Suggestions and Tips on Punctuation
01. IN DIALOGUE, BEGIN A NEW PARAGRAPH TO MARK A CHANGE IN SPEAKER.
“Will, do you know why two friends would be trying to kill each other?”
“Big John and Eddie.”
“They’re not friends.”
02. USE SINGLE QUOTATION MARKS TO ENCLOSE A QUOTATION WITHIN A QUOTATION.
According to Paul Eliott, Inuit hunters “chant an ancient magic song to the seal they are after: ‘Beast of the sea! Come and place yourself before me in the early morning!’”
03. USE QUOTATION MARKS AROUND THE TITLES OF NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE ARTICLES, POEMS, SHORT STORIES, SONGS, EPISODES OF TELEVISON AND RADIO PROGRAMMES AND CHAPTERS OR SUBDIVISIONS OF BOOKS.
Even after 40 minutes of discussion, our class could not agree on an interpretation of Michael Ondaatje’s poem “Spider Blues.”
NOTE: Titles of books, plays, films, names of magazines and newspapers can be put in Italics or underlined.
04. QUOTATION MARKS MAY BE USED TO SET OFF WORDS USED AS WORDS. Although words used as words may be set off by using Italics, quotation marks are also acceptable.
The words “Flaunt” and “Flout are frequently confused.
The words flaunt and flout are frequently confused.
O5. ALWAYS PLACE PERIODS AND COMMAS INSIDE QUOTATIONS MARKS. This rule applies to single quotation marks as well as double quotation marks. It also applies to all uses of quotation marks: for quoted material, for titles of works and for words used as words.
“Better than Smith and Wollensky,” he said after the first bite. “With a far more attractive chef, I might add.”
“God, I love you,” he suddenly gushed.
“Boston,” she answered. “Retired guy like you, etC.
EXCEPTION: With parenthetical in-text citations, the period follows the citation in parentheses.
J.M. Bumstead agues that the execution of Louis Riel “had a lasting impact on Canada, particularly in Quebec, where French-Canadian nationalism was strengthened and voters turned away from the Conservative party” (396-97).
06. IF A QUOTED SENTENCE IS INTERRUPTED BY EXPLANATORY WORDS, USE COMMAS TO SET OFF THE EXPLANATORY WORDS.
“A great many people think they are thinking,” wrote William James, “when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
07. PUT QUESTION MARKS AND EXCLAMATIONS MARKS INSIDE QUOTATION MARKS unless they apply to the sentence as a whole.
“Were you expecting someone else?” she answered. “You better not be.”
“God, you’re beautiful!” he said, finally lowering her back to the floor.
“Hello?” she called out.
08. SENTENCE AS A WHOLE: Have you heard the old proverb “Do not climb the hill until you reach it”?
09. IF A QUOTATION IS INTRODUCED WITH AN EXPRESSION SUCH AS he said or she remarked –OR IF IT IS FOLLOWED BY SUCH AN EXPRESSION—a comma is needed.
“She reeled him in from there,” added Elaine.
“So when do we meet this Craig?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Elaine. “When do we get to meet Mr. Incredible?”
“More important, how does he dress?” asked Allison, ever the fashion editor.
“Okay, let’s cut to the chase,” said Elaine with a wave of her hand. “How is your fella?”
10. PUT COLONS AND SEMI-COLONS OUTSIDE QUOTATION MARKS.
Here for example is the opening stanza from “The Snake”: “ Let them eat meat . . . even if it is snake.”
In this one there is a quote following. In this next one, there is no following quote.
Harold wrote, “I regret that I am unable to attend the fundraiser for AIDS research”; his letter, however, contained a substantial contribution.
11. ELLIPSIS POINTS
A SPACE before, between and after ellipsis points.
There was little he could say . . . so he said nothing.
12. DASH AND HYPHEN
No space before or after these marks when they are inserted between words, a word and a numeral, or two numerals:
I will support you in any way I can—even to the point of silence.
A few 90—cent stamps
A dash may be used to insert an afterthought, correction or repetition.
Who will oppose—who are now opposed to the union?
A dash may be used to set off an emphatic ending.
To write imaginatively, a man should have—imagination.
A dash may be used in summarizing.
Rich stores of minerals, good agricultural land, forests stretching over millions of acres, and energetic and enterprising people—all these assure Canada bright future.
13. THE SEMICOLON
The semicolon is used between independent clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction but too closely related to be separated by a period.
Inflation makes misery unanimous: it is universal poverty.
When I was younger I used to worry about having enough money for my old age; now I worry about having enough old age for my money.
14. USING WORDS THAT ARE NOT WORDS:
The rule for using words that are not words, or unfamiliar words, you put it in quotes the first time it is used only.
Ie: The use of the word “rummies” for people who have had too much rum or alcohol to drink.
The “rummies” lined the streets in drunken stupors. The question was how could we could tell which bodies belonged to the rummies and which bodies were the dead!
15. ABBREVIATING WORDS
When using words in such as “will not; could not; would not; can not; etc.” they are most effective if abbreviated.
Ie: “I can’t do it!” “You shouldn’t spit on the sidewalk, gross!”
AND they can be used most of the time in the narrative portion of your story.
The man didn’t whether he was married or not.
The group waited in the rain wondering if they should have been more explicit. ( in this sentence, the long form sounds best)
The boy would’ve arrived on time but he missed his bus.
Always abbreviate in dialogue, and use abbreviations most of the time elsewhere as well.