Six of the Most Incorrectly Used Punctuation Marks in the English Language

punctuation marks

Punctuation marks are very critical to good communication.  They clarify how a group of words is arranged into clauses and sentences and cue the readers not only what you are saying but also how you are saying it.  Clarity and tone in your writing depend upon the correct usage of punctuation marks. Used incorrectly, miscommunication could result. The reader will end up confused or uncertain that the message received is what the sender intends.

Unfortunately, for some people, it is not clear how some punctuation marks are used.  One of the ways in which you can master the use of punctuations is by enrolling in a technical writing course. In Makati, American English Skills Development Center, Inc. offers courses in which you can overcome any difficulties in the correct punctuation usage.  The technical writing course is helpful in turning voluminous information into a finished product that is clear, concise, and professional.

There’s more to punctuation than periods and question marks.  Let’s take a look at the six of the most incorrectly used punctuation marks in the English language:

  1. Possessive apostrophes

Are you uncertain when to use the possessive apostrophe? Here are some tips on how to use them.

  • With a singular noun or most personal names, add an apostrophe plus s:
    • Jackie’s party was a blast.
    • The dog’s collar is too tight.
  • With plural nouns that end in –s, add an apostrophe after the s:
    • Parties are not allowed in the boys’ dormitory.
    • The housekeeping staff cleans the guests’ rooms in the morning.
  • With plural nouns that do not end in –s, add an apostrophe plus s:
    • The teacher checked all of the children’s homework in under an hour.
    • Lisa got a job at a women’s shoe store.
  1. Semicolons

Semicolons are used when balancing two main clauses in a compound sentence.

  • It’s raining heavily; we need to bring an umbrella.
  • The watch costs $200; I’m going to buy it.
  1. Colons

There are three main uses of the colon:

  • Between to main clauses where the second clause explains or follows from the first:
    • The test wasn’t easy: first, I had to study for it.
    • This is the secret to happiness: always live in the moment.
  • To introduce a list:
    • The starter-boxing package includes the following: gloves, wraps, and three free boxing sessions.
    • My grocery list always includes the following: a carton of milk, a loaf of bread, a dozen of eggs, and orange juice.
  • Before a quotation, and sometimes before direct speech:
    • The news headline read: ‘Suspension of Classes Due to Transit Strike’.
    • The protesters shouted: ‘Democracy now!’
  1. Ellipses

Ellipses are written with three dots, no more and no less, and are typically accompanied by a space on either side.  The ellipsis can be used for the following purposes:

  • To represent omitted text:
    • He said, ‘Betty used to … write well’, where the ellipsis might be ‘read and’ in the original text.
  • For dramatic effect:
    • Do you mean that … she bought the car?
  • To represent a continuation of a list:
    • We cooked steak, hotdogs, burgers …
  • To signify pauses in email and informal written communication, such as text messages:
    • Well … I don’t know … do you still want to go to the movies?

The use of ellipsis is typically not used in formal settings where a pause can be indicated with a different punctuation. The sentence above can be rewritten in a more formal manner: Well, I don’t know. Do you still want to go to the movies?

  1. Hyphens

Hyphens are used to link words and parts of words.  Compound adjectives are what many people frequently get wrong. Compound adjectives are made up of a noun + an adjective, a noun + a participle, or an adjective + a participle. For example:

  • user-friendly device
  • good-looking boy
  • English-speaking country
  • up-to-date system
  • well-known doctor
  1. Dashes

The dash is another punctuation mark that not everyone is uncertain how to use.

In formal writing, the dash is used to indicate information or an idea that is not essential to the understanding of the rest of the sentence, for example: Once I get paid – I’ve been broke lately – I can go to the movies with you.

Even though dashes are common in informal writing, such as emails or blogs, it is best to use them sparingly in formal writing.

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