Last week’s post featured a punctuation quiz and the answers. This week’s post explains why the answers are the correct answers. Here we go:
1. I just baked some brownies, would you like some?
Corrected: I just baked some brownies; would you like some? OR I just baked some brownies. Would you like some?
Why? You cannot separate two complete sentences with a comma! You can use a semicolon if the sentences are closely related. You can also use a period and a capital letter, making two separate sentences. Or, you can keep the comma, but also add a conjunction such as and or but.
2. (letter) Dear Sirs; I am interested in the position of advertising director for your company. (rest of letter)
Corrected: (letter) Dear Sirs: I am interested in the position of advertising director for your company. (rest of letter)
Why? First of all, let me say that I have been corrected. Dear Sirs is no longer very common, especially on a cover letter. Dear Hiring Committee is a better choice. Aside from that, there should be a colon after the greeting of a business letter, not a semicolon.
3. I just went to the store and bought apples, bananas, cherries, strawberries and pineapple for the fruit salad.
Corrected: Correct as is.
Why? You could add the Oxford comma after strawberries, but you don’t have to. The Oxford comma, or the comma before the last item in a series, is optional. However, in a piece of writing, be consistent. Either use it or don’t. The only exception to being consistent is when using it or not using it causes confusion in a particular sentence.
4. Mike Jones, chief of police; Andy Crimson, homicide detective; Mayor Crawford, and Supervisor Kelley attended the meeting.
Corrected: Mike Jones, chief of police; Andy Crimson, homicide detective; Mayor Crawford; and Supervisor Kelley attended the meeting.
Why? This sentence contains a series in which some of the items have commas within them. In this case, to clear up any confusion about what goes with what, use semicolons to separate the items, even the ones without commas in them. The best solution is probably to rewrite the series to avoid the issue, but the semicolon is perfectly fine to use in this case.
5. He tried to ski down the advanced slope, and fell when he was almost at the bottom.
Corrected: He tried to ski down the advanced slope and fell when he was almost at the bottom.
Why? Commas are used in compound sentences. This sentence is not compound because the words on both sides of the conjunction are not complete sentences. Fell when he was almost at the bottom does not have a subject. If the sentence read he fell when he was almost at the bottom, you would use a comma.
6. Why did you wear that old, torn sweater to the party.
Corrected: Why did you wear that old, torn sweater to the party?
Why? The sentence is a question, so we need the question mark at the end. The comma between old and torn is needed. If you have two adjectives in a row, try putting an and between them. It is makes sense with and, you need a comma.
7. Out of all my brothers, my brother, Tom, is the most successful.
Corrected: Out of all my brothers, my brother Tom is the most successful.
Why? Putting the commas around Tom indicates that it is added information and could be taken out without losing meaning. However, we cannot take out Tom, because the sentence says “all my brothers,” indicating there is more than one, so we need to identify which brother we mean.
8. My cousin Tom, he is a doctor, is retiring next year and moving to France.
Corrected: My cousin Tom (he is a doctor) is retiring next year and moving to France.
Why: You can use dashes instead of the parentheses or you can rewrite the sentence, but you cannot leave it this way. The information within the commas is a complete sentence. You cannot enclose a complete sentence within commas.
9. My dog — I have no idea how — she got there was found wandering three streets away.
Corrected: My dog — I have no idea how she got there — was found wandering three streets away.
Why? The dashes are in the wrong place.To check the placement of your dashes, take the information within the dashes out of the sentence. If the rest of the sentence reads correctly without the information within the dashes, the dashes are in the correct place.
10. The book that I read last week is titled “How I Traveled Across Spain in One Week.”
Corrected: The book that I read last week is titled How I Traveled Across Spain in One Week.
Why? Book titles are in italics, not quotes.
11. I haven’t replied to you yet, because I don’t know if I can make it.
Corrected: I haven’t replied to you yet because I don’t know if I can make it.
Why? Although there is a comma after introductory clauses, there is usually no comma if the clause is at the end of the sentence: Because I don’t know if I can make it, I haven’t replied to you yet.
12. The June 12, 1965 issue of that magazine is a collector’s item.
Corrected: The June 12, 1965, issue of that magazine is a collector’s item.
Why? If you use the day (12) in the date, you need a comma after the day. You also need a comma after the year if the date is used in a sentence — even if, as in this sentence, the date actually describes the next word in the sentence.
13. September, 1959 is a month I will always remember.
Corrected: September 1959 is a month I will always remember.
Why: If you use the date without the day, no comma is necessary between the month and year, or after the year.
14. My uncle has worked for the F.B.I. for thirty years.
Corrected: My uncle has worked for the FBI for thirty years.
Why: Abbreviations made of capital letters do not have periods between the letters.
15. I would love to move to California; my husband would prefer to live in Arizona.
Corrected: The sentence is correct as is.
Why? These two sentences are closely related and can be separated with a semicolon. Of course, you can also make it two sentences and use a period between them, or use a comma and a conjunction.
16. Did he ask, “Are we going to Disneyland”?
Corrected: Did he ask, “Are we going to Disneyland?”
Why? In this sentence, both the entire sentence and the quoted portion are questions. However, we don’t use two question marks; we use only one. And the question mark goes inside the quotes.
17. In his speech Mayor Smith said, ” It (the new shopping center complex) will help the economy of the city.”
Corrected: In his speech Mayor Smith said, ” It [the new shopping center complex] will help the economy of the city.”
Why? Parentheses are used for additional information in a sentence. Brackets  are used in quoted materials to explain something that may not be clear from the quote. Perhaps, in this case, the reader didn’t hear the speech, but just read about it in the newspaper. The reporter will add the information in brackets to make clear what the mayor was talking about. The information in brackets is not part of the quote.
18. Although he is a famous author, (of seven bestsellers) he has lost all his money.
Corrected: Although he is a famous author (of seven bestsellers), he has lost all his money.
Why? Yes, it is true that you probably don’t need parentheses at all in this sentence. However, the sentence shows that the comma would go after the parentheses, not before it. The comma is not related to the parentheses. If you took the information in parentheses out of the sentence, there would still be a comma in the same place, following the dependent clause.
19. He said, “My favorite song of all time is “Yesterday.”
Corrected: He said, “My favorite song of all time is ‘Yesterday.'”
Why? Songs should be in quotation marks. The song title should be in single quotes because it is inside a quote. Quotes inside of quotes are single quotes. And there should be three quotes at the end: A single quote belongs at the end of the song title. Double quotes belong as the ending quotes of the spoken words. That makes three quotes total at the end of the sentence, and the period goes inside the quotes.
20. He said “I am going to the movies with Jean and Theo”.
Corrected: He said, “I am going to the movies with Jean and Theo.”
Why? A comma is used between the rest of the sentence and the quote. And, in American English, the period always goes inside the quotes (as do commas as well). However, in British English, it is the opposite.
21. I am bringing: salad, bread, cheese, and wine.
Corrected: I am bringing salad, bread, cheese, and wine.
Why? Using a colon breaks up the sentence. Do not use a colon after a verb in a sentence with a series. Here is a sentence where the colon would be correct: I am bringing these items: salad, bread, cheese, and wine. Of course, the Oxford comma after cheese is optional.
Next Week: A Word Usage Quiz