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The (incomplete) Punctuation FAQ

Hopefully this will grow in time, as other questions are asked and answered, and other people add to this.
Hopefully (!) some kind moderator or adminstrator will mark this thread as sticky.


INTRODUCTION
In grammar, the rules are forged in a delicate balance between history and culture. History defines the formal rules, culture defines the usage rules, and most of the English-speaking world resides somewhere between the two. You can make a new usage rule merely by inventing it and using it, but the only way to make a new formal rule is wait for a very long time - these rules do change, but they change slowly.

Punctuation rules, on the other hand, change much, much faster. These rules are set by publishers, newspapers, and so on, and so can vary from publisher to publisher, let alone from country to country. For example, the Sunday Times prints "the home secretary", wheras the Times prints "the Home Secretary". Who is right? Well, there are the people who effectively set the rules, so perhaps the question is moot.

I am personally inclined to the view that punctuation doesn't matter much, largely because of the reasons stated above, but also because punctuation is an artifact of writing. Our language had beauty, structure, and the logic of real grammar, long before anyone ever dreamed of writing it down. However, punctuation rules do exist in practice, and people keep asking for them (so these really ARE frequently asked questions), so, here goes with what I've been able to look up.

The sources for this information are the Oxford Language Reference (British) and the Harbrace College Handbook, Ninth Edition (American). Both are accepted reference standards.

Rommie


TRUE GRAY AREAS

These can't really be called "rules", because disagreement exists among the rulemakers. These are the areas in which you must make up your own mind.

CAPITALIZATION
The fixed rules are that sentences and proper nouns are must be capitalized. Beyond that, you pretty much have to decide for yourself. Some people think that words derived from proper nouns should be captialized (like "Boolean" or "Pasteurized" / "boolean" or "pasteurized"), others disagree, arguing that there is no such thing as a "proper adjective". Some people think that abbreviations which are pronouncable should be treated as ordinary vocabulary words and therefore lowercased, others disagree ("ufo", "Nato", etc. versus "UFO", "NATO", etc.). The capitalization of book and film titles is a total free-for-all. You can capitalize pretty much any word you want.


RULES COMMON TO BOTH BRITAIN AND AMERICA

APOSTROPHE-S
In general, plurals are formed with an -s (no apostrophe), and possessive case is formed with an -'s (apostrophe-s). However, there are exceptions to this rule, as follows:
1. The pronoun "its" (possessive case of it) requires no apostrophe. The entirely separate word "it's" is short for "it is".
2. It is CORRECT to write: "My name contains two m's" (with an apostrophe) - basically because, without it, the sentence wouldn't read correctly.

BRACKETS
Round brackets () enclose a relatively unimportant piece of information.
Square brackets [] enclose an explanation by someone other than the author/speaker of the surrounding text.
Punctuation marks that refer only to the parenthetical material go inside the parentheses.
Punctuation marks that refer to non-parenthetical material go outside.

HOW TO SEPARATE CLAUSES
A comma is used to separate the main clauses of a compound sentence, and to separate words and phrases which do not belong together. A comma is not "powerful" enough to completely separate clauses on its own, however - you need a conjunction as well.
A semicolon unites clauses which are of similar importance and closely related.
A colon separates clauses when there is a step forward, for instance from introduction to main point. It is also used to introduce a list. Sentences, and even paragraphs, may end in colon.

QUOTES
If a quotation contains the end of a sentence (and would normally require a period), but is not itself the end of a sentence, use a comma instead of a full stop.

Question marks and exclamation marks go within quotes if they refer to the quoted material only; place them outside when they apply to the whole sentence.

You are supposed to use a comma before quotes, like this:
He said, 'hello.'
In practice, this is often dropped if the quoted material is not at least one whole clause.


RULES UNIQUE TO BRITAIN

QUOTED MATERIAL
Quoted material is enclosed in single quote marks: 'like this'
Alternate quote marks when nesting, as in: he said 'she said "they said 'I said "hello"'"'.

In Britain, the following is correct. Observe the placement of the first comma. This would be incorrect in America;
'That', he said, 'is nonsense.'
The comma goes outside the closing quote - IF the contatenated quote wouldn't contain it. (In other words, he said 'That is nonsense', not 'That, is nonsense'.)

In Britain, actual quotations (extracts from literary works, etc.,) should be quoted exactly, including punctionation, so, if there was no comma in the original, there should also be no comma in the copy. If the sentence demands one, it must go outside the quotes.


RULES UNIQUE TO AMERICA

QUOTED MATERIAL
Quoted material is enclosed in double quote marks: "like this"
Alternate quote marks when nesting, as in: he said "she said 'they said "I said 'hello'"'".

Periods and commas go inside the quotation marks. Colons and semicolons go outside the quotation marks.
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Comments  
I've just added this to the grammar FAQ page.

Thanks Rommie, I'm sure many students will find this extremely helpful!
Thanks very much for taking the time to post this FAQ!

I am new to this forum and looking for information on the use of the en dash and em dash.

I am a graphic designer and web designer. I am currently taking a course in which the instructor provided the following information about these punctuation marks. However, there was quite a lot of discussion about them and the accuracy of the information supplied. So, I thought I would put them forward here to see if you could provide and validation or corrections.

Thanks in advance for your help. Emotion: geeked

corgilan

Hyphen (-):
In punctuation, use only for hyphenating words.
There are no spaces before or after the hyphen.

In writing mathematical expressions, use as the subtraction operand.
[Note: I do not know the spacing rules on this when used as the minus sign]

Example Uses:
This is an example of a sen-
tence that contains a hyphen.

En dash (–):
This character is the same width as the capital letter N of the font being used. Use en dash when expressing a range of values, dates, or times. Use one space before and after the en dash character.

Example Uses:
10 – 12 students
May 15, 2004 – June 23, 2004
10:00AM – 11:00AM
[Note that the AM or PM after the time is supposed to be in small caps, but this font doesn't have that readily available so I can't put it in the post that way. Does anyone know if the convention of small caps is outdated or if it supercedes using regular caps?]

Em dash(—):
This character is the same width as the capital letter M of the font being used. Use em dash within a sentence to indicate an abrupt change in thought. There are no spaces before or after the em dash character.

Example Uses:
I am typing a post to this forum—I must go take the dog out now.

I'm not sure if my example is exactly right, but I do have to take the dog out.Emotion: dog
(The dog would also like you to know that his emoticon doesn't seem to be working.)
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Hi, I wondered if there is a difference in quotation marks, when the person is merely thinking a section of text, but not actually verbalizing it. As an example, a woman thinking to herself, forms a conclusion;

Medora shook her head and looked away and thought to herself,

"What am I thinking? It's too late for that. Oh, it was stupid of me to bring it up."
Hello,
I am also new to this forum. This is a great place!
I wonder if any of you have come across the following question.
Is it correct to add a period anywhere at the end of a sentence constructed like this:
I wrote an article entitled "What Are Brothers Good For?"
THANK U VERY MUCH , AND I WILL KEEP ON READING YOUR TEXTS BECOUSE , I WANT TO BECOME A VERY GOOD SPEAKER AND WRITER OF OF THIS LANGUAGE .
IT IS MY HOPE THAT THROUGH VISITING YOUR SITE I WILL BENEFIT IN LARGE EXTENT BECOUSE MY GREAT EXPECTATIONS ARE TO BE ONE OF PEOPLE WHO CAN EVEN CARRECT SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO EITHER SPEAK OR WRITE BROKEN ENGLISH.
THAKS AND GOOD BYE
yours sincerely philipgadi.Emotion: indifferent

Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Hello Meadow Spring

You wrote an article entitled "What Are Brothers Good For?" and asked whether a period is necessary. Please note that a period at the end of the above title will make the sentence grammatically wrong.

Best regards
This isn't really punctuation, but a grammar question:

Is "The very spring and root of honesty and virtue lie in a good education" grammatically correct? Shouldn't it be "lies"?

Email Removed">


Thank you very much. It was very usefull for me.
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