Whether you’re studying anthropology or art history, electrical engineering or etymology, knowing how to properly punctuate a paragraph is a critical college skill. We’ve put together a cheat sheet that will help you avoid 10 of the most common mistakes people make with punctuation marks.
1. Using an apostrophe in a plural word.
The easiest way to avoid this is to remember that plurals don’t use apostrophes, but possessives often do.
Incorrect: The cat’s like to cuddle with one another.
Correct: Cats and dogs do not like to cuddle with one another.
2. Know your words! You’re vs Your.
You’re is a contraction of you + are. Example: “You’re really driving all the way down here tonight?”
Your is the possessive form of you. Example: “Are you going to eat your leftover pizza?”
3. It’s not that I’m trying to be a grammar nazi, punctuation has its place! Know the difference between ‘It’s’ and ‘Its’.
Its (with no apostrophe) is the possessive form of it. Example: “A college degree can prove its value over years to come.”
It’s (with apostrophe) is the contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Example: “It’s been a long time since we last spoke!”
4. You should’ve written that ‘should have’, not ‘should of’.
Should’ve is a contraction of should and have, not should and of. This mistake is easy to make (Quick! Say should’ve three times fast!), but the correct form is ‘should have’.
5. Listen! It’s never okay to use more than one exclamation mark!
This is an easy rule to learn and follow. Don’t use multiple exclamation points after a sentence – ever. It might be appropriate in a text message or in an informal setting, but for collegiate writing, this mistake stands out like a sore thumb.
Like number 5, emoticons have their place in casual conversation, but they are not appropriate in a formal setting. Never, ever use a smiley face in a college paper – it’s probably not even appropriate to send an emoticon in an email to a professor.
7. Separate three or more beautiful, thoughtful, adjectives with a comma.
Breaking this rule isn’t the worst thing you can do, but it is worth noting. Any time you have two or more adjectives, they need to be separated by a comma.
8. Don’t use commas and semicolons interchangeably.
A semicolon links two independent clauses; for almost every other case, you’ll want to use a comma.
For more information on the difference between these two, click here.
9. Not using a comma when joining two complete sentences with a conjunction.
In the famous Schoolhouse Rock Video ‘Conjunction Junction (if you’ve never seen that before, watch it here), the line goes “He cut loose the sandbags, but the balloon wouldn’t go any higher”. Any time the conjunction is joining two complete sentences, you’ll need a comma between them.
10. Don’t use quotation marks “unnecessarily”.
Quotation marks need to go around quotes and should not be used to add emphasis.
Do not do this:
You can find this picture (and many more like it) here.
Do you have a punctuation pet peeve? Tell us in the comments!
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