3 Common Punctuation Mistakes that Drive Editors Crazy and How to Fix Them

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We all have writing habits that could drive our 8th grade Langauge Arts teachers to distraction, and unless we were English majors in college, we don’t remember most rules of grammar by the time we reach our early twenties. Still, writers have an obligation to brush up on the basics so here’s a quick list of three common punctuation mistakes that we all should avoid.

Punctuation inside quotation marks 

It’s tempting to put that question mark or period outside the quotation marks when your character is speaking, but it’s just not right. Your quotes should look like this:

Amanda said, “How could you do this to me?”

not

Amanda said, “How could you do this to me”?

How to fix punctuation inside quotation marks

This one is an easy fix. Use your word processor’s Find/Replace feature to change the offending punctuation. 

Comma Splices

This error has a fancy name, but it just means two independent clauses are separated by a comma. Here’s an example of a comma splice:

We went to the store to buy cookies, we ate every last one of them.

How to fix a comma splice

A simple rule of thumb to avoid the comma splice is if the parts of the sentence could stand as separate sentences, they probably should, but there are three ways you can correct this one.

  1. Make two separate sentences.
    We went to the store to buy cookies. We ate every last one of them.
  2. Add the word and to separate the clauses.
    We went to the store to buy cookies, and we ate every last one of them.
  3. Change one of the sentences to a coordinating clause.
    After we went to the store to buy cookies, we ate every last one of them.

Run on Sentences

Run on sentences occur when we string too many thoughts together. The lack of punctuation makes the resulting sentence difficult to understand. Try making sense of this:

It was fun for Lola to have a new friend she found it difficult to express her feelings when he showed affection in his rough way of handing her bunches of wildflowers he’d picked from the side of the road or when he shared his orange during recess even though he knew she was allergic to citrus and tossed the fruit into the grass across the street when she reminded him another item lost to that schoolyard.

How to fix a run on sentence

Rephrase and punctuate. That one long sentence is a series of sentences that have not been punctuated correctly. Let’s make it easier to read.

It was fun for Lola to have a new friend, but she found it difficult to express her feelings when he showed affection. His rough way of handing her bunches of wildflowers he’d picked from the side of the road disturbed her. He frequently offered to share his orange during recess, even though he knew she was allergic to citrus. He would toss the fruit into the grass across the street when she reminded him. It was one more item that had been lost to that schoolyard.

Online resource take the mystery out of punctuation 

Luckily, we don’t have to guess at how we can improve our writing. There are excellent resources on the Internet to help us improve our grammar and punctuation. One of my favorite writing websites is the Purdue Online Writing Lab. You can find solutions to any number of grammar and punctuation issues as well as information about the proper way to cite references. Grammar Tips on the Oxford Dictionaries site also is a helpful, quick reference guide. 

If we make it a habit of taking note of our poor grammar habits, we can change them for the better. My motto is “always be learning.” Take an online class or tutorial. Read blog posts about grammar and punctuation. Check books out at the library. Make your 8th grade teacher proud.

This article is about:
punctuation mistakes
comma splice
comma usage
run on sentence

 

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