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.
When to use commas:
- 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.
- 1. Stand in for missing letters in contractions
- Example: It’s (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.
- 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.
- 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.’
- Use a semi colon to separate items in a complex list.
- It can also join together closely related sentences.
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:
- 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.
- 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).
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.
The following works were 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.