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Honing grammar and punctuation

Why is it important?

  • Grammar and punctuation help to create effective communication.
  • By featuring carefully crafted sentences, you’ll aid your reader to understand and enjoy your writing.
  • Remember to leave time to revisit your writing.
  • Read the sections below to find out more about common principles and confusions.
Punctuation recap infographic

When to use commas

When to use commas video
  • 1. Separate items in a series:
  • Use commas to separate out lists of three of more nouns, adjectives or adverbs.
  • Example: This is in terms of corporate compliance, financial greed and institutional misdirection.
  • 2. Offset introductory elements:
  • Use a comma after introductory words and phrases. It acts as a pause before the reader goes into the main sentence.
  • Example: In Psycho (1960), the audience are encouraged to become voyeurs.
  • 3. Connect independent clauses with a conjunction:
  • Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, nor, but, yet, so) when it joins together information that could be separate sentences.
  • Example: Dark Stalkers is a Japanese series that was influenced by Western folklore, and the original idea for the series was thought up of by Alex Jimenez.
  • 4. For parenthesis
  • Two commas either side can act as brackets to section off asides from the main sentence.
  • Example: However, on balance, there is a greater concern for their presence in this system as it was once labelled as the ‘conscious industry’.
  • 5. To add extra information at end
  • Use a comma to add additional detail at the end of a sentence.
  • This often occurs with the pronoun ‘which’ and participle phrases with ‘ing’.
  • Example: Using pathologically preserved heart tissue, he created exquisite poppy sculptures, which signify the sacrifice involved within World War 1.

Apostrophes

  • 1. Stand in for missing letters in contractions
  • Example: Its (it is) a film based on a novel by Stephanie Meyers.
  • 2. Show possession.
  • When a word is singular add an apostrophe and an s.
  • When the word is plural and ends in ‘s’ just add an apostrophe.
  • Remember:
  • Don’t use it for plurals (see the image below).
  • Don’t use it for the pronoun its e.g. Its purpose was to raise awareness.
Example of an incorrect apostrophe used for plurals: Tattoo's and body piercing.
Example of an incorrect apostrophe used for a plural.

Colon

  • The main function of the colon is to point forward.
  • It can ‘introduce the part of a sentence that exemplifies, restates, elaborates, undermines, explains or balances the preceding part’ (Truss, 2008, p. 120).
  • It may also lead to a quotation, list or sub-title.

Example leading to quotation

The director often used her favourite quotation from Monty Python: ‘I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.’

Semi colon

  • Use a semi colon to separate items in a complex list.
  • It can also join together closely related sentences.

Examples

Complex list: Members of the Western Jazz Quartet are Tom Knific, bassist; Trent Kynaston, saxophonist; Steve Zegree, pianist; and Tim Froncek, drummer.

Join closely related sentences: Inattention extends through society; a small-scale study example of this is evidenced in this paper.

3 common grammar errors

Comma Splice

  • This is where you incorrectly join multiple sentences with a comma.
  • Only a colon, semi colon or a joining word such as a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) or a subordinating conjunction (such as after, because, when) can join sentences.  
  • Example of a comma splice:  My aim for the next two years after graduation is find an intern position, this would help to provide me with experience within the industry.           

Fragment Sentence

  • A fragment is a sentence is incomplete.
  • It could be a fragment because it does not make sense, or it might be missing a verb/ subject.
  • Example of a fragment: Which proved to be a pivotal improvement.

Subject and Verb Agreement

  • The subject (thing, person, place) must agree with the verb (action or state of being).
  • A single subject = 1 thing or a collective counted as one whole, such as ‘a flock of seagulls’.
  • A plural subject = more than 1 thing.
  • Example: Time management and attention to style are important for effective academic writing (correct).
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Tools for proofreading

  • Proofreading tools can help you to spot areas to adjust.
  • Grammarly helps to identify missing words, incorrect word choice, spelling mistakes and issues in clarity. Watch the video below to find out more.
  • Ginger and Hemingway are both useful in terms of making suggestions about style and concision.

Sources consulted

BarCharts (2009) English Grammar and Punctuation. Available at: English Grammar & Punctuation: Full Text Finder Results (ebscohost.com) (Accessed: 15 September 2022).

Bristol University (2022) Grammar and punctuation. Available at: Grammar and punctuation (bris.ac.uk) (Accessed: 15 September 2022).

Truss, L. (2006) Eats, shoots and leaves. London: Penguin.

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