Green River Writing CafeŠ



Mistakes in the interpretation of written material can often result from poor punctuation. Punctuation does not help poor construction, but it often aids clarity and reduces ambiguity. The following rules give the writer standards for text treatment concerning punctuation, as well as establish general principles of usage.

Apostrophe (')

The apostrophe is most often used to contract words, to show possession in words, to represent speech, and occasionally to simplify spelling. In contractions, the apostrophe is used in place of a sound in the unstressed syllable. Avoid contractions in formal prose, particularly legal and financial documents.

Contractions: are not becomes aren’t; is not, isn’t; was not, wasn't; cannot, can't; it is, it's; I will, I'll; you are, you're; you will, you'll.

Possession or ownership: The department's policy, the child's hat, the teachers' suggestions, the cat's tail. To form the possessive singular of a noun, add apostrophe "s" (’s). To form the possessive plural, write the plural noun; if it ends in "s", add an apostrophe(s’); if it does not , add an apostrophe "s" (‘s), e.g., the men's shoes, the children's toys. (Reminder: the possessive case of a personal pronoun never has an apostrophe, e.g., its, ours, yours, her, theirs).

The apostrophe is occasionally omitted in the business titles and names of organizations and geographic locations, e.g., Godfathers Pizza, Linders Rock. The best method is show the actual title.

Rules for use of the apostrophe in representing speech or in simplifying words are somewhat arbitrary and can be handled by your current teacher or editor.


Brackets [ ]

Editors and writers use brackets to indicate an interpolation, a comment, or to show an error in text written or typed by another. Brackets are also used to enclose units in mathematical notations, as well as to indicate sentence overruns into space immediately above the line. When the bracketed material is over two lines long, it should be paragraphed and indented. In cases where more than one paragraph is bracketed, brackets should begin each paragraph and enclose the end of the last paragraph.

It was the Divsion's approval [decision] that prompted the acceptance of the policy.

With the fall in apple exports to Japan, comercial [sic] interests in Wenatchee experienced a slight decrease in profits during the first quarter of the 1998 fiscal year.

C1 =1 - N+1 + [R3]

at the end of the glacial period [about 25.00 B. C.]

King County: [89-2].


See county documents, 24-31; 84-23; 97-84; 76-5


The Colon :

Use a colon to introduce a long quotation or a formal statement of question. (In such cases words like as follows, The following, and thus indicate that a colon may follow.) The colon is also used if the words in a series are parallel with a word in the previous part of the sentence, after a salutation, after introductory lines in lists, between two independent clauses when the second re-states or explains the first, in imprints before a date, between figures for hours and minutes, and in proportions.

What did the director mean when he said the following: "The current State Liquor Commission is a profit-making organization."?

The division bought four machines: one computer , two printers, and one electric pencil sharpener.

Dear Mr Johnson:

Agriculture: wheat, apples, cattle, alfalfa.

True courage is like a kite: a contrary wind raises it higher.—J. Petit-Senn.

Auburn, WA: 1998

8:00 a.m.

The proportion for the formula are 10: 5: 1.


The Comma ,

The comma is a very difficult punctuation mark to use because of its versatility and consequent overuse. It cannot improve a poorly constructed sentence, but in many cases its usage is extremely important for sentence clarity and type sense.

Use a comma to set off long introductory prepositional phrases, introductory infinitive phrases which are not used as a subject, introductory participial phrases, and introductory clauses.

Of the three agricultural counties in the state, one was quite representative of the national averages.

To establish a norm for these factors, we must first construct a basic methodology.


To begin with the research data is the best method for solving the problem.

Floating down Nason Creek, the wrafters found enough blackberries to make a pie.

When all the conditions are calculated, adjust the index of the average factors to apply to these conditions.

The comma is used to separate words or figures which make reading difficult or could cause confusion.

July 26, 1998

In 1998, 500 bales of hay were taken from this field.

Instead of one, two should have been used.

What the problem was, was of no concern to the researchers.


The comma is used to set off "he said" or a similar expression from a direct quotation.

The director said, "Now is the time."

"Turn in the profiles", she said.


A comma is used before and after name and title abbreviations within a sentence.

Bob Wells, Jr., editor (but Mr. Wells, Junior,)

Digital Watch, Inc., office division

Henry Craig, Ph.D., chairman

Use a comma to set off parenthetic (nonrestrictive) words, phrases, or clauses, but not to set off words, phrases, and clauses which restrict the meaning of the sentence. Practically speaking, parenthetic expressions seemed to be "thrown into" a sentence, breaking the flow of sentence development into action.

Ben Johnson, who lives up the street, was seen in the store at that time.

One of the main points of interest, however, is the large mountain called Rainer.

It was this, I believe, that was responsible for the influx of immigrants from Norway into the valley,

It apparent, therefore, that the results are correct.


The director who forgot the study material is responsible.

He consequently gave no opinion.

Use a comma to set off contrasting expressions usually signaled by not, but not, or though not.

The width of the lake, but not the depth, was recorded.

The length of the study, though not a research problem, was responsible for final editing.

The English Department, not the Economics Department, was responsible for the final cut.

Use a comma after each phrase, word letter, or figure in a series of three or more unless there is no possibility of misunderstanding the meaning.

peas, pickles, and popcorn

over the valley, into the woods, about the town

a, b, and c

1, 2, and 3

The comma is sometimes used before a conjunction in a compound sentence when the clauses are long and relatively distinct; with shorter clauses too many commas lead to over-punctuation. The comma is also used after a noun or phrase in direct address, and after an interrogative clause (question) followed by a direct question.

The farms were irrigated throughout the year, and the rivers were not affected by the water drainage.

Sir, will you follow this gentleman to my office?

You are going, aren’t you?

The comma is used in an address or date (when the day of the month is given) and to separate thousands, million, etc., in numbers of four or more digits.

Seattle, Washington

July 26, 1998

3,472 56,000

Use the comma to set off words or phrases in loose apposition, which complement the subject but do not restrict it. Commas do not set off close or restrictive appositives.

Mr. Johnson, the director, watched the program .

The computer, an ANFS-T2, was installed.


The director MR. Johnson watched the program.

The ANFS-T2 computer was installed.

Omit commas before a dash; between two nouns, one of which identifies the other; in serial patent numbers; and between the month and year dates.

This labor movement—according to some—was not organized.

The Community Health Study "Report No. 3" was published.



July 1967

Never use a single comma between a subject and its verb or between the verb and its object or complement. Never use a comma when it is not necessary, since over-punctuation leads to choppiness and difficult reading.


The Dash [two hyphens] --

Use the dash to mark an abrupt change or to make a pause or hesitation in thought. It should be used sparingly and not in substitution for another punctuation mark. It is not used with a comma, semicolon, or colon.

If they continue their policy--and they will--the research will be ruined.

His conclusion--doubtless quite absurd--were scrubbed from the report.

Use the dash to precede a credit line, to clarify meaning, to indicate repetition of a phrase, and to indicate an unfinished word or sentence.

Are these the lips that sunk a thousand ships?--Christopher Marlowe

These factors--money, materials, and manpower--are necessary for further construction.

The Bureau proposes--that cost factors be considered; that the publication be retabled; and that further research be discontinued.

Your conclusion--


The Ellipses ...

Ellipses indicate an omission in quoted material. Three dots mark an omission. If the omission concludes a sentence, the period is considered the fourth dot.

The representative said, "It is up to you, with the aid of our company, to pursue this problem to the end. With such aid…unity can be achieved. You need not be discouraged…"

A centered line of three dots between paragraphs is used to indicate the omission of a complete paragraph.


The Hyphen -

The hyphen has a notorious history of misuse and style guides differ considerably. Yet, it does facilitate reading, understanding, and correct pronunciation. Perhaps common sense is the best rule in hyphenation, for we are not to be concerned with a prescriptive rule but with communication of a unit idea--the compound word. There is a tendency to fuse words, especially short words or prefixes, leaving our language flexible. If problems do occur, consult a dictionary or an English handbook.

Use the hyphen to divide compound written numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.



Use the hyphen between an adjective of two or more words if they precede the noun modified, but not if they follow.

Four-dimensional sphere

pit-mining company

hand-me-down clothes

The hyphen is often used between adjectives which are formed from
a noun by adding "ed", and which precede or follow the noun modified.

the machine-recorded conversation

The conversation was machine-recorded.

Do not use the hyphen between an adverb ending in "ly" and the adjective or participle modified.

closely met schedule

quickly signed document

rapidly failing market

In word divisions at the end of a written or typed line, the hyphen is never used to make a one-letter division, to divide "ed" from a one-syllable word, to divide proper names unless the name is long and the division become obvious, or to divide dates.

signed never sign-ed

stayed never stay-ed

Bill Johnson but: John bill-ing-ton

B. J. Parker never B.-J. Parker

July, 27, 1967 never July -27, 1967

B. C. , p.m. never B. -C. or p. -m.

Use the hyphen to separate "ing" from its preceding consonant, unless the consonant is double before "ing" is added. Never hyphenate "able" or "ible".

ki-ing but swimm-ing

react-ing but recur-ring

The following words demonstrate current usage in hyphenated and solid compounds.

good-by but northwest

make-believe but coeducational

sister-in-law but infrared

know-it-all but cooperation

right-of-way but preexisting

X-ray but flareup


The Parentheses ( )

Use parentheses to set off material not intended to be part of the main statement but which identifies ideas and clarifies meaning.

The results of this research (see Table 3, page 5) indicate…

The most recent cost factors (by dollar value) are included in the study.

John Williams was then appointed as an assistant to the governor (he later became governor) and began his work with the labor unions.

Parenthesis are also used (1) to enclose a series of numbers or letters which identify ideas, as in the sentence, (2) to enclose a figure used to clarify a number, and (3) to enclose a statement which interrupts the sentence and cannot be indicated by commas.

The time period of thirty (30) days will hold for the allotted sum of ten (10) dollars.

Aberdeen (Washington) will be the location of the next committee meeting.

You will find (I hope) that the numerical results are accurate.

The pending strike (it is believed) has been settled.

When you use parentheses at the end of a sentence, the period falls outside.. If the parentheses enclose a complete sentence, the first word is capitalized and the period falls inside the final parenthesis.

Only the recommendation need to be clarified (see Attachment 1).

Only the recommendations need to be studied. (For further study on recommendations, see Attachment 1.)


The Period [full stop].

Use a period to complete a declarative or imperative statement.

The study is finished. Finish the study.

The coffee is made. Make the coffee.

Use the period after letters in most abbreviations except well-known abbreviated titles like UNICEF or SBA. Never use a period after a Roman numeral within a sentence or after percent, unless ending a sentence.





J. A. Hill

Use the period to indicate thousands in some European languages, to replace the parentheses in a lettered or numbered series (see 12. 13), to indicate decimal (set off from the integer), and rarely, to indicate multiplication.

3.741.056 but 3,456 to indicate decimal

1. clean the pot, 2. plug it in, 3. boil the water.


3.66 feet

1.567 percent

25 c.c



Quotation Marks " "

Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations. They should not be used with indirect quotations.

He said, "This is the homestead."

His response was, "Yes."


He once said that this is the homestead.

I believe that his response was yes.

Use quotation marks to set off words that have been borrowed from another writer, but they are not used to set off familiar slang, nicknames (sobriquets), or misnomers. The word or words are either appropriate and need no excuse, or they are trite and should not be used.

Kierkengaard believed that the "leap of faith" was necessary for religious progression.

Trapper (not "trapper") Jack was an early explorer in Washington. His buddy (not "buddy") Bill, the Wolf, (not "the wolf") Penwood often blew up (not "blew up") at some of Jack’s fiddlings (not "fiddlings.") Still, they established a gentleman’s agreement (not "gentleman’s agreement") to keep from fighting.

The quotation mark encloses titles of articles, captions, essays, lectures, short poems,
short stories, headings, reports, songs, motion pictures, plays, and radio and television programs.

Article: "Coal in the Southwest"

Caption: "Northwest Trading"

Essay: "Civil Disobedience"

Lecture: "The American Way of Life"

Poem: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Report: "Washington Business Conditions"

Short Story: "The Ritual"

Make "Quotation Marks" a second order heading.

Read Chapter 3, "The Land to the South."

Like the parenthesis, a quotation mark is used at the beginning of each quoted paragraph, but end quotes on the last paragraph only. Quotation marks can be used to give added emphasis to a word or phrase, but this should only be done occasionally.

A single quotation is used to enclose a quotation within a quotation. Paired quotation marks must always be used before and after the single quotation marks.

The guest speaker stated, "Do you remember the immortal words of Emerson, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’"

The comma and the period are always placed inside quotation marks. In other instances, the punctuation mark goes inside the quotation marks only if it is a part of the material quoted.

He said, "The sun also rises."

He said, "The sun also rises", but he forgot to say it also sets.

He said, "What do you mean?"

Did he say, "The sun also sets"?


The Semicolon ;

Use the semicolon in place of a conjunction between two independent clauses which are closely related in structure and meaning.

John will work on business conditions; Bill will compute business factors.

The semicolon may be used before conjunctive adverbs such as: however, indeed, consequently, thus, hence, therefore, also, likewise, finally, nevertheless, still, so, and yet. A fixed rule cannot be prescribed for such usage. Still, if the two clauses are closely related, the semicolon can be used. When relationship seems at all vague, a period should be used.

We will need to discuss the factors relating to the growth of unemployment; nevertheless, unemployment should not be our major concern.


The flow of water in the Nason Creek watershed has decreased over the years. Water systems in Seattle have not been hindered by the decrease in water supplies.

For clarity use the semicolon to separate parts of a sentence of equal rank if they are subdivided by commas.

Scrap definitions, process, and input; and steel castings; transportation, and investments will be part of the study.

Use a semicolon to separate clauses containing commas.

Some tourist selections in Washington include the Puget Sound, on the western side; the Space Needle, Seattle; Mt. Rainer, along the Cascade ridge; and the falls, Spokane.

rcasad 8/21/98