More people are unsure of their punctuation than would ever care to admit it. Use our quick guide to make sure you’re not one of them.
- Never use ‘its’ with an apostrophe unless it means ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ – it’s amazing how many people use it wrongly.
- Beware also the greengrocer’s apostrophe (pea’s, carrot’s) when
forming plurals. Apostrophes should usually only be used to show possession or omission. The exception is to avoid confusion when forming plurals of letters (eg A’s, which looks like ‘As’ if you leave out the
- Some people object to using ‘and’ or ‘but’ at the beginning of
sentences. But this probably has more to do with lingering fears of that
scary old English teacher you had years ago than any real grammatical
rule. And that’s all there is to it. If you don’t believe us, look again
at a Shakespeare play – or even a well-respected business magazine such
as The Economist.
- Semi-colons (;) can replace ‘and’ or ‘but’. They denote a pause
that’s longer than a comma but shorter than a full stop (or period).
Think of them as ‘super commas’ if it helps. Don’t overuse them, though
- Colons can replace ‘so’, ‘therefore’ and ‘because’.
- The full stop (period) is the reader’s best friend – and it
could be yours. It shortens sentences, making them easier to read. And
it can get you out of a pickle when you’re trying to find a clever way
of saying two or three things in the same sentence: just use two or
three sentences instead.
- Use semi-colons, brackets and dashes sparingly, as they’re stylistically heavy. If in doubt, split the sentence.
- If you put additional information in a sentence, like this,
remember to use commas or dashes either side of the information. It’s
hard for the reader if they’re left out.
- Using all capitals on headings is hard on the eye, as it removes
the all-important shape from words. (We use shape to recognise words
more than you may realise.) So use initial capitals only.
- Too many exclamations are irritating!