How to punctuate successfully

22 December 2016
door Regina Coeli

 In a world of fast communication, incorrect or the lack of punctuation can get us into quite some hot water as shown below.

The comma

Example: the very specific office toilet 

TOILET
FOR
DISABLED
ELDERLY
PREGNANT
CHILDREN 

Using commas makes this amenity available to a greater number of users.

TOILET
FOR
DISABLED,
ELDERLY,
PREGNANT,
CHILDREN 

The full stop versus the comma: how to make a million by using a comma

A house in the UK priced at 1,000,000.00 is worth far more than one at 1.000.000.00. 

  • 1,000,000 is a million pound property to be found in London
  • 1.000.000.00 can get you a cup of tea, as this is one pound

In English, the comma is used to show amounts above one thousand, the full stop is for amounts less than one.

The defining comma

Consider the difference in meaning.

  • The employees who work hard get a raise. (Only the employees who work hard get a raise).
  • The employees, who work hard, get a raise. (All employees get a raise as they all work hard.)

Misogynist v feminist punctuation?

Compare how punctuation changes the meaning of the following sentences.

  • A woman: without her man, is nothing.
  • A woman, without her, man is nothing.


The apostrophe: showing possession

If possession is nine-tenths of the law, then an apostrophe is crucial when verifying present ownership. This is not a straightforward matter:

  • My client’s partner’s portfolios. (one client and his/ her partner)
  • My client’s partners’ portfolios. (one client with shared multiple partners)
  • My clients’ partner’s portfolios. (multiple clients with one shared partner)
  • My clients’ partners’ portfolios. (multiple clients and their partners)


The apostrophe: showing missing letters

The apostrophe is used to replace letters e.g. It’s means it is or it has. The following table shows some common mistakes related to apostrophes and also to spelling.

It’s   It is / It has  
Its It belongs to it 
You’re  You are
Your It belongs to you
They’re They are
Their It belongs to them
There A place away from you
We’re  We are
Were Past tense of are e.g. they were over there
Where A place

 

Hyphens

Hyphens can get us into hot water. Unhyphenated extra marital sex is one thing, hyphenated quite another. While the former is socially acceptable, extra-marital sex may land you in the divorce courts. A man-eating chicken is a fairground attraction you do not want to visit, whilst a man eating chicken would be something you could expect to see at a barbecue.

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