Grammar Presentation: Punctuation - Student Development Services

Grammar Presentation: Punctuation - Student Development Services

Grammar Presentation:


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Using punctuation properly is an important aspect of writing academic




The comma

The semicolon

The colon

The apostrophe

In this presentation, we will discuss the use of these four punctuation




Verbal English has many pauses

Punctuation indicates when to pause in written text

Errors in grammar can obscure meaning


The panda eats, shoots, and leaves.

The panda eats shoots and leaves.

Punctuation complements the words used in written communication. They are not just finicky little rules that everyone must follow; they make sure the words mean what the author intends them

to mean (as seen in the example).


The Comma ( , )

Short pause

There are some rules, but also some flexibility

The comma indicates a short pause when reading. The use of commas perplexes many people because while there are rules concerning their usage, there are also many cases where their use

is up to the writer.


Comma: 1

Joining independent clauses with co-ordinating

conjunctions (and, or, but...)


The feedback improved, and the module had a

stronger output.

The first case where commas are appropriate is when joining two independent clauses with co-ordinating conjunctions (see the first grammar presentation on “The Sentence” for more detail).

You need to place a co-ordinating conjunction at the end of the first independent clause.


Comma: 2

Joining an independent clause and a dependent clause


Although I had difficulty, I still prevailed.

While I slept, my dog ran away.

My dog ran away while I slept.

Similarly, when joining a dependent and independent clause into a complex sentence, you need a comma. In some cases (usually with shorter clauses), you can omit the comma when the

dependent clause follows the independent clause (shown in the second and third examples.


Comma: 3

Separating items in a series


I have the most trouble with spelling, grammar

and punctuation.

Most people are quite familiar with using a comma to separate items in a



Comma: 3

Comma before ‘and’ is optional, unless needed for



Snakes and ladders, hide and seek, and tag are

Jim’s favourite games.

However, there is controversy over using a comma before the ‘and’ separating the final item. It should be considered optional, although with all grammar quirks of this ilk, you should be

consistent with your usage. There is no doubt, however, when the comma aids in improving the clarity of a sentence, as is the case with this example. Without the comma, the reader may be

unsure how the items of the list might be separated.


Comma: 4

Setting off non-restrictive elements


The sample, which contained sulfur, did not


To begin, the fundamental argument of Freud...

Exception for short sentences:

Then it started.

Non-restrictive elements are additional descriptive elements written to be separate from the content of a sentence. We usually use commas to separate these elements. Within a sentence the

non-restrictive element is grouped using commas, and at the beginning of the sentence, the element receives a comma before launching into the main content of the sentence. Not everyone

uses commas in these cases, even more frequently when the sentence is short.


The Semicolon ( ; )

A longer pause

Rule of thumb, only use when a period would also


The semicolon is a stronger piece of punctuation. It indicates a longer pause. It is not used by many writers, but there are a couple of cases where a semicolon is called for.


The Semicolon: 1

Joining independent clauses, with or without a

subordinating conjunction (‘however, although, on the

other hand...’)


The sample was tainted; it had no effect.

We completed the circuit; however, the light would

not turn on.

When making a compound sentence that doesn’t involve a co-ordinating conjunction, you need to separate the elements with a semi-colon. Using only a comma is known as a comma splice;

however, a comma is often used by some authors in shorter sentences.


The Semicolon: 2

Separating items in a series that contain commas


Henry's mother believes three things: that every

situation, no matter how grim, will be happily

resolved; that no one knows more about human

nature than she; and that Henry, who is thirtyfive

years old, will never be able to do his own


A semicolon should also be used to separate the elements of a series when commas are being used. This allows the reader to distinguish the individual items of the series.


The Colon ( : )

Big pause

Completely different than the semicolon

The colon indicates a very large pause and has little to do with a



The Colon: 1

Introduce a list or phrase after an independent clause


Henry's mother believes three things: that every

situation, no matter how grim, will be happily

resolved; that no one knows more about human

nature than she; and that Henry, who is thirty-five

years old, will never be able to do his own laundry.

Colons are primarily used to introduce a large list or long phrase. They must be preceded by an independent clause.


The Colon: 1

If what follows the colon is a complete sentence, you

may capitalize the first letter


Also note that some people like to capitalize the first

letter of the first word after the colon: They believe it

is more stylistically appropriate.

The words following the colon do not need to be a complete sentence or an independent clause, but if they do form a complete thought, then you may capitalize the first word if you wish.


The Colon: 2

Displayed equations must be introduced with an

independent clause followed by a colon

Then, double space, write out equation, double space,

start new paragraph

Equations should be treated like extended quotes, that is preceded by an independent clause and then properly spaced.


The Colon: 2


The following equation details the expression:

a = bc + 2d

The application of this...

Proper spacing is important in these



The Colon: 2

Equations within a text do not require a colon


“The equation 2a = b + c showed...”

Equations incorporated into the text do not require a



The Apostrophe: 1

Used in contractions

Generally, contractions are inappropriate in academic



Temperature didn’t affect the reaction.

Temperature did not affect the reaction.

The apostrophe is a different punctuation mark than those we have examined previously, as it is directly associated with words, but it still presents some confusion to some people. Most people

are aware of the apostrophe’s use in contractions, even though contractions are inappropriate in most academic writing.


The Apostrophe: 2

Indicates possession

Example: Freud’s argument states that...

The confusing use for some people is when the apostrophe is used to indicate possession. In this example it is quite clear, but problems arise with plurals and with words with different endings.


Apostrophe: 2

Rule of thumb:

If you pronounce the s add ’s

If not, add ’


The boy’s room (one boy)

The boys’ room (two boys)

Jess’s dog used to be Rex’s

As a rule of thumb, if when spoken you pronounce an ‘s’ you should add an apostrophe s (‘s). If not, then just add the apostrophe (‘). In the first example, we are talking about one boy and we

pronounce only one ‘s.’ In the second example, we are talking about two boys, but we still only say one ‘s’ (indicating the plurality), so we just use the apostrophe. You will see the most

discrepancy with the third example. There is only one ‘Jess’ and ‘Rex’, and we decidedly pronounce the letter ‘s’ in both cases, so you should add the apostrophe. However, you will see many

cases where people just add an apostrophe, perhaps because having the letter ‘s’ three times in a row looks wrong. But, you can add that third ‘s’ confident that it belongs there.


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