Are you making these 7 common punctuation mistakes?

Comma use can be perplexing. Here’s help for knowing when and where to insert them—and when to omit them—along with tips for proper use of semicolons, dashes and other marks.

Each sentence below demonstrates a specific type of error involving internal punctuation, usually involving a comma.

Discussion and revision following each example explain and illustrate correct punctuation:

1. Misplaced punctuation

This approach requires an effective model risk governance program, and crucially, validation of the model by an independent party.

A comma is needed after program only if what follows is an independent clause. In this case, the rest of the sentence is merely the rest of an extended compound predicate. However, crucially is a parenthetical, and a comma is required before as well as after it: “This approach requires an effective model risk governance program and, crucially, validation of the model by an independent party.”

2. Missing punctuation

Specifically her portfolio did not include the required number of samples.

An adverbial introduction must be set off from the main clause by a comma: “Specifically, her portfolio did not include the required number of samples.”

3. Unpaired punctuation

The survey found increasing demand for customer experiences that are difficult, if not impossible to deliver with legacy systems.

Related to the misplaced and missing examples above, this sentence is flawed in that the parenthetical phrase “if not impossible” is set off in front but not behind: “The survey found increasing demand for customer experiences that are difficult, if not impossible, to deliver with legacy systems.”

4. Extraneous punctuation

Knowing which sensitive data need to be highly protected, where this information sits within the organization, and what security mechanisms need to be applied, are all key considerations for a sound information security risk assessment.

A comma should not precede a verb unless it is the second of two commas bracketing a parenthetical phrase: “Knowing which sensitive data need to be highly protected, where this information sits within the organization, and what security mechanisms need to be applied are all key considerations for a sound information security risk assessment.”

Free download: 10 Punctuation Essentials

5. Excessive punctuation

Consumers have the right to speak out or complain, and to seek compensation—payment or a replacement item—or redress—have a wrong corrected.

Excessive punctuation often occurs when a sentence is cluttered with commas, and a sentence should be recast or divided into two or more sentences if more than a few commas appear (and semicolons are not included to assist in sentence organization). When dashes are used to set off parenthetical phrases, no more than one pair should be used, because readers may have difficulty at first recognizing which parts of the sentence are being bracketed.

Either revise the sentence so that only one pair of dashes is needed, or replace dashes with parentheses, which because the open and close parentheses are shaped differently, clearly indicate what is contained within them: “Consumers have the right to speak out or complain and to seek compensation (payment or a replacement item) or redress (have a wrong corrected).” (Note, too, that the sole comma is superfluous.)

6. Inconsistent Punctuation

Last year a man agreed to give up his drone system and promise not to fly a drone for three years. . . . Last month, the FAA announced there are now more registered drone operators in the United States than there are registered manned aircraft.

If an optional punctuation mark is used in one sentence in a piece of content, it should be used in any similarly constructed sentence.

Consider the consistent inclusion of a comma after the short introductory phrase in both sentences: “Last year, a man agreed to give up his drone system and promise not to fly a drone for three years. . . . Last month, the FAA announced there are now more registered drone operators in the United States than there are registered manned aircraft.” (Note that “last year” and “last month” serve the same adverbial function as specifically in the second example, but such brief introductory phrases do not require punctuation, though for consistency it is recommended.)

7. Incorrect punctuation

One person had to be airlifted off the site after the structure collapsed Monday night, the rest were treated at an on-site medical facility.

Because this sentence consists of two independent clauses, they must be separated by a semicolon rather than a mere comma: “One person had to be airlifted off the site after the structure collapsed Monday night; the rest were treated at an on-site medical facility.” (A period is also appropriate, but the close relationship of the two clauses allows for a semicolon.)

A version of this post first appeared on DailyWritingTips.

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