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Correct and Effective Punctuation & Mechanics

The "rules" of punctuation are, in fact, only broad guidelines. They vary across national boundaries and even from one writer to the next. Still, understanding the principles behind the common marks of punctuation will strengthen our understanding of grammar and help us to follow the conventions consistently in our own writing.

Basic Rules of Punctuation
Here we'll review the conventional uses of punctuation in American English.

A Mini-Quiz on Punctuation
The five questions in this mini-quiz will give you an opportunity to review some of the basic rules of punctuation.

A Brief History of Punctuation
Ernest Hemingway's attitude toward punctuation sounds eminently sensible: make sure that you know the rules before you break them. But just who made up these rules (or conventions) in the first place? Join us as we look for answers in this brief history of punctuation.

Punctuation Matters: A "Dear John" Letter and a $2.13 Million Comma
So, instant messengers, do you still think that punctuation is unimportant--that commas, colons, and similar squiggles are just pesky reminders of a bygone era? If so, here are two short stories that may change your mind.

The Invisible Mark of Punctuation: The Paragraph Break
American author and literary agent Noah Lukeman discusses an important yet frequently overlooked mark of punctuation--the paragraph break.

End Punctuation: Periods, Question Marks, Exclamation Points
Hitting the brakes is one of the first things we practice when learning how to drive. Knowing how and when to stop a sentence is also important.

Punctuation Practice: Adding End Marks of Punctuation
This exercise will give you practice in using the end marks of punctuation: periods, question marks, and exclamation points.

Punctuation Practice: Adding End Marks of Punctuation II
After you have reviewed the article "End Punctuation: Periods, Question Marks, and Exclamation Points," try this short practice exercise. (The answers are on page two.)

How Many Spaces Go After a Period?
If you grew up using a typewriter, you were probably taught to put two spaces after a period. But like the typewriter itself, that custom went out of fashion many years ago.

Notes on Exclamation Points
Since it first popped up in the 14th century, the exclamation point has generally been regarded as the hot-headed punk in the school of punctuation. Favored by advertisers, preteens, and writers of ransom notes, the exclamation point is less a mark of punctuation than an oratorical cue or a typographical shriek--in newspaper slang, a "screamer."

Notes on Parentheses
In this article, we look at where parentheses came from, what purposes they have served, and how they should be used in our writing today.

Guidelines for Using Commas Effectively
In his essay "In Praise of the Humble Comma," Pico Iyer compares the comma to "a flashing yellow light that asks us only to slow down." Here we'll consider four main guidelines for using commas effectively.

The Comma Quiz
This quiz will give you practice in applying the Guidelines for Using Commas Effectively.

Exercise in Punctuating Nonrestrictive Elements
As a general rule, nonrestrictive words, phrases, and clauses are set off with commas. Test your punctuation prowess by completing this short exercise.

Practice in Punctuating Adjective Clauses
After reading the article on Subordination With Adjective Clauses, review the guidelines below and then complete the punctuation exercise that follows.

Creating Sentences With Commas
This sentence-imitation exercise will give you practice in applying our Top Four Guidelines for Using Commas Effectively.

Review Exercise: Adding Commas to a Paragraph
This exercise offers practice in applying the rules for using commas effectively. Insert commas wherever you think they belong in the paragraph "The Least Successful Car." Try reading the paragraph aloud: at least in some cases, you should be able to hear where commas are needed.

Review Exercise: Adding Commas to a Paragraph II
Insert commas wherever you think they belong in the paragraph "Frederick Douglass." Try reading the paragraph aloud: at least in some cases, you should be able to hear where commas are needed.

What Is the Oxford (or Serial) Comma?
The Oxford (or serial) comma is the comma that precedes the conjunction before the final item in a list of three or more items:

How to Use the Semicolon
Stronger than a comma, less forceful than a period (or full stop): put simply, that's the nature of the semicolon. It's a mark, Lewis Thomas says, that offers "a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come." Here we'll consider the main uses of the semicolon.

Guidelines for Using Semicolons, Colons, and Dashes
No intestinal jokes here, please. We're talking about three much-abused marks of punctuation: semicolons, colons, and dashes.

Creating Sentences With Semicolons, Colons, and Dashes
This sentence-imitation exercise will give you practice in applying our guidelines for using semicolons, colons, and dashes.

Review Exercise: Using Commas and Semicolons Correctly
This exercise offers practice in using commas and semicolons correctly.

Guidelines for Using Apostrophes Correctly
The apostrophe may be the simplest and yet most frequently misused mark of punctuation in English. Here we'll review six guidelines for using the mark correctly.

The Apostrophe Quiz
This quiz will give you practice in applying the Guidelines for Using Apostrophes Correctly.

Punctuation Practice: Adding Apostrophes
This exercise will give you practice in applying the principles introduced in Guidelines for Using Apostrophes Correctly.

Practice in Using Apostrophes Correctly
This multiple-choice quiz will give you practice in applying the principles introduced in the article Using Apostrophes Correctly.

Apostrophe Exercise: Combining Sentences with Possessive Nouns
This exercise will give you practice in applying some of the principles introduced in "Using Apostrophes Correctly."

Combining Sentences With Contractions
This exercise will give you practice in applying the first principle introduced in the article "Using Apostrophes Correctly": Use an apostrophe to show the omission of letters in a contraction.

Should the Apostrophe Be Abolished?
Without a doubt, the apostrophe is the most commonly abused mark of punctuation. Is the little squiggle worth saving, or is it time to abandon the mark altogether?

Guidelines for Using Quotation Marks Effectively
Quotation marks, sometimes referred to as quotes or inverted commas, are punctuation marks used in pairs to set off a quotation or a piece of dialogue. At least that's how they're supposed to be used. Here are five guidelines for using quotation marks effectively.

Practice in Using Quotation Marks Correctly
This exercise will give you practice in applying our Guidelines for Using Quotation Marks Effectively (U.S. edition).

Please, Don't "Quote" Me
A look at the proliferation of quotation marks in some unexpected places.

Guidelines for Using Capital Letters
The basic guidelines for using capital letters appear simple enough, but things become tricky once we get down to the details. Be guided (but not enslaved) by these 18 rules for capitalization in English.

A Quick Quiz on Capitalization
To test your familiarity with the somewhat arbitrary rules for capitalization, edit the following sentences to correct any errors.

Practice in Using Capital Letters
After reviewing our "Guidelines for Using Capital Letters," test your editing skills with this exercise.

Ten Tips for Using Abbreviations in Formal Writing
Despite what you may have heard in school, abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms are commonly used in formal writing (though more often in business and the sciences than in the humanities). Here are 10 guidelines for using and punctuating abbreviations.

Review Exercise: Punctuating Sentences Correctly
It's time to find out how well you can apply the guidelines for using punctuation marks correctly and effectively.

Punctuation Practice: Adding Commas, Colons, Semicolons, and Dashes
This exercise will give you practice in applying the principles introduced in Basic Rules of Punctuation, with special attention to the correct use of commas, colons, semicolons, and dashes.

Punctuation Practice: Lost in the Witchcrafted Woods
This exercise offers practice in applying the guidelines for using punctuation marks. In the following paragraph, insert commas, quotation marks, colons, and dashes wherever you think they belong.

Poe on Punctuation
"That punctuation is important all agree," Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1848, "but how few comprehend the extent of its importance!"

New Punctuation Marks: What's the Point?
While some people are hell-bent on eliminating certain marks of punctuation, others are promoting brand new ones--such as the interrobang, the sarcasm point, and the pomma point.

The Punctuation Poem: "The Dictaphone Bard"
By demonstrating how a 19th-century poem might look after being played back through a Dictaphone (an early voice-recording device), Franklin P. Adams highlights (to the point of distraction) the usually unobtrusive marks of punctuation.

State Abbreviations
A table of the postal (or ZIP code) abbreviations for all 50 states along with their older (or traditional) abbreviations.

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