Friday, July 16, 2010

Punctuation Cheaters List

I don’t know about you, but punctuation is not my forte’. Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m comma happy.

At a recent writer’s gathering, I learned most authors suffer from the same affliction as me. To that end, I’ve put together a Punctuation Cheater’s List and thought I’d share it with you. I hope you find it as helpful as I do.



1.Use a period to end a declarative sentence or an imperative sentence
(She was at the party – declarative)
(Speak up. Buy me some chocolate)

2.Use a period to end a polite request.
(Can you tell me your name.)

3.Use a period to end a sentence fragment, which substitutes for a complete sentence.
(Not really. On Friday.)

4.Use periods after standard abbreviations.
(Mr., Mrs., B.S., Dr., D.D.S.)

5.No period after labor unions, radio/television stations/universities, or national/international agencies.

6.No periods after nicknames or commonly used shortened terms.
(math, gym, lab, AI)

7.Use a question mark after a direct question.
(What is your name? Where were you born?)

8.Use a question mark to end a sentence that begins as a direct statement, but ends as a question.
(You saw the accident, didn’t you?)

9.Use a question mark at the end of a question even if it ends with a modifying clause or phrase.
(Is this a photograph of the intersection, referring to Exhibit A?)

10.A question mark can be used after each item in a series of short, connected questions that occur within a sentence.
(Is your favorite pie apple? cherry? peach? Did this accident happen in 1987? in 1988? in 1989? Note: only one space is used in between the series, and notice that it’s lower case.)

11.Use a question mark after a short question that is interjected into the middle of another sentence and that is set off with dashes.
(I will read – where is it? – the letter from Paul. You said – did I hear you correctly? – that you work for Dr. Brenner.)

12.Use a comma before a coordinate conjunction that joins two independent clauses.
(Jim likes to play golf, but Nancy prefers tennis.
Note: One way to be sure a sentence requires a comma is to leave out the conjunction. If you have two complete sentences, it requires a comma, if not, NO comma--Ex: Mary bakes pies and sews dresses.)

13.Use commas to set off (or surround) clauses that contain parenthetical or descriptive information, which isn’t necessary to the meaning of the sentence.
(Mrs. Carr, who is a good cook, baked a pie. Note: If you can take the clause out and the sentence still makes sense, it requires a comma.

14.Use commas to set off appositives that interrupt the sentence.
(My cousin, a singer, lives in Hollywood.)

15.Use a comma or pair of commas to set off a term or name by which someone is addressed.
(Please be seated, Mr. Phillips.)

16.Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives when they modify the same noun.
(Bonnie was a friendly, attractive woman. Here’s how to figure this out. If I said, “Bonnie was a friendly AND attractive woman” it would not require a comma. One more example: Lucy wore a bright red dress. If I said, “Lucy wore a bright and red dress,” it makes absolutely no sense at all so you’d know that a comma cannot be put between the bight and red.

17.Use a comma after an introductory phrase.
(When I went to the store, I brought some milk.)

18.Use a comma after introductory words and exclamations such as “oh,” well,” “why,” “gosh.”
(Gee, I guess I’m wrong.)

19.When “and,” “so” and “but” are used as introductory words, they are not followed by a comma.
(So we got up and left.)

20.Use a comma after an introductory “yes” or “no” if the rest of the sentence could be substituted for the “yes” or “no” answer without adding further information.
(Do you recognize this man? No, I don’t.)

21.Do not use a comma after an introductory “yes” or “no” if the rest of the sentence cannot be substituted for the “yes” or “no” answer or if it gives further information. Use a period instead.
(Did you eventually get to know Mary? No. She lives in Europe.)

22.Use a comma after an introductory “yes” or “no” when an explanatory sentence fragment follows it.
(Did John pick up the papers? Yes, on Friday.)

23.Use a comma to separate two contrasting or opposite items. If the item occurs in the middle of the sentence, surround the item with commas.
(The puppy belongs to Kate, not Jane.)

24.Use a comma to separate words that might otherwise be misread and cause confusion.
(Inside, the dog was barking.)

25.Use a comma before an echo question.
(It’s a warm day, isn’t it?)


Luanna Stewart said...

Oh wow, thanks for putting this together. I'm also prone to comma-itis, and am thankful one of my cp's catches my mistakes.

I'm printing this out and adding it to my notebook.

Mona Risk said...

Carolyn, I am saving this list. It's going to be very useful. Thanks.

Josie said...

Thank you, Carolyn. This was a very helpful post and a keeper.

Clarissa Southwick said...

What a useful list. Thanks so much for posting it. I'm going to keep it for sure.

morgan said...

I am saving the list because it is very helpful. Your comment about many writers falling prey to being comma happy really made my day. I was literally taught in college the use of the sylistic comma. If you think it goes somewhere, you just insert it. Boy, how things have changed.:)