The following is a quick review of the most common punctuation questions that have been asked of Communications.
Note: Punctuation marks generally maintain the same style (italics, bold, etc.) of the word immediately preceding them. However, a question mark or exclamation point that immediately follows an italicized title and that is not part of the title should be kept in regular type so that it does not appear to be part of the title.
Use only for corporations, businesses and organizations that include it as part of the formal name (AT&T, Simon & Schuster). Do not substitute the ampersand for and except in charts, graphs or tabular material.
Possessives: There seems to be no confusion in forming possessives of regular nouns that do not end in s or z. The general rule is to add ’s to the singular and an apostrophe only after the s to the plural.
the boy’s hat (singular)
the boys’ hats (plural)
Singular common nouns ending in s: Add ’s unless the next word begins with s.
the campus’s invitation (plural is campuses’ invitations)
the campus’ sponsor (plural is campuses’ sponsors)
Rules for forming the possessive of proper nouns ending in s are confusing. We follow the usage of The Associated Press Stylebook. Add an apostrophe only.
Los Angeles’ public schools
the Joneses’ reputations
the Rosses’ and the Williamses’ lands
Channel Islands’ representative
Channel Islands’ structures
Singular proper names ending in x or z: Add ’s
The possessives of pronouns do not get apostrophes (hers, not her’s; its, not it’s; theirs, not their’s or theirs’).
Plurals of Letters and Numbers: Generally, capital letters used as words, multiple letters, and numbers used as nouns form the plural by adding s alone (the 1930s, YMCAs, PCs). The plural of single lowercase letters is formed with an apostrophe and s (mind your p’s and q’s).
The colon is used to mark a break in grammatical construction for explanation, expansion, enumeration or elaboration and emphasizes the content relation between the separated elements. It is commonly used to introduce a list or series. In a sentence, lowercase the first word after a colon unless that word is a proper noun, the start of a complete sentence or a quotation. A colon should not separate the main elements of a sentence (such as the direct object from the verb), even if the direct object is a vertical list. (See How to Use Lists section.)
Serial Comma: Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series. (Jackie, Marsha and Kelly were expected.) Do use the serial comma to avoid confusing the reader—remember the famous dedication: “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”
Invitations and Lists: Omit commas at the ends of centered lines of text in invitations, headings, titles and similar listings.
Jr., Sr.: It is no longer necessary to have a comma before Jr. or Sr. in a name, but follow the individual’s preference. If you do use a comma, you need one after also, unless, of course, Jr. or Sr. is the final word in the sentence. Do not use a comma before the Roman numeral in a name (Daniel Jacobs III).
Compound Predicate: Do not use a comma before and in sentences with a compound predicate (the second half of the sentence does not contain its own subject and verb). (The committee will meet March 4 and then present its plans to the president March 10.)
Separating Subject and Verb: Do not separate the main elements of a sentence (subject and verb or verb and object) with a comma. A common error in severing the verb and the object occurs when a comma is inserted before a clause starting with that, as in: It would seem in many instances to suggest, that the number of these errors is increasing.
Introductory Phrases: Not every introductory prepositional phrase requires a comma, but do use a comma between two proper nouns (or a year and a proper noun) to aid in reading. In 1999, the CSU admitted more students. When he visited in June, John brought his dog.
City, State: Use a comma to set off the state when mentioning the city and state in text. (They visited San Diego, California, on their vacation.)
Conjunctions: You do not need a comma before every and, but or because. If what follows the conjunction is not an independent clause (has a subject and verb), you do not need a comma. I had trouble with my car but was finally able to get it started.
Large Numbers: Use a comma for most numbers greater than 999 (1,001; 202,000). Exceptions include street addresses, room numbers, serial numbers and years.
Dates: Express dates by month-day-year. Your letter of November 11, 2001, was received. (A comma is used before and after the year.) When expressing month and year only, do not use a comma (January 2002, not January, 2002).
Em Dash (—)
The em dash (—) is used to denote a break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure or encloses parenthetical material. Do not use spaces on either side.
Ellipsis points indicate the omission of material from a quoted passage. The dots are separated from each other and from any contiguous punctuation or text by a space. Three dots indicate an omission within a sentence. When the last part of a quoted sentence is omitted and what remains is grammatically complete, terminal punctuation for the sentence is needed—whether that is a period (making four dots), a question mark or an exclamation point. If what remains is not grammatically correct, the period (or other terminal punctuation from the original) is omitted. When four dots are used, the sentence preceding the ellipses and the one following it should be a grammatically complete sentence. There is no need to place ellipses before or after a quoted piece.
Whenever possible, a note number or asterisk should come at the end of a clause or sentence so the reader is not distracted. Asterisks and superscript numbers follow punctuation marks (except for dashes) in text and are placed outside the closing parenthesis. (“This,” she said, “cannot be true.”1 He found the quotation too lengthy2—remember his remarks on the subject.)
Hyphens are typically used to connect two or more words functioning together as an adjective before a noun (often to avoid ambiguity). Example: small-business profits, rather than small business profits.
- Full-time and part-time when used as adjectives (He is a full-time employee. But: He works full time.)
- Modifying words combined with well when preceding a noun (a well-known author)
- Words beginning with the prefixes all and self (all-encompassing, self-supporting)
- Compounds consisting of a number and a unit of measure before the noun (three-mile limit, 100-yard race)
- Compounds ending with a preposition (like out, up, of) before the noun (check-out time, burned-up reports, unheard-of recommendation)
Do not hyphenate:
- When connecting -ly adverbs to words they modify (slowly rising river).
- Vice chancellor, vice president, ex officio.
- Words with the prefixes anti, co, multi, non, post, pre, re, semi and sub (except those containing a proper noun). However, hyphenate if the letter that ends the prefix is the same as the first letter of the word following the hyphen (anti-intellectual, non-native) or if the word could be confusing to the reader (re-sign).
- Compounds consisting of a number followed by percent (a 10 percent increase; a 50 percent profit).
Suspensive hyphenation: Used in a compound showing a range of time, age, amount, etc. Note the spacing. Both full- and part-time jobs are offered.
Use the double symbol “__” at the beginning and end of quoted material and a single symbol ‘___’ for a quotation within a quotation. (“Open the box,” said John, “and you will see ‘Handle with Care’ written in red ink.”)
With Other Punctuation
- The comma and period always go inside quotation marks.
- The semicolon, colon, question mark, exclamation point and dash go inside quotation marks if they are part of the quotation and outside if they are not.
He asked, “Who called the operator?”
Who said, “Call the operator”?
- If quoted material runs four or more lines in text, it is better to use a block quotation.
- A block quotation is indented on both sides from the set margin and does not require quotation marks. Should the quoted material have internal quotes, remember to change them from the single to the double.
- If quoting more than one paragraph and the block quotation is not used, quotation marks are placed at the beginning of each paragraph. There are no ending quotation marks until the final paragraph.
ITALICS OR QUOTATION MARKS?
- Titles and subtitles of published books, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, newsletters, sections of newspapers printed separately, and magazines
- Titles of record albums
- Titles of paintings, sculptures, drawings, statues and other works of art
- Motion pictures
- Plays, long poems, collections of poems
- Operas, other long musical works
- Continuing radio and television programs
- Names of specific ships, submarines, aircraft (abbreviations such as SS or HMS preceding them are not italicized) (TS Golden Bear, Voyager 2, Spirit of Saint Louis, HMS Frolic)
- Foreign words that are not familiar (If the word is in a standard English dictionary, it does not need italics.)
Note: The possessive ending (’s) of a title or proper nouns in italics should not be italicized (the Golden Bear’s voyage).
Use Quotation Marks
- Songs, other short musical compositions, radio and television shows (or single episodes of continuing series)
- Titles of short poems, short stories, articles, individual chapters
- Title given to a conference (e.g., “The State of American Education”).The full official name of the conference, such as the annual American Association of Higher Education meeting, is simply capitalized, with no italics or quotation marks. (Annual and meeting are not capitalized because they are not part of the title.)
- Titles of lectures and papers read at symposia or conferences
- Titles of dissertations and theses
The semicolon marks a more important break in the sentence than that marked by a comma. The semicolon is used to separate two parts of a compound sentence that are related but not connected by a conjunction (e.g., and, but, for) and to separate items in a series that are long and complex or that involve internal punctuation. (We invited representatives from several campuses: David Wu, CSU San Bernardino; Lauren Campos, Cal Poly Pomona; and Mark Izumi, Humboldt State.) With a compound sentence, an easy way to determine if a semicolon is appropriate is to substitute a period and see if each unit can stand on its own (has a subject and verb). (We were running late; the plane was due in 20 minutes.)