Clark's Gospel of Punctuation
Let’s start with our “problem children,” the ones we have the most trouble with.
- The apostrophe--We have an apostrophe catastrophe in this country.
1. Contractions, possessives. It's and its are the most misused in the country. Its is comparable to his and hers (a pronoun). It's is a contraction for it is. There is no its'. I saw a sign once that read "Deliciou's Apple's.
2. With plurals:
- With regular singular nouns ending in s, "Mark Thomas's job is to lead the OPA.
- With regular plural nouns, add only an apostrophe, "The Thomases' children…."
- With irregular plural nouns, add an apostrophe s, "The children's
- Never add to a noun that ends in s if there is no possessive. Wrong: "These word’s…"
- If it's a compound noun, only the last word gets an apostrophe: The editor-in-chief's job…..
- Compound possessives, only on the second noun, Lewis and Clark’s journey…
- Colons--Avoid. They stop the reader's flow in the sentence. They always come at the end of a complete sentence: He bought five vegetables: cukes, tomatoes, corn, okra and radishes. Do not use it in the following manner (as in this sentence): He bought the following: cukes, tomatoes, corn. Rewrite both. He bought cukes, corn and radishes.
- Exclamation marks--Avoid! Especially more than one at a time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They show you don't know how to write for emphasis, and cheapen your writing like all those ads in the inserts that put exclamation marks after every item: "Hair Dyer”! Two speeds! Black or brown! Wall mount! Etc. You should use it in a quote only when clearly called for. “Don’t use exclamation marks!” Clark yelled.
- Quotation marks--In America, quote marks always, always, always go outside the period and comma. Question marks and exclamation marks depend on context. This includes single quotes: “I told you he said 'I quit,'" Clark yelled. With question marks, quotes go inside if the quote is a question as in "Are you cold?" he asked. But outside like this, Did Clark say, “Question marks go inside quotes”?
- Commas--the most debatable. Best rule--Always use for clarity, and according to AP style on addresses, etc. Other than that, try omitting or rewriting to avoid as many as possible.
1. Use with a non-restrictive clause or appositive (one that's not essential). Clark, who grew up in New Mexico, lives in Oklahoma. vs. The man who was bleeding from the wound died in 20 minutes. Try to write around it and cut the words. Clark grew up in New Mexico and lives in Oklahoma.
2. In a series, omit the comma before the last item: He loves tomatoes, iced tea and jalapenos. Your English teacher and others would insert a comma after iced tea. That's called the "Oxford comma." Oxford is in England. This is America. Journalists don't use it except in rare cases where needed for clarity.
3. Setting off introductory clauses and phrases, In the beginning, God created…. Or Although the city council met for five hours, it took no action. It's usually better for us to rewrite it and get to the point first. After five hours the council accomplished nothing. No comma because it's essential to the meaning, it's shorter, and easier to read. Get to the point.
(Use these . . . . . . . Periods. They're free.)