Ten tips for perfect punctuation

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.

  1. Never use ‘its’ with an apostrophe unless it means ‘it is’ or ‘it has’ – it’s amazing how many people use it wrongly.
  2. 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 apostrophe).
  3. 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.
  4. 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). Don’t overuse them, though (see below).
  5. Colons can replace ‘so’, ‘therefore’ and ‘because’.
  6. 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.
  7. Use semi-colons, brackets and dashes sparingly, as they’re stylistically heavy. If in doubt, split the sentence.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Too many exclamations are irritating!

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