Ten Common Punctuation Mistakes You Need to Avoid Making

Ten Common Punctuation Errors

Accuracy in your writing is always a vital element in producing good writing.

Basic grammar and spelling mistakes weaken any text so you always need to correct them.

However, it is easy to overlook the most common punctuation mistakes if you are not careful.

Sometimes laziness can create punctuation errors, so you need to check carefully when it comes time to proofreading.

Ten common punctuation mistakes

It would be easy to write a much longer list here.

But I’ll restrict my list of the ten most common punctuation errors.

Of course, you should avoid all of them and learn how to spot and correct all of these punctuation mistakes.

 

1. No commas

We all tend to write sentences as we would speak.

But if a sentence is quite long, it is almost certain that it will need a comma or two to correctly divide certain phrases.

Without adding commas, you will almost certainly create run-on sentences.

For example, the following sentence is incorrect.

I went to the beach yesterday afternoon but it was so hot I left quite early.

It requires a comma before but.

I went to the beach yesterday afternoon, but it was so hot I left quite early.

Never make the mistake of thinking that a comma is where you would take a breath when speaking.

There are defined comma rules in writing that you need to follow.

 

2. Overuse of commas

Just as important as forgetting to use commas is to add too many.

Unnecessary commas can create comma splices and interrupt the flow of a text.

Sometimes it’s much easier to end a sentence and start a new one. Here is an exaggerated example of how to make this mistake.

I was at the beach yesterday, but it was so hot, I decided to go home, but before that, I popped into the store, then I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years, so it was a busy day.

The sentence is very hard to read and quite confusing.

The sentence in the example above needs to be broken into complete sentences.

I was at the beach yesterday, but it was so hot. So I decided to go home. But before that, I popped into the store and ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. So it was a busy day.

 

3. Commas in quotation marks

This is such a common mistake in dialogue punctuation.

Any punctuation mark you use in your dialogue should be placed inside the closing quote.

“I want a burger,” she said, “but leave out the lettuce!”

Notice that the closing quotation marks are after her sentence-ending comma and punctuation mark.

There are a lot of punctuation variations for dialogue, so you should check a good style guide if you need help.

Further reading: How to use the Oxford comma.

 

4. It’s and Its

This common punctuation mistake is often a typo. Most writers know the difference.

It is an easy one to correct as long as you know what it’s and its means.

It’s is a subject and verb contraction for it is or it has.

Its is a possessive pronoun that we use when referring to something belonging to something.

It’s a simple rule you probably learned at high school. But when you are writing in a hurry it is still ane easy mistake to make.

Just make sure you proofread carefully for this error.

 

5. Exclamation points

Yes, sometimes people can shout louder than others, but that is no reason to use more than one exclamation mark in writing.

You see it a lot today on social media and in blog posts.

But using too many makes me really so upset!!!!!!!!!

The message is just the same with one instead of nine!

Unless you are writing a personal message to a friend, go easy on them in your fiction or content writing.

 

6. Emoticons

Okay, emoticons are cute. But they don’t necessarily form part of the English language register.

Obviously, clever people created them and continue to come up with more on so many apps. But they are only appropriate in personal chats.

We had such a great time at the movies last night -:) 

Never use them in article writing or perhaps a college essay.

Reserve them for your best friend. And anyway, emoticons are not punctuation.

 

7. Emphasis quotation marks

Some writers have the bad habit of placing double quotation marks around words when they want to add emphasis or insinuate sarcasm.

In good writing, you never need to use quotation marks for emphasis.

They behaved so “badly” at the party. Poor

I couldn’t believe how badly behaved they were at the party. Better

They were out of control at the party. Better

If you want to add emotion to a word, use more words.

 

8. Apostrophes

We use possessive apostrophes when we indicate that something belongs to the subject. It can be a person or an object.

When you are referring to pluralized nouns, however, there is no apostrophe.

Here are some examples.

My parent’s love to visit over the holidays. Incorrect. This is referring to two people, and not to a possession.

My parents love to visit over the holidays. Correct. It is plural.

My brother’s girlfriend is coming over. Correct. The girlfriend belongs (grammatically) to the brother.

Always decide if the S indicates singular or plural or if it means to belong to someone or something.

 

9. Dashes

There are many hyphenated words as well as words that are separated by en dashes.

There is also the em dash.

Dashes are extremely versatile punctuation marks. You can use them for a variety of reasons, but you should check on the rules.

You can also use an en dash to show a range in numbers or dates.

22th – 26th April

Another use is to break a sentence using an em dash.

My diet has improved has helped—definitely for the better.

But take care that you don’t overuse dashes.

 

10. Question marks

All writers know how to use a question mark correctly. But there is one small trap.

A question mark is only used when asking a direct question. It is usually not required for an indirect question.

Here are some examples.

Can you take me to the shop? Direct

What time is it? Direct

If it’s no trouble, could I ask you to take me to the shop. Indirect

May I ask you what time it is. Indirect

The question mark rule for indirect questions may vary depending on which reference or style guide you follow.

 

Summary

Good punctuation is a must in all forms of written communication.

It brings clarity and meaning to your words.

For new writers, it can be a bit of a learning curve at first.

But if you check your writing carefully, and perhaps use a good online grammar checker to help you, you will improve.

If you can avoid the ten punctuation mistakes in this post, you will be well on your way to writing better.

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

10 thoughts on “Ten Common Punctuation Mistakes You Need to Avoid Making

  • November 28, 2018 at 7:26 pm
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    Sorry, but the correct punctuation here is My parents’ home etc … parents is a plural noun and their home is a possessive. Trust me on this.

    Reply
  • May 6, 2018 at 10:28 am
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    Ironically, this article would have been served by an extra proof reading as some segments are poorly written.

    “Even though emoticons are cute, they don’t necessarily for part of the English language. ” Form part, maybe?

    The thing is that the above example, well as the other things I found in the text can happen to us all (and no doubt I will find tons of them in my own comment once it´s posted), but they are especially annoying in a text about the do´s and don´t´s in writing.

    Reply
  • March 27, 2018 at 3:50 am
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    Use “them” and not “it” when items are plural. “Grammar and spelling mistakes are never accepted, especially if you can easily avoid them.”

    Also, how do you tell someone who speaks in run-on sentences where to put a period? It’s something we hear all the time, even with professional broadcasters; people talk as if their sentence is an endless question. Terrible.

    Reply
  • September 29, 2017 at 9:57 am
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    You can have apostrophes with plurals, if the plural is possessive. Just make sure you put the apostrophe after the “s”.

    For example: “This is my parents’ house”. (i.e. I have two parents, and this house belongs to both of them). If you’d not included the apostrophe, this sentence wouldn’t make sense.

    Always check with a plural whether its just a plain plural, or whether it takes a possessive apostrophe.

    Reply
  • September 29, 2017 at 7:55 am
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    “An en dash is used to show a range, with NO spaces. If an en dash isn’t available, I prefer a hyphen to an em dash.”
    Correct. The writer of this article has lumped dashes in as one thing, but there are distinct uses for the en dash, the em dash and the hyphen. You use an em dash for a break in a sentence.

    Reply
  • August 8, 2017 at 3:56 am
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    In the U.S., commas and periods go inside quotation marks. A question mark or exclamation point go inside quotation marks IF it’s part of the quote.

    An en dash is used to show a range, with NO spaces. If an en dash isn’t available, I prefer a hyphen to an em dash.

    Was this article written as an April 4 joke?

    Reply
  • February 2, 2017 at 10:00 pm
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    Commas have more rules than just shoving one in where ever you think a pause should be. Read the Penguin Guide to Punctuation. A comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2017 at 8:56 pm
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    8. Unnecessary apostrophes
    Apostrophes are used when referring to an individual. Be it a person or an object.
    When you are referring to multiple parties, you do not need the apostrophe.
    Incorrect use

    My parent’s love to visit over the holidays.
    (That is not a logical illustration; it is a plural not a possessive)
    A logical illustration would be
    My parent’s home was always filled with love during the holidays. OR
    My parents home was always filled with love during the holidays.

    ===
    Otherwise, I found this a useful — and unusually clearly written — article….jt

    Reply
    • September 28, 2018 at 4:14 am
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      It would be better to say “My mom’s house” or My dad’s house” than “My parent’s house.” We usually don’t refer to our parents in the singular, which the phrase “My parent’s house” indicates. If you are talking about BOTH parents, it would be correct to write, “My parents’ house.”

      Reply

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