Punctuation may seem like a small thing: After all, what’s so bad about one, teeny-tiny misplaced comma or the occasional wayward apostrophe? Nobody pays attention to that stuff, right? Wrong. Bad punctuation – whether it’s in your web copy, your newsletter, or even in an email to a prospective client – is a credibility killer, plain and simple.
In most cases, all it takes is a careful proofreading job to avoid common punctuation mistakes. Not sure when to use an apostrophe or where to place a comma? Read on for a quick guide to good punctuation:
Plurals vs. Possessives
This is one of the most common mistakes out there. A plural noun means “more than one” – in most cases, you add an “s” to the end of the word.
For example: Most of my clients work in the oil and gas industry.
In this sentence, we’re talking about more than one client. So, we add an “s”.
A possessive noun shows ownership – you usually add an apostrophe and an “s”.
For example: My client’s latest advertising campaign won an award. In this sentence, we’re talking about the advertising campaign that belongs to your client. So, it’s possessive.
Not sure if your sentence needs a comma? You’re not alone. Commas are often misplaced, misused, and downright abused by well-intentioned folks who just didn’t know any better. Here are a few guidelines for when – and how – to use commas correctly.
In lists, commas help keep information separate.
For example: She put butter, milk, pancakes, and eggs on the table.
Without the commas to separate the items, we wouldn’t be sure if we had “buttermilk” or “buttermilk pancakes.”
When using conjunctions, commas help prevent run-on sentences.
For example: I went to the store, and then I went home. When you join two sentences (“I went to the store” and “I went home”), a comma helps keep your message clear.
Keep in mind that if you’re not dealing with two complete sentences, you don’t need a comma.
For example: Our products are great and affordable. You don’t need a comma because you’re not joining two complete thoughts (“Our products are great.” – complete sentence. “And affordable” – not a complete sentence).
The next time you post a blog or update your web copy, do a quick punctuation check to make sure that you’re not sending the wrong message.
And, just for fun, my “Bad Punctuation of the Week” award goes to my apartment complex, who recently posted this sign at the entrance of the parking lot: “TENANT’S PARKING ONLY”
That lucky tenant. Wonder where the rest of us are supposed to park.
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