SEMI-COLONS have three straight-forward, and even logical, purposes.
1) SEMI-COLONS join two major word groups that can stand alone as sentences, yet are joined by a train of thought.
2) SEMI-COLONS join two word groups connected by AND, FOR, BUT, OR,
or NOR but which have internal commas within one or both of the word groups.
3) SEMI-COLONS split up a string of paired words or phrases when the
members of each pair are separated by a comma.
COMMAS are omnipresent. They are found scattered throughout nearly every
form and style of writing. Here we outline five uses, all eminently rational.
1) COMMAS join clauses (often signaled by AND, SO, FOR, OR, NOR, or BUT).
Many leaders in education face the contradiction of choosing either to be prominent, or to do something important in the background.
2) COMMAS demarcate the conclusion of an introductory statement and
precede a key assertion.
3) COMMAS set off clauses that could be omitted from a sentence.
4) While there is some debate about this, COMMAS are often used to set
apart items in a series.
5) COMMAS are used to set apart numbers, and to mark off dates or proper
Use a PERIOD to close a complete sentence, that doesn't require another form of punctuation like a question mark or an exclamation point.
Most common abbreviations require a PERIOD.
State abbreviations, because of postal rules, no longer require a PERIOD
D.C. is now DC
The PERIOD is not used after letters standing for certain organizations.
Other, usually older, organizations still insist on the period in the
When in doubt, go to the dictionary.
A series of PERIODS (these are called ellipsis marks--there are usually
three within a sentence, four at the end of a declarative sentence) are
used to indicate the omission of words from a quote or the hesitation in
"...I am going to tell this story as though Negroes were ordinary human beings, realizing that this...will from the first seriously curtail my audience."
--From W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction in America.
Double space after a PERIOD at the end of a sentence.
Space once after an ellipsis.
DASHES (two strokes--on the hyphen) are subversive elements in the grammatical universe. Undisciplined usage causes dashes to rival commas for space--and to subvert the use of parentheses and colons.
DASHES are more powerful forms of separation than commas--although less
powerful than colons. Dashes represent an abrupt break in the flow of a
Parentheses should be used when the thought is only marginally related
to the meaning of the rest of the sentence.
Use a COLON to separate word groups when the second group explains the
Colons can also be used for effect when setting up quotes:
Double space after a COLON.
PARENTHESES are meant to enclose material that is a greater distance from the material than that enclosed by a dash or comma. Use it for material that is interpretive, supplementary, or explanatory.
The call for clarity in writing rises out of the belief that there is
clarity to be found in reality (a condition rejected rhetorically and philosophically
by most post-modernists).
Note that the punctuation goes outside the parenthesis, unless it belongs
to the parenthetical element.
The APOSTROPHE signals possession as in John Dewey's philosophy, Lisa Miller's presidency, Boy George's preferences, Davey Jones's (according to MLA; however, some prefer Jones') comeback. The apostrophe is more and more being omitted, as in plurals of numbers like 1960s. But it's as a substitute for it is remains distinguished from the possessive its.
APOSTROPHES indicate word contractions like won't, can't, don't, they're.
Apostrophes also signal syllables left out in speech: Cuff 'em!
The most peculiar thing about quotation marks is that the concluding comma or period goes inside the mark. This is probably due to the arrangement of the typesetting board, thus making life easier for typesetters who became obsolete with the advent of laser printers. But that's the rule--for now.
Here are more rules for quotations:
2) No quotation marks are used with an indirect quote.
3) Single quotation marks are used to enclose a quotation within a quotation.
4) Enclose direct quotes from written sources in double quotation marks.
However, if you are quoting more than forty words, indent ten spaces
and do not use quotation marks. If you wish to include the quote as part
of a sentence, set it apart with a colon.
We concur with the opponent: sexuality is not everything in life. We even add that, in healthy people, sexuality is not a topic of conversation or the center of their thinking. But how do we explain that sexuality, which is not everything in life, actually assumes the most prominent place in man's life and thinking? This fact cannot be gainsaid (p.532).
5) Quotation marks are used to enclose quoted titles of stories, poems, chapters, and other subdivisions of books, and, in some newspaper styles, the titles of books.
6) The question mark, the semi-colon, and the exclamations point go
inside quotation marks if they belong to the quoted part. They go outside
if they do not belong to the quoted part. Remember, typesetters rule.
Did you hear him claim, "I was out of the loop"?
7) Quotation marks are used to enclose words used in a special sense,
like irony, invented or slang expressions. Use quotation marks the first
time the word is used. Once its usage is established, do not use the quotation
As in much of your encounter with language, you will need to use reasonable
judgement to balance the occasionally dubious logic of formal usage. Do
you bow to the typesetters? For now, you bet.
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