Errors in punctuation can make you look uneducated and therefore damage your career. But apart from that, they can also make your writing ambiguous and hard to understand.
Here are some quick tests to help you find out if you need to work on some areas of punctuation. Simply print out this page or copy the text and work on it at your leisure. To receive the solution, contact us by e-mail.
The punctuation tests are grouped into the following areas:
1. General comma use
2. Special comma problems: run-on sentences and sentence fragments
4. Colon, semicolon, and dash
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The comma is a separator. It is weaker than the period or semicolon. Its main use is to set off modifiers or items in a series:
Smith, the company's first president, was a financial genius.
I talked to Bob, Sue, and Victor.
He is a brilliant, highly creative engineer.
Despite all their efforts, the campaign failed.
Unless he changes, the job will go to Smith.
We'll be glad to e-mail you more detailed rules on the comma or answer specific questions. But you may find that you need just this one rule:
Use a comma where you would pause briefly without dropping your voice.
TEST: Insert commas where they belong.
1. An office which is painted dull gray is not conducive to creative
2. My office which is painted dull gray is not conducive to creative work.
3. As the cat ate every eye was on him.
4. Mike the author of Hamlet cannot be with us today.
5. The president left with the vice president and the controller followed.
6. As soon as the computer started humming my favorite song came on the radio.
Run-on sentences and sentence fragments are two of the most common comma errors. The following rules, definitions, and examples may help you:
1. Use a period after a complete sentence (i.e., a sentence with a subject and a verb, or an order):
The meeting will start at 2 p.m.
Don't be late.
2. Joining two complete sentences with a comma turns them into an ungrammatical run-on sentence:
The meeting will start at 2 p.m., please don't be late.
Instead, join the two sentences with a period or a semicolon (which acts like a period but shows that the two sentences belong together in thought):
The meeting will start at 2 p.m. Please don't be late.
The meeting will start at 2 p.m.; please don't be late.
3. Only a complete sentence, as defined in (1), can end in a period. Phrases or incomplete sentences followed by a period are ungrammatical sentence fragments. For instance, the underlined clause in this example is a sentence fragment:
I suggest you bring a copy of the contract. When you come to lunch.
TEST: Correct all run-on sentences and sentence fragments below.
1. Because I want to go.
2. Because you won't be there, we will have to work harder.
3. Take the full report with you, you may well need it.
4. Which is why we have to discuss this with the president.
5. When we talked about it.
6. We talked about it.
7. This is the best time to begin, you shouldn't delay any longer.
8. Now is the best time to begin.
9. To be organized is not easy for me.
10. Whether or not we want to do it.
11. Although some say it is easy, don't believe them, they haven't tried it.
12. The car driven 50,000 miles.
14. Posted outside the cafeteria was a list of employees, many had photographs next to their names.
15. I know.
16. Our group has outgrown the space on the fourth floor. We need more offices. Not with the production people. Space for equipment, too. It is getting impossible, we need some ideas.
17. Like many other corporations, we are trying to recycle. Bottles, cans, and plastic. We're having some difficulties. Although businesses are separating the different types of trash. The city itself does not have a complete recycling program, we don't know if they are recycling our bottles and cans. How to find out? We don't know.
The apostrophe marks either possession (as in Bob's dog = the dog belonging to Bob, or Bob's father = the father of Bob) or omission of some letters (as in It's late = it is late).
TEST: Decide what to do with apostrophes in the italicized words. You may want to add, remove, or change the place of the apostrophe -- or you may decide to leave the word as it is.
1. The presidents desk was littered with all sorts of paper's: invoices', receipt's, minutes of the last meeting, and his childrens' plans for the future.
2. The Senator expected approval of his proteges bill.
3. Henrys new car seems to be a poor sample of this years car's. When he picked it up, Henry didn't realize that it's wheel's hadn't been aligned. By the time he returned the car for service, many experts skills were needed. Henry listed the major problem's and then had to take his wifes' motorbike to get home.
Colon, semicolon, and dash are frequently confused with one another or with the comma. Here are some simple definitions that may help you keep the three marks apart:
1. The colon (:) is a pointer to a following item, example, quote, or list:
The study pointed to several benefits: lower cost, improved reliability, and greater appeal in the direct-mail market.
2. The semicolon is a separator. Its main use is as an alternative to the period when you want to show that the two sentences are connected in thought:
He didn't make a sound plan; consequently, the business failed.
3. The dash marks a break in thought or sentence structure:
The car broke down the next day -- but what can you expect from a ten-year-old second-hand car?
My father - and I am sorry to say that - never encouraged me to complete my education.
TEST: Fix the following sentences or make the correct choices.
Colon, semicolon, comma, or dash?
1. There are three main variables in this process; humidity, temperature, and machine speed.
Comma, colon, dash, or semicolon?
2. We then started the most important process of all, we had daily production control meetings with all concerned personnel.
Insert colon, dash, and commas as needed:
3. This is how you do it first weigh the rubber hippo then order the materials then assemble everything as described in Figure 1 and don't worry about how it looks.
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