A good assignment will require excellent use of language and grammar, including punctuation. Punctuation marks are the non-alphanumeric symbols used to increase the readers’ ability to accurately understand the meaning of the text. Examples of punctuation marks include full stops, exclamation and question marks, hyphens, quotation marks, and apostrophes. The use of the correct punctuation is essential; properly used punctuation will make it easier to read text, conversely poor punctuation may increase confusion and potentially change the meaning of a sentence or phrase. Two of the most commonly misused forms of punctuation are the comma and the apostrophe.
A comma indicates a small break in a sentence, placed where there is no requirement for a full stop but there is still the need for a gap. A comma indicates a pause, separating two words or two clauses. When the comma is used correctly it will not usually create a pause between a subject and a verb, as shown below: –
Wrong: My brother Tom, is a handsome man.
Right: My brother Tom is a handsome man.
Additionally, commas should not be placed between two nouns when there is a compound subject or object.
Wrong: Tom, and his cricket team are playing at the park.
Right: Tom and his cricket team are playing at the park.
However, a comma should be used to separate to different subjects, for example, different items in a list. It is increasingly common to use the Oxford comma, which is placed after the penultimate items on a list before the last ‘and’. Although the use of the Oxford common is usually optional, it can help to prevent some miscommunications. For example, the following two sentences are the same apart from the inclusion of the Oxford comma in the second sentence which changes meaning of the sentence.
We invited the neighbours, Tom, and Jane
We invited the neighbours, Tom and Jane
In the first sentence it is clear the person speaking invited their neighbours along with Tom and Jane, in the second sentence it appears Tom and Jane are the neighbours; two different meanings that are only differentiated by a comma.
Apostrophes are usually used for one of three reasons.
- To indicate missing letters where words have been shortened, for example, ‘I’m’, or ‘We’ve’.
- To show possession or ownership, such as ‘the girl’s bike’ or ‘the cat’s whiskers’. If the subject of the possession is plural and does not end with an s, an s will be added with the apostrophe such as ‘people’s choice’. Where the term ‘it’ is used as a possession the apostrophe should be after the s written as its’ not it’s, as the latter is short for it is.
- An expression of time, such as ‘we have provided two weeks’ notice’.
Apostrophes are not normally used for any plural words including numerical data. For example, a common mistake is the way decades are indicated; 1990s is correct and 1990’s is incorrect. However, an exception to this rule exits where there is a plural possessive word; for example, the boys’ excitement when referring to more than one boy.