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Punctuating Sentences Correctly

Part of the English Grammar Workbook For Dummies Cheat Sheet (UK Edition)

Here are some quick tips and handy hints for when and how to use the grammatical marks that most often trip people up when they’re writing, plus some guidance on improving your writing.

Comma:

  • To set apart the name of a person being addressed

  • After an introductory expression

  • To separate extra, nonessential statements from the rest of the sentence

  • Following the Dear Sir or Madam line in a business letter

Semicolon:

  • To join two complete sentences without using and, but and similar words

  • To separate items in a list when at least one item contains a comma

Colon:

  • To introduce a long quotation

  • To introduce a list

Dash:

  • To separate and add emphasis to an extra comment in a sentence

  • To show a range (numbers 1 – 64)

Apostrophe:

  • To show possession (Herman’s hermit, the girls’ gym class)

  • To substitute for missing numerals (’07)

  • To substitute for missing letters in contractions (isn’t, what’s and he's)

Hyphens:

  • To divide words or syllables at the end of a line

  • To link two descriptions of one word (second-string violinist)

  • To attach prefixes to words that start with capital letters (anti-Nazi)

Add interest to your writing with these tricks:

  • Start with a description (Dangling over the cliff, Martha considered her options)

  • Combine sentences by inserting one idea into another (Martha, who hated heights, looked at the ground)

  • Occasionally reverse the usual subject-verb order (Onto the valley floor thumped Martha)

  • Cut unnecessary words (The mountain was 3,000 feet high in altitude. No need for in altitude.)

  • Look for strong verbs (Strolled or rushed instead of went, for example)

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