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1.4: Mid-Sentence Punctuation Marks

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    15232
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    hieu-vu-minh-103719500.jpg

    Just as terminal punctuation comes at the end of a sentence, mid-sentence punctuation is used somewhere in the middle. Examples include the comma, semicolon, colon, dash, hyphen, apostrophe, and quotation marks. [Image: Hieu Vu Minh | Unsplash]

    Definitions to Remember:

    • Comma: Use (1) in a list of three or more; (2) with compound adjectives; (3) before a FANBOYS conjunction to join two sentences; (4) with interrupters; (5) with direct quotations; and (6) when you really, really want to ensure clarity for your readers.
    • Semicolon: Use (1) in place of a period or (2) in a complex list.
    • Colon: Use (1) to introduce, (2) to denote time, or (3) in a mathematical equation.
    • Dash: Use (1) to introduce or (2) with interrupters.
    • Hyphen: Use to join words that have combined meaning.
    • Apostrophe: Use (1) to show possession or (2) to show something is missing.
    • Quotation Marks: Use standard quotation marks (1) with direct quotes or (2) with titles of smaller works, such as a single song, a poem, or a journal article. Use single quotes only when you have a quote within a quote.
    • Ellipses: Use (1) to show missing material or (2) to suggest suspense in non-professional writing.
    • Bracket: Use (1) to clarify meaning or (2) for a parenthetical within a parenthetical.
    • Slash: Use (1) to indicate a line break in poetry or (2) to serve as shorthand for or or and.

    Rules to Remember:

    1. The comma should not be used “when you feel the need to pause” or “sprinkled sparingly,” as some have been erroneously taught. Just as terminal punctuation fits a simple mathematical equation, so, too, does the comma. The rules are simple, and there are only six. Practice the ones that don’t already seem familiar, and set aside the guess-work:
      • In a List: Between items in a series of three or more.
        • My husband loves to cook curry, egg, beef, and vegetarian main dishes.
        • The store sells adult and teen sizes.
          “Communicating clearly and efficiently is crucial to accomplishing ordinary tasks, and intelligent written communication supports my reputation as a professional. I rely on my reputation to establish a network that broadens my career horizons.” Elizabeth Sobol, Chemical Buyer
          The Oxford or serial comma is the comma before and in the first example above. While some formatting styles still declare its use optional, court cases have reached questionable conclusions because of that missing comma. The verdict: Use it, always. It is not worth leaving your readers wondering when the items of a list can be easily clarified with the habitual use of a serial comma. In the example above, wouldn’t many readers pause to wonder about the complexity of a “beef and vegetarian main dish” if the serial comma were omitted? Never give your readers reason to wonder about the clarity of your ideas.In addition, do not use a comma in a list of two, even if you are concerned about clarity. A comma in a list of two will likely lead your reader to re-read, wondering if an item is missing. Readers should never have to read your work again because they did not understand your meaning the first time.
      • After Adjectives: To separate two or more coordinate adjectives (descriptive words that are of equal importance) that describe a noun.
        • The old, beloved Honda was ready for the highway.
        • My neighbor is a frustrated, angry young woman.
          The key to deciding if you have coordinate adjectives is to ask two questions: (1) Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written in reverse order? (2) Does the sentence make sense if the adjectives are written with and between them? If the answer is yes, you have coordinate adjectives and you need to separate them with a comma.
      • To Connect Sentences: Before any of the seven FANBOYS coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
        • I read the entire article, but I could not understand its purpose.
        • I drove my daughter to work yesterday, and then I drove to the grocery store.
      • With Interrupters: To separate phrases of additional information that can occur in the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.
        • Beginning: In Minneapolis, my mother was a dentist.
          Middle: My mother, a dentist, was not pleased to hear that I had stopped brushing my teeth.
          End: My mother studied dentistry for four years, which means she lived in Boston before settling in Minneapolis.
      • With Direct Quotations: To shift from your original words to a quote.
        • William Faulkner once said, “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
      • When Necessary: When meaning is more clear with a comma than without.
    2. The semicolon has only two uses: (1) in place of a period and (2) in a complex list.
      • The author argues vehemently in favor of the new environmental impact study; her ideas echo those of several worthy contemporaries.
      • The horses are standing at the back gate, waiting to be brought in for the night; however, I would rather wait until the sun goes down to bring them in.
      • My cousin is planning to bring her mother, a physics professor; her brother, a nuclear scientist; and her husband, an accomplished chef.
      • This summer, we plan to visit Detroit, Michigan; Flagstaff, Arizona; Hartford, Connecticut; and Juneau, Alaska.
    3. The colon is primarily used to introduce, although it is also used when we write time (8:10 a.m.) or occasionally in mathematical equations. When it is used to introduce, a colon must always be preceded by a complete sentence.
      • The casserole my grandchildren love has four main ingredients: cooked spaghetti, fresh tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella cheese.
      • The author’s argument slips somewhat on p. 129: Here he is debating the merits of a 1990s survey, and his discussion does not directly relate to his overall claim.
        Note in the above example that when the colon is followed by a complete sentence, the first word of the sentence should be capitalized.
    4. The dash is used for only two purposes: (1) to introduce (in place of a colon) or to separate an interrupter (in place of commas or parentheses). To form a dash, type two hyphens. Some style guides allow a space before and after the dash, and some do not. While the dash is considered a less formal punctuation mark, it can be used in professional and academic writing. Be careful of overusing the dash, as it will bring your readers to a fuller pause than merely a comma.
      • When you are ready to go, don’t forget the most important item – her gift.
      • Their new puppy was beautiful – wide-eyed, long-haired, pink-tongued – and made me wonder whether our aging dog would like a new friend one day.
        Note that the interrupter in the second example could be surrounded by any of three punctuation marks: commas, dashes, or parentheses. Commas will keep your readers moving steadily forward, dashes will encourage your reader to pause over the interrupter, and parentheses will often allow your readers to skip over the interrupter all together. Consider the differences:
      • With commas: Their new puppy was beautiful, wide-eyed, long-haired, pink-tongued, and made me wonder whether our aging dog would like a new friend one day.
      • With dashes: Their new puppy was beautiful – wide-eyed, long-haired, pink-tongued – and made me wonder whether our aging dog would like a new friend one day.
      • With parentheses: Their new puppy was beautiful (wide-eyed, long-haired, pink-tongued) and made me wonder whether our aging dog would like a new friend one day.
    5. The hyphen is used to join words that function as a single unit of meaning, and it is typically aid your reader in understanding more clearly what you intend. Hyphens became increasingly more popular in the mid-20th century until grammarians feared over-saturation. Today’s rules are more flexible than most grammar rules, allowing the author to determine whether hyphens would aid in clarity or not. Consider the following:
      • Their company is ready to begin the government-mandated program.
      • Are you going to write a getting-ready-for-vacation list?
        Note: Do not hyphenate compound words that include an –ly adverb.
      • She has a beautifully decorated library.
        It’s interesting to note, too, that words in the English language often walk a similar trajectory from two words to hyphenated words to a single word. Consider on site on-site onsite.
    6. The apostrophe is used for only two purposes: (1) to show possession and (2) to show something is missing. For possession, the apostrophe goes before the s when the subject is singular and after the s when the subject is plural. Use only an apostrophe for subjects that are singular but end in s.
      • The dog’s bowl is overflowing. (one dog = ’s)
      • Leia has three cats, and her cats’ bowl is often empty. (multiple cats = s’)
      • Charles’ laugh is infectious.
        Do not use an apostrophe to form a plural noun, such as the 1950’s (correct: 1950s) or Saturday’s (correct: Saturdays) or MD’s (correct: MDs). An exception is allowed if an apostrophe is necessary for clarity: He has trouble pronouncing e’s and i’s would be difficult to read without the apostrophes.
      • I don’t want to leave the house today. (don’t = do not)
      • She wouldn’t like it if she knew. (wouldn’t = would not)
      • The ’60s were a tumultuous time in American history. (’60s = 1960s)
    7. Quotation marks are used (1) with direct quotes and (2) with the titles of shorter works. Remember that commas and periods always go inside quotation marks, whether the quote is a single word or a longer sentence.
      • “I thought you were ready to go,” he said.
      • She has often wondered whether her children understand the meaning of the word “literally.”
      • Have you read the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”?
      • Her grandmother loves to sing “Amazing Grace” on Sunday mornings.
        When writing the titles of longer works, such as a novel, newspaper, or magazine, use italics: The Red Pony, The Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens.
    8. The ellipsis is a set of three periods used (1) to show missing material or (2) to suggest a pause or suspenseful moment. Avoid the second use in professional or academic writing.
      • In A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce, William Tindall supports the idea: “Stephen’s theory and this manuscript give us a profitable way of approaching Joyce’s works, all of which … may be thought of as epiphanies, Dubliners, especially.”
        When beginning a quote partway into a sentence, substitute a capital letter with brackets rather than using an ellipsis:
      • “[T]his manuscript give[s] us a profitable way of approaching Joyce’s works, all of which … may be thought of as epiphanies, Dubliners, especially.”
        Most formatting styles do not require an ellipsis if you end a quote before the sentence is completed, but MLA does. Here is what that would look like, including the final period:
      • “[T]his manuscript give[s] us a profitable way of approaching Joyce’s works, all of which … may be thought of as epiphanies … .”
    9. The bracket is used for one of two purposes: (1) for clarity in a direct quotation or (2) when you have a parenthetical within a parenthetical.
      • “One or more of [Joyce’s] books commonly appears in lists of the ‘hundred best books,’ along with works of Sophocles, Homer, and Dante,” Tindall writes.
      • C. S. Lewis is the most widely published Christian apologist of the 20th century (consider Alister McGrath’s award-winning biography [2013]).
    10. The slash is used to show a line break in poetry or, on occasion, to serve as shorthand for or or and.
      • “April is the cruelest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain. / Winter kept us warm, covering / Earth in forgetful snow, feeding / A little life with dried tubers,” writes T. S. Eliot in his poem “The Waste Land.”
      • The instructions said that it was fine to arrive with a pen and/or pencil for the exam.

    Common Errors:

    • Placing commas according to rhythm or instinct rather than adhering to the simple math. Each time you consider using a comma, ask yourself which of the six comma rules it adheres to. If you are unable to answer, skip the comma.
    • Assuming that a comma alone is enough to connect two sentences in place of a period. In order to use a comma, you must follow the equation of comma + FANBOYS conjunction.
    • Using a semicolon without a complete sentence on either side. Remember the simple math of a sentence (subject + verb), and be sure you have the correct math both before and after the semicolon before using it to replace a period.
    • Using a colon without a prior complete sentence. A colon is not necessary every time you have a list; it is only used with a complete sentence in order to introduce what follows. In the following sentence, a colon not only is not needed but would be incorrect if inserted before the list: I am headed to the story to pick up bananas, soy milk, and chicken.
    • Overusing the dash. Remember to use the dash wisely and sparingly.
    • Typing a single hyphen for a dash. The hyphen is the shorter line (-) and the dash is the longer line formed by typing two hyphens in a row (–).
    • Using the apostrophe to form plural nouns: theSmiths’, for example. If you are referring to theSmiths’ home, then use the apostrophe. If you are only referring to the family, the apostrophe is not needed. Avoid using an apostrophe with decades as well: the 1920’s is incorrect. Consider how lopsided it would look with the apostrophe correctly placed to show am omission at the beginning as well: the ’20’s. Instead use the apostrophe only for the omission: the ’20s.
    • Placing a comma or period on the outside of the quotation marks, which is a rule that still holds in Britain but not in the United States.
      • She ran the race like a “warrior”, as her mother used to say. (British)
      • She ran the race like a “warrior,” as her mother used to say. (American)

    Exercises:

    Exercise 4.1

    Insert commas in the following sentences as needed.

    1. The first-grade teacher heard the children bickering in the hallway so she hurried to the doorway to see what was the matter.
    2. When I go to the mall tomorrow I will be shopping for tennis shoes jeans and T-shirts.
    3. Elevators have always frightened her a little but she tries to hide her fear from other people.
    4. Those young hairy Hereford cows apparently have not yet shed their winter coats.
    5. If we buy lemons and avocadoes will you help me make guacamole?
    6. She wants to go to the beach tomorrow too.
    7. Mr. Tang will you explain that again please?
    8. I would like to buy a large coffee but I might not finish it tonight.
    9. “Tell me why” the child begged.
    10. Their family has traveled to Oregon Washington and Idaho but they have never been to the East Coast.

    Exercise 4.2

    Insert punctuation in the following sentences as needed.

    1. I wonder whether their new kitten the black one with the white stripe will fully recover from his cold.
    2. His grandchildren often leave sticky fingered heart felt gifts for him when they visit.
    3. What time will the airplane land Janet asked.
    4. I would like to bake a banana bread this afternoon but I am concerned that it is too hot outside to heat the oven.
    5. Those examples will work just fine the librarian explained.
    6. I hope yesterdays mess an unfortunate pile of melted crayons from an experiment gone awry didn’t stain your carpet too badly.
    7. She didnt expect to hear from her 15 year old son until the end of the week.
    8. Will your father in law want to eat with us?
    9. He jogged to the mailbox three days worth of mail made it difficult to jog home.
    10. The trees shed their leaves early this year yellows oranges reds and purples that colored the hillsides beautifully before they fell.

    Exercise 4.3

    Find and correct 10 errors in the following paragraph.

    When Eloise joined the womens cross country team she did not expect a complete transformation of how she moved her arms and legs when she ran. As a long-time soccer player Eloise knew she had excellent endurance and she had always been proud of her ability to keep running long after her teammates had tired. But on the first day of practice the cross country coach called her over and asked her to relax her hands drop her shoulders and move her arms to the front rather than across her body. At first the changes felt awkward and Eloise could feel herself wanting to revert back to the way she had always run. But after she had practiced the new form for a week or two, she realized that she was running faster longer and stronger than she ever had before.

    Answer Key:

    Answer Key Exercise 4.1

    1. The first-grade teacher heard the children bickering in the hallway, so she hurried to the doorway to see what was the matter.
    2. When I go to the mall tomorrow, I will be shopping for tennis shoes, jeans, and T-shirts.
    3. Elevators have always frightened her a little, but she tries to hide her fear from other people.
    4. Those young, hairy, Hereford cows apparently have not yet shed their winter coats.
    5. If we buy lemons and avocadoes, will you help me make guacamole?
    6. She wants to go to the beach tomorrow, too.
    7. Mr. Tang, will you explain that again, please?
    8. I would like to buy a large coffee, but I might not finish it tonight.
    9. “Tell me why,” the child begged.
    10. Their family has traveled to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, but they have never been to the East Coast.

    Answer Key Exercise 4.2

    1. I wonder whether their new kitten (the black one with the white stripe) will fully recover from his cold.
    2. His grandchildren often leave stickyfingered, heartfelt gifts for him when they visit.
    3. What time will the airplane land?” Janet asked.
    4. I would like to bake a banana bread this afternoon, but I am concerned that it is too hot outside to heat the oven.
    5. Those examples will work just fine,” the librarian explained.
    6. I hope yesterdays mess an unfortunate pile of melted crayons from an experiment gone awry didn’t stain your carpet too badly.
    7. She didnt expect to hear from her 15yearold son until the end of the week.
    8. Will your fatherinlaw want to eat with us?
    9. He jogged to the mailbox; three days worth of mail made it difficult to jog home.
    10. The trees shed their leaves early this year: yellows, oranges, reds, and purples that colored the hillsides beautifully before they fell.

    Answer key Exercise 4.3

    Find and correct 10 errors in the following paragraph.

    When Eloise joined the womens cross country team, she did not expect a complete transformation of how she moved her arms and legs when she ran. As a long-time soccer player, Eloise knew she had excellent endurance, and she had always been proud of her ability to keep running long after her teammates had tired. But on the first day of practice, the cross country coach called her over and asked her to relax her hands, drop her shoulders, and move her arms to the front rather than across her body. At first the changes felt awkward, and Eloise could feel herself wanting to revert back to the way she had always run. But after she had practiced the new form for a week or two, she realized that she was running faster, longer, and stronger than she ever had before.


    This page titled 1.4: Mid-Sentence Punctuation Marks is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Jennie A. Harrop (George Fox University Library) .

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