Improving Your Punctuation

Lessons
Apostrophe Colon Comma Exclamation Italics
Period Question mark Quotation mark Semicolon

Rationale for this unit

Punctuation marks provide clarity to the written word in the same way that pauses provide clarity in speech.

The wealthy man divided his estate equally among his son, his daughter, his cousin and his friend.

This sentence does not clearly indicate if the estate is to be divided into three or four parts.

One could interpret this sentence to mean that there are three divisions of the estate, so the cousin and the friend have to share one third between them.

The wealthy man divided his estate equally among his son, his daughter, his cousin, and his friend.

This sentence clearly states that the estate is to be divided into four equal parts. Therefore, if you were either the cousin or the friend, you would certainly hope that the extra comma had been placed in that sentence in the will.

Many people have read the article in the Globe and Mail entitled “Comma Quirk Irks Rogers.” According to the article, a punctuation error forced Rogers Communications Inc. to pay an extra $2.13-million to use utility poles in the Maritimes after the placement of a comma in the contract permitted the cancellation of the deal.

For most people the incorrect use of punctuation marks will not have these dire consequences. However, if you are writing a paper for your professor, a proposal for your boss, or an article for publication, it is very important to use the correct punctuation for clarity.