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When we speak we have tone and facial expressions. When we write we have words on the page and the punctuation marks. The exclamation point is used of course to indicate a surprise element, and question mark means a questions being asked. Those are easy, but what about the pesky comma? The comma is the most used, and most abused punctuation mark. I'm convinced that sometimes the only reason a comma is inserted is that it looked like a good place or I breathed or I haven't used one for a while.
However, that comma can completely change the meaning of your message. Look at this sentence. Does it need a comma? The Red team predicted the Blue team will win the tournament. Your correct answer should have been, "It depends." You can't know until you know the writers intent. The sentence without the commas predicts the Blue team will win. Lets add commas. The Red team, predicted the Blue team will win the tournament. Now the Red team is predicted to win.
Complete opposite meaning. Not using a comma correctly can also result in sentence fragments and run on sentences. Here are a couple of examples. Even though I have attended this organization's conference. I look forward to its new location. That first group of words is a sentence fragment. The corrected version needs a comma. Even though I have attended this organization's conference, I look forward to its new location. Look at this comma.
I have attended this organization's conference, I look forward to its new location. This is a run-on sentence. The corrected version is: I have attended this organization's conference, comma, and I look forward to it's new location. Or, I have attended this organization's conference; and I look forward to its new location. The comma is not a strong enough mark to hold together two complete sentences. So a conjunction, and, but, or, for example, must be added or the semicolon which is stronger can be used.
A couple other punctuation marks that may confuse are the semicolon and the colon. The semicolon is used to separate two complete sentences as in the last example and in this example. Our committee will meet Thursday; we will present our findings at the meeting. The colon on the other hand always means something follows such as a list and is never used correctly after a verb or preposition. At the meeting we will vote on: the health care addendum, the overtime policy, and the bicycle parking locations.
That is an incorrect use of the colon. This is also incorrect. The three issues to be discussed at the meeting are: the health care addendum, the overtime policy, and the bicycle parking locations. In both examples the colon should be deleted. The colon is used correctly in this sentence. The following three issues will be discussed at the meeting: the health care addendum, the overtime policy, and the bicycle parking locations. The location of the apostrophe can also be confusing.
Look at these two sentences. Our guest's receipts are in the drawer. Our guests' receipts are in the drawer. When read aloud both sound identical. But then when written have different meanings. In the first sentence we have only one guest. Look at the word before the apostrophe. g-u-e-s-t. It is singular so it's called singular possessive, but in the second example the word before the apostrophe is plural. g-u-e-s-t-s. So the word is plural possessive, meaning more than one guest.
And then the quotation marks. Of course they're used to show something is being directly quoted, but where should the comma, the period, the colon and the semicolon be placed in relationship to the quotation marks? This one's easy. The period and the comma are always placed inside the quote marks. The colon and semicolon are always placed outside the quote marks. "Learn to anticipate our customers' wants and needs," is the quote on the front of the store.
The quote on the front of our store is "Learn to anticipate our customers' wants and needs." See the placement of the comma and periods. Our manager said, "Learn to anticipate our customers' wants and needs"; following that will help us succeed. That semicolon connecting two complete thoughts is placed outside the quote marks. The comma, the semicolon, the colon and the apostrophe, are punctuation marks that can be used correctly, by remembering a few simple rules.
Know the difference so that the punctuation helps you get your message to your reader.
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