What is an ellipsis?

An ellipsis is a punctuation mark that consists of three dots with a space before, after, and between them. Writers use this mark to represent a word, phrase, sentence (or more) that is omitted from a direct quotation.

Use an apostrophe to denote ownership to a singular or plural noun and indefinite pronoun by adding an -'s if the word doesn't end in -s.

Of all forms of punctuation, the apostrophe appears to be in greatest peril of extinction. For proof that the apostrophe should be placed on an endangered species list in some grammarian's office, one needs only to consult the popular press or a sample of student themes. However, because of its ability to denote ownership in a concise way (by avoiding the use of a preposition), the apostrophe plays an important role in the English language. Despite the frequency of its misuse, the apostrophe is a fairly simple form of punctuation to master. You can denote ownership to a singular or plural noun and indefinite pronoun by adding an -'s if the word doesn't end in -s:

  • They worked on Susan's computer.
  • The children's toys are clustering the house again.
  • You expect me to do a week's worth of typing in two days.
  • The people's choice was Bill Clinton.
  • When it is someone else's turn to have his or her writing critiqued by the group, remember to be conscientious.

When a singular noun ends in -s, traditional grammarians recommend adding an -'s:

  • She loves Keats's poems.
  • The business's direct-mailing campaign worked wonders.
  • John Adams's letters illustrate his reflective spirit.

However, this usage can be cumbersome. Consequently, the following usage is also correct:

  • John Keats' conscience and life spirit energize his poems.
  • John Adams' ideas are worth examination.

When a plural noun ends in -s, you only need to add an apostrophe:

  • The judge confiscated the drivers' licenses.
  • She won two months' free groceries.
  • The writers' guild meets Monday.

With compound subjects, when you wish to denote individual ownership, you should add an -'s to each noun:

  • Dr. Wilson's and Mr. Speinberg's lawsuits were caused by poor communication.

Or, you can demonstrate joint ownership by placing the -'s after the second subject:

  • Pat and Joe's new car is hot!
  • This is my father-in-law and mother-in-law's office.

Finally, always use an apostrophe when you form a contraction. The apostrophe is positioned where letters are dropped:

it is it's
they are they're
you are you're

who is

who's

can not

can't

she will

she'll

were not

weren't

What is a hyphen?

A hyphen is a punctuation mark used to bring visual clarity to joined words and word parts in written text. Correct use of hyphens will strengthen the visual appeal of your work and contribute to the readability and clarity of the text as well. To verify hyphen use, refer to a dictionary.

What are quotation marks?

One of the primary jobs of quotation marks is to set off exact spoken or written language. When writers use quotation marks correctly, they give credit to the original author and avoid plagiarism. Quotation marks are also used to enclose titles of short works and always appear in pairs.

What is end punctuation?

End punctuation appears at the end of a complete sentence (independent clause) or follows an interjection. The appropriate placement of a period, question mark, or exclamation point separates one statement from another and signals a pause in the word flow. Correct use of end punctuation contributes to the order and readability of the text.

How should commas be used?

  • Use commas to separate a series of three or more items, actions, words, or phrases.

    • I will need my backpack, computer, paper, and textbook for my next class.
    • Sharon walked across campus, entered the building, and went to class.
  • Use a comma between coordinating adjectives(closely placed adjectives that are of equal importance and describe the same thing).
    • thorough, accurate research
    • The talented musician performed a solemn, meditative piano piece.
  • Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (fanboys: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) when it joins two related independent clauses.
    • The young woman volunteered at a local homeless shelter, and she wrote a paper about the challenges of homelessness.
    • Are you going to attend the basketball game, or do you plan to spend time at the library?
  • Use a comma after an introductory element, such as a dependent clause or a prepositional phrase.
    • When it began to rain, many students opened their umbrellas.
    • Before dawn, the young man frequently spends time in quiet meditation.
  • Used commas to set off words, phrases, or clauses that add nonessential information or details to the sentence.
    • Justin, father of a young family, decided to purchase a house.
    • Thelma lost her driver’s license, as expected, after she was caught drinking and driving.
  • Use commas to separate geographical information, addresses, and dates.
    • Tampa, Florida, USA
    • The applicant lived at 101 Main Street, Appleton, New York, 13723.
    • The academic calendar lists May 4, 2013, as the date for spring graduation.

 For additional resources on commas, see also:

 

 What is a dash?

A dash is a punctuation mark used to set off an idea within a sentence and may be used alone or in pairs. Dashes interrupt a thought in a more dramatic way than a phrase enclosed in commas, but less theatrically than parentheses. To form a dash, type two hyphens—without a space before, after, or between them—and your word processor will convert them to a dash.

What is an apostrophe?

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark used to show possession, to indicate the plural form of letters of the alphabet, and to form a contraction.

What is a semicolon?

A semicolon is a punctuation mark used to separate closely-related independent clauses. Stronger than a comma, a semicolon does not require the use of a coordinating conjunction.

What is a colon?

A colon is a punctuation mark used to separate significant parts of a sentence, particularly when the first part offers a sense of anticipation for the second. This form of punctuation is also used in other conventional applications as noted below.

In most instances, place a comma between two sentences that are joined with a coordinating conjunction--and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet:

  • She was not sure if she had the necessary mathematical abilities to be an engineer, so she pursued a graduate degree in history.
  • He was surrounded by fifty people, yet he felt all alone.

You do not need to place a comma between two independent clauses if they are short and similar in meaning, provided that no misunderstanding will take place, as illustrated in the following example:

  • Some doctors advertise their services but many doctors find this reprehensible.
  • The absence of the comma in this sentence is acceptable; it is not necessary to prevent misreading.

Other comma resources:

You should limit the number of times that you interrupt the flow of a sentence by placing modifying words between the subject and its verb. When you do introduce such appositives, participial phrases, or adjective phrases or clauses, you must determine whether the modifiers are restrictive or nonrestrictive. Essentially, restrictive modifiers add information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas nonrestrictive modifiers add information that is not essential. The best way to determine whether a modifier is restrictive or nonrestrictive is to see if taking it out changes the meaning of the sentence.

Restrictive: Lawyers who work for McGullity, Anderson, and Swenson need to take a course in copyediting.

In this case the relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. If you embedded the clause in commas, then the meaning would change, suggesting that all lawyers need a course in copyediting.

Restrictive: The lawyer who has worked on this case for three years thinks that we have no chance of winning.

In this case the relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. In other words, the sentence refers to only the lawyer who has worked on this case. The discussion is restricted to her.

Nonrestrictive: The lawyers, who have an office downtown, think that we have no chance of winning.

Because the location of the lawyer's office is superfluous to the gist of the sentence, it should be set off by commas.

 

Other comma resources:

At the end of your sentence, you need to be especially careful about where you place your commas. In particular, you need to question whether the modifying words are restrictive or nonrestrictive. For instance, suppose you received a memo from your writing instructor that said,

  • You should revise the essay, as I suggested.

To avoid confusion, use a comma after an introductory subordinate clause or phrase:

  • Because the costs of conducting research continue to increase, we need to raise our rates.
  • As the shrimp boats trawl, sea grass can collect on the trap door, allowing shrimp to escape.
  • According to the professor, rich women are more likely to have Cesarean sections than poor women.

In keeping with the modern trend toward using as little punctuation as possible, some stylists believe that it is not necessary to place a comma after short introductory words (now, thus, hence) and phrases (In 1982 he committed the same crime). However, conservative style manuals still call for the comma, so you are better off playing it safe and placing a comma after introductory words and clauses.

Other comma resources:

 

Although our modern style calls for using as few commas as possible, you should generally place a comma after conjunctive adverbs and transitional words because they modify the entire sentence:

  • Nevertheless, we must push forward with our plans.
  • In other words, you're fired. Hey, I'm just kidding.

Because commas cause readers to pause in their reading, you want to use them sparingly. Although logic would suggest that it makes sense to follow coordinating conjunctions with commas, convention does not call for this usage unless the conjunction is followed by an introductory phrase. Thus, it would he inappropriate to write:

  • Yet, I think we should go ahead as planned.

When a short phrase follows the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence, however, it is appropriate--although not absolutely necessary--to place a comma after the conjunction:

  • Yet, as I mentioned yesterday, I think we should go ahead as planned.

 

Other comma resources:

As demonstrated by the following examples, a series is composed of three or more parallel elements, and the series can appear in the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence:

  • Stretching, warming up, and cooling down are important to a good exercise program.
  • All of the necessary qualities of a good assistant -- typing, shorthand, and patience -- she had in abundance.
  • The three qualities of a good introduction are context, purpose, and organization.

Understand conventions for using commas and appreciate the likely effects of particular sentence lengths and patterns on reading comprehension.

Commas are like pawns in chess: They seem relatively insignificant and unobtrusive, yet they are actually very important. If properly placed, the lowly pawn can checkmate the king or, once it has reached the end of the board, become a more powerful piece. Commas play an extremely important role in ensuring that your documents are understandable. In fact, failing to insert a comma in the correct spot can cause considerable misreading (and subsequent embarrassment). Beyond a few special circumstances, there are six basic ways to use commas correctly.