phrases would not make complete sentences, a comma may be more appropriate to separate them. The semicolon can also be used to separate phrases in a list if those phrases include commas, reducing the chance of confusion and making the list clearer.

Sentences and phrases including quotation marks and other punctuation often cause confusion. There are several tips for correcting punctuation for quotes and dialogue. Place commas within quotation marks, especially if a quoted phrase will be followed by another phrase, for example, “’Right,’ said Fred.” In other cases, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks if it applies to the quote, as in “Stop!” but outside if it applies to the overall sentence, as in “Did he say ‘stop’?” As illustrated in these examples, use single quotation marks for quoted phrases that appear inside other quotations.

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