Well! Thanks to Jim, without whom this day would have gone COMPLETELY UNNOTICED, we are able to celebrate a VERY AUSPICIOUS DAY TODAY. This is why we HAVE a Minister of Fly-nance! To point out things like this that might have otherwise slipped by without even a mention! THANK YOU JIM!
Today is NATIONAL PUNCTUATION DAY!
A whole entire DAY dedicated to PUNCTUATION! Well, we here at Lucy’s Football are very pro-punctuation. We like it very much. We like ALL TYPES of punctuation here. What we do NOT like is when it is used incorrectly. So, in order to celebrate punctuation in all of its glory, we’re going to have a punctuation discussion today.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t NEED to learn about punctuation, Amy. I already KNOW how to use punctuation correctly. I am VERY GOOD AT IT.” Well, maybe you are. In which case, WE SALUTE YOU! But there are those among you who are NOT as good at punctuation. People who are confused about how best to use a semicolon; what exactly an ellipsis is; the difference between parentheses and brackets. Today, we are going to discuss ALL OF THESE THINGS. I know! It’s going to be awesome. It’s like a carnival! A CARNIVAL OF PUNCTUATION!
Also, I’m sincerely hoping that someday, some poor lost kid in school who’s all “I am CONFUSED about COMMAS” will find this post and it will help them and they’ll be all secure in their knowledge of punctuation and will do very will in their English class, and also someday when I read their inevitable blog I won’t want to claw my eyes out with salad tongs.
Let’s start with something simple: the period. There’s one at the end of this sentence. And this one. Not this one, though!
The period is used to end a sentence (unless that sentence is a question or a command or VERY EXCITED ZOMG!) and also used after initials (“There’s an airport in New York City named after J.F.K.”) and abbreviations (“I live on Smith Rd.”) (SIDE NOTE: that is a lie, I do not. Don’t come stalk me, you’ll just get lost.)
A little-known fact about periods! If you are writing a sentence within parentheses (for example, that last sentence in the paragraph above,) or a sentence within quotes, you put the period at the end of the sentence INSIDE OF THE CLOSING PARENTHESIS or INSIDE THE CLOSING QUOTATION MARKS. I cannot stress this enough. It makes me crazy when there’s a period all hanging out on its own outside of a parenthesis or quotation marks. If you need a reminder: a period is part of a sentence. You wouldn’t write this, would you? (Shh, don’t tell anyone my) secret. Or this? “One time, I totally wiped out on” the sidewalk. Because part of the SENTENCE is outside of the PARENTHESES/QUOTATIONS! So don’t leave the period out in the cold, ok? That makes the poor period sad, and makes it feel like it was picked last for gym class. Don’t do that to the period.
Now, let’s move on to something a little harder for people to wrap their minds around: the comma. DO NOT BE SCARED! Were you scared of the period? No you were not. The comma is just a period with a teeny tail! Like Dumbcat! And you’re not scared of Dumbcat, now are you? No you are NOT. You LOVE him. As you should.
Commas can be tricky. A quick rule of thumb: a comma is a pause. If you say your sentence aloud, and you’d pause at one point in the sentence, that’s where you’d put the comma. Or commas. That’s it, simplified. There are a lot of other rules. Here are a few:
- use commas to separate elements in a series: “I bought red, blue, glitter, and black nailpolish.” (We’ll discuss the Oxford comma in a minute. Don’t think I’ve forgotten it. I am – SPOILER ALERT – extremely pro-Oxford comma.)
- use a comma to connect two independent clauses (“I went to the store, but I forgot my wallet.”) You can leave this comma out – the sentence still works – but it’s prettier with the comma. And say it out loud – you pause between the “store” and the “but,” right? That’s your comma.
- use a comma to set off things at the beginning of a sentence that make the sentence fancier, but you don’t really need them. (i.e. “However, he thought he should eat 14 more pounds of meatballs.”)
- if something could be set apart by parentheses, but you for whatever reason decide you don’t want to use parentheses, you damn well better use commas. I totally did it in the sentence above. I sneaky-fucked you. See, here’s how I wanted to write that sentence: “if something could be set apart by parentheses (but you for whatever reason decide you don’t want to use parentheses) you damn well better use commas.” Neat, right?
- use commas to set off quotes. “Ding Dong Joe will be released after 6-8 months; indecent exposure is no laughing matter,” said the police chief.
- easy ones: between a city and a state (Hollywood, California) and a date and a year (November 11, 2011); to designate thousands in numbers (3,412,991.)
I know. It seems hard. It’s a little tough. Keep in mind, most people OVERuse commas, rather than UNDERuse them. They think they need them when they don’t.
OK, now let’s discuss this Oxford comma thing.
In the sentence “I bought chocolate, bread, peanut butter, and avocados at the store,” the comma after “butter” is called an Oxford (or serial) comma. A lot of people want it done away with. Because a lot of people have way too much free time.
If you do away with the serial comma, things like this happen:
See? It’s confusing. It makes it look like J.F.K. and Stalin ARE the strippers. Keep the Oxford comma. It’s not hurting anyone.
Here is a song I love called “Oxford Comma.” Even though it has the lyric “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” and *I* do, Vampire Weekend! I DO! Enjoy!
There can also be issues with using too many normal commas. Like this:
If you want more comma-knowledge, the internet can help you. Or The Elements of Style. I know, it looks all fusty and old-persony, but it’s really quite good and helpful.
Man, this is long and long. I really get jazzed about punctuation. It makes me happy. I know. Pretend it’s charming, or something, why don’t you?
OK, let’s move on to Amy’s favorite piece of punctuation: THE SEMICOLON.
I love it so much I have a semicolon typewriter-key necklace. I wear it when I want to feel like kicking ass.
The Oatmeal has a very helpful “how to use semicolons” link. It is better than anything I could ever write, ever. So, click on that, please. It uses the phrase SUPERCOMMA and that made me laugh so hard I almost peed a little.
A semicolon, in brief, joins two related shorter sentences into one sentence, and looks as cool as shit doing it. Here, you think I can’t give you an example? Don’t even challenge me, Charlie McDoubtface.
“I decided I didn’t give a shit about much of anything; that made it much easier to just go ahead and become a hobo who ate cat food.”
See, both parts of that sentence are sentences all on their own. But you can JOIN them with a SEMICOLON and they are a BETTER sentence.
You can also use them in a list: “I want to go to Finland to see Andreas; to Germany to see Ken; and to England to see Elaine.” SUPERCOMMA! It just sets them apart a little better than a comma would. It looks nicer.
Listen, if you can master the semicolon, your writing looks polished and you look like a superstar. I also cannot confirm or deny that there are some women out there that find it a total turn-on and, if wooed by a man with the proper use of a semicolon, might well take him home at the end of the night. CANNOT CONFIRM OR DENY. OK, fine. I’m just SAYING that if the right guy were to use a semicolon in a missive to me, I’d be pretty damn apt to wear my good panties on our next date, ok? PLUS AN ACTUAL HONEST-TO-GOODNESS MATCHING BRA. Just saying. For the record.
OK. Let’s talk brackets vs. parentheses.
Parenthesis set things apart. Side notes, like I use here. Asides in your sentences. Things like that. You can also use dashes or commas (as mentioned above) to set your text apart. Here’s a quick rule of thumb – all are right, but they read a little differently. Here, I’ll show you.
I went to the museum (the one over by the observatory) with Jenny last month.
I went to the museum, the one over by the observatory, with Jenny last month.
I went to the museum – the one over by the observatory – with Jenny last month.
See – same info, means the same thing. In this case, I’d go with parentheses or dashes. The commas look weird to me. Parentheses kind of de-emphasize the info; dashes seem to make it stand out a little; commas look like you’re not trying hard enough and can’t choose between parentheses and dashes. That’s Amy’s thought-process, anyway.
Brackets – which look like [this] – are used to clarify something in a quote, OR to show you’re smarter than the person you’re quoting. For example:
“I sure do like pork and beens [sic],” said the serial killer.
[sic] means there was a spelling error in the quote, – it’s short for the Latin, sic erat scriptum, “thus it was written,” and that you’re not to blame, and you KNOW they effed up. I own this t-shirt, because I am a grammar nerd:
OK, possessives. Apostrophes. I know. They’re scary! SCARY LIKE A BOOGEYMAN. Here, The Oatmeal will save you. This is awesome and I kind of want the poster almost as much as I want the semicolon poster.
There are two things that make grammar nerds insane: improper possessives and improper quotation marks. Here’s the quick and dirty, jellybeans:
- If it belongs to someone/something, you need an apostrophe. “That is Jason’s hat.” “Those are the cat’s toys.”
- If the people/things it belongs to is plural, you do it thusly: “Those are the Johnson’s lawnmowers.” “Those are my cats’ litterboxes.” Also, to muddle you more, if the word ends with an s, you put the apostrophe at the END. Like with cats – it’s already a plural. You have multiple cats (you damn cat lady.) So to show that the cats own those litterboxes, to show their possession of them, you need that apostrophe. If you put it after the “t” in cat, you are saying you have one cat with a lot of litterboxes, and it looks like he has a pooing problem.
- The word “it” confuses people. You either use its or it’s. It’s is used when it’s a contraction for IT IS. “It’s really quite simple.” Its is used to show possession: “I don’t understand its premise – so it’s a movie about the game Battleship? That seems ill-advised.”
- You do not need to use an apostrophe all random-like. “I love the 90’s” is wrong. Because what belongs to the 90s? Nothing. It’s “I love the 90s.” Rule of thumb: ask yourself, does something belong to the word I’m randomly inserting (heh, inserting) an apostrophe in? If not, you probably are using it wrong.
- SIDE NOTE: there’s a bar near me that has “half price martini’s” on their sign and every time I drive past it I yell, to the top of my lungs, “HALF PRICE MARTINI IS WHAT???” because in order for that apostrophe to need to be there, there’s a word missing at the end of that phrase. “half price martini’s awesome” would sound terrible but at least be technically grammatically correct.
- Once you learn the ins and outs of apostrophes and possessives, you can go all around the town mocking signs that are doing them wrong. It makes you feel like a conquering grammatical hero.
OK, now, quotes. You quote direct quotes from people, or if you’re saying something sarcastically, like “they” say I should probably get back out there and date again, but I think “they” should take a flying leap. Otherwise, you don’t need the quotes. There’s a whole website dedicated to unnecessary quotation marks. It is hilarious and the best. BFF pointed it out to me because he knows I love grammar errors. There’s a sign in the breakroom at work that’s all:
We are here to serve “our customers” and not “the callers” and “the callers” are not our “customers”…
And it’s a whole page long and it has random quotes all over it and the quotes are unneeded and it makes me laugh EVERY TIME I SEE IT. If you use quotes inappropriately, it looks like you’re being sarcastic about the things in quotes. Or that the thing in quotes isn’t true. And I don’t think that’s what you intended. Or, maybe it is? I DON’T KNOW YOUR LIFE.
OK, I promise we’re winding down. NO REALLY I PROMISE.
Dashes. We covered ’em a little above. They can set something apart – something like this – or they can be used singly. I suppose you want an example. FINE. An example of using a dash singly would be this – just one dash, no more, no less. Heh. Impressive, no?
If you use a dash, use just one, and put a space on either side of it. Because this-using them like this-looks stupid, and like “this-using” and “this-looks” are hyphenated words. And if you use two you look greedy — don’t use two! Now, I’m trying to show you how stupid that looks but WordPress is making my two dashes into one long dash to make it prettier for me. Thanks for NOTHING, WordPress. (The only time I use two dashes on purpose is if I’m signing a memo. You’re not going to be able to see this correctly, but pretend you do. –Amy.)
Hyphenated words are a little trickier. Some you just know – like teeter-totter, or back-to-back. People tend to leave hyphens out. I have a weird hyphen-sensor. I can tell when one is needed about 99% of the time. There are a lot of rules for hyphens, but they are as dull as dirt and I can’t find a way to make them fun, so here, if you care, you can click here and have this site tell you all about them. Mostly, here’s a quick trick – if you think a word MIGHT need a hyphen, Google it. See how it’s written on a majority of the search results. Does it have a hyphen? Go with the hyphen. No? Then leave it out. Listen, I didn’t say grammar was an exact science, and even those of us who are good at it have tricks and shortcuts.
Ellipses. WHAT IS THIS DARK SORCERY AMY?!?! An ellipsis is the three periods you put when you’re trailing off…or when you don’t know what to say next…or for comedic effect. DO NOT USE MORE THAN THREE PERIODS. That changes an ellipsis to a dumbass mess of periods and you look like an asshole. Microsoft Word will even FILL IN YOUR ELLIPSIS FOR YOU! And correct you if you use too many periods! It’s three. No spaces between them, no spaces before or after them. Used correctly, it’s fine. Used incorrectly, it looks like you fell asleep and mashed your face onto the keyboard.
Let’s see. What else. Exclamation points. Snooty people will tell you not to ever! Use! Them! But listen, they make me laugh and I use them whenever the hell I want because they are fun and show my exuberance for all things life-related. Question marks…well, they show you’re asking a question. Oh, and then there’s the INTERROBANG. That’s this: ?! and it’s used to show you’re taken aback. “Mom said I’m adopted?!” Heh. Also, is interrobang the best word ever? Yes.
I’m too tired to properly explain colons. Click here. It’s helpful, if not a weirdly-formatted site. Also, if you say the word “colon” without giggling like a child, your heart is dead in your chest. DEAD I TELL YOU. The colon is used like a sadder semicolon, I guess. (“Jimmy only liked one girl: Helen. And Helen wished he would die in a fire.”) Or if you’re telling time. OH COLON. I am just messing with you. I love you, too, colon. Heh. Colon.
Now…ADVANCED PUNCTUATION YOU CAN’T FIND ON YOUR KEYBOARD.
This is a snark mark. It is used to denote SARCASM. Are you not completely entranced and in love right now? Who doesn’t want a punctuation mark to denote sarcasm? It’s tough to do that online, you know? Or sometimes people think you’re being sarcastic and send you messages all “oh, shit, I think I offended you, sorry” and then you have to go back and look through everything you emailed/tweeted/commented/blogged and see what could have been misconstrued as “I was upset” when you’re not even FEELING upset because you were being SARCASTIC and it didn’t read well online. It’s not always easy to be a sarcastic bitch online.
OK. This is longer than like a month of posts. I LOVE YOU, PUNCTUATION! Thank you for making things easier for us to understand things, and for making things like this NOT happen:
Happy National Punctuation Day! Don’t forget: knowing how to properly punctuate a sentence makes you AWESOME LIKE A SPARKLY VAMPIRE! (Ugh, I can’t even pull that off. Sorry. Cool like ME. You can be cool like ME. That HAS to be better than a sparkly effing vampire, right?)