So, we’ve looked at the most common grammar errors. But what about punctuation? Some of the most heinous crimes against writing have been committed with bad punctuation. Once you know these bad boys, you’ll see them everywhere. Even in company names! I’ll show you the top three punctuation errors, and how to avoid these mistakes in future, so you can improve your writing.
1. The Oxford comma
The Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma, but that sounds a little too much like serial killer to me) is a bugbear for most proofreaders and editors. Specifically its absence. The infamous Oxford comma is the final comma in a list of more than two items.
Not using an Oxford comma often causes confusion and ambiguity, because the reader doesn’t know whether you’re referring to two or three items. My advice is always include the Oxford comma, as it makes your writing much clearer.
2. The missing comma
There’s a very famous poster that highlights the importance of commas.
Without the comma, Grandma is the object of the verb “eat”. The comma tells the reader that Grandma is the audience you’re speaking to, not the dinner itself.
Without commas, you end up with some strange and cannibalistic sentences, like this famous poster:
3. The greengrocer’s apostrophe
The so-called greengrocer’s apostrophe haunts proofreaders’ dreams. It’s so annoying that you probably won’t thank me for pointing it out, because now you’ll see it everywhere! Just look at it.
This sign, which no doubt many of us have seen, means that 50p belongs to those bananas. Apostrophes should be used for belonging, relation, or ownership, for example, “That’s Bob’s hat” or “those children’s books”. It should just be “Bananas 50p”.
Apostrophes are also used for contractions. Not those things that happen when a woman goes into labour, no. Contractions are when two words are shortened into one. The apostrophe is what joins them together and indicates that they were separate words.
For example, “it is” becomes “it’s” and “they are” becomes “they’re”. I often see sentences where “it’s” is mistakenly used, and they can lead to some real problems, for example:
Want a simple trick? If you’re not sure whether “it’s” or “its”, is correct read the sentence aloud and replace the word with “it is”. If it sounds right, the apostrophe is correct. Sounds wrong, no apostrophe.
What punctuation errors really bug you? Did these tips help?