Top 5 Punctuation Errors and How to Avoid Them

September 24 is National Punctuation Day! For anyone who works in the marketing world, it’s a day for celebration. As professional communicators, punctuation is critical in conveying key messages clearly to target audiences. In fact, misplaced or missing punctuation can quickly and drastically change the meaning of a sentence. For example:

“Let’s eat, grandma.” – A welcome invite to grandmother to have dinner.

“Let’s eat grandma.” – A suggestion that grandmother is dinner.

In honor of this national observance, here are the top five punctuation errors the GRIT team sees most often and how to avoid them:

  • Misplaced Periods and Commas
  • Misplaced Apostrophes
  • Misuse of Commas
  • The Elusive Semicolon
  • The Never-ending Ellipsis


Misplaced Periods and Commas within Quotes

According to Associated Press Style guidelines, periods and commas should be included inside quotation marks.  For example: “Everyone has the day off,” said Julie.


Misplaced Apostrophes

Apostrophes are used to show a possessive form of the word or when using contractions. For example: “I can’t go to Sara’s house.”

In this example, what is conveyed is you cannot go to a house that is owned by Sara.

Some writers also struggle when faced with the challenge of making a plural noun possessive. In this case, the apostrophe would be added to the end of the word.

For instance, “the troops’ bags were left at baggage claim.”


Misuse of Commas When Connecting Independent Clauses

Commas can be a tricky element of punctuation that are often used incorrectly. The GRIT team often sees comma errors take place when dealing with two independent clauses. Commas should be used before the coordinating conjunction when connecting two independent clauses (or two sentences that can stand alone and still be complete). For instance: “I went for a walk, and I got lost.”

Just remember, when removing the subject in the second half of the statement, there are no longer two independent clauses. In that case, the comma would also be removed. For example: “I went for a walk and got lost.”

As a trick, say each of the sentences out loud to determine if they are complete sentence that may independently stand on their own. For example, “got lost,” is not a complete sentence so it’s a red flag that a comma is no longer needed in this example.


The Elusive Semicolon

If used correctly, this punctuation can be a powerful tool for conveying key messages. A semicolon is used to connect two independent clauses (complete sentences) when a coordinating conjunction is not present. For example: “He was supposed to arrive at noon; he was late.”

Semicolons may also be used in a series for clarification. For example: “Our speakers were John Smith, president of ABC Company; Lisa Johnson, vice president of ABC Company; and Tim Williams, director of ABC Company.”


The Ellipsis that Never Ends

An ellipsis is created with three periods and two spaces. An easy way to remember this is to treat an ellipsis like a three-letter word. When used correctly, the ellipsis can be a great tool to indicate a deletion of select words, demonstrate a thought that a writer leaves incomplete, or indicate a pause. For example: “Today … I made the call.”

When it comes to punctuation, the rules can be tricky and without careful copy development and proofing, marketing pieces may be at risk. The GRIT team uses Associated Press Style Guidelines for all written materials and abides by a strict, internal proofing process for all client materials. Do you need help developing your next marketing piece? Reach out to the GRIT team today!