Monday, September 24, was officially National Punctuation Day! That seems like the kind of thing that should be celebrated on Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, even if we are a couple of days late to the party.
National Punctuation Day is described as “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.” Now isn’t that exactly the kind of party you were hoping to get an invitation to?
How should one celebrate? Well, according to founder Jeff Rubin, here is a recommended routine for National Punctuation Day:
- Sleep late.
- Take a long shower or bath.
- Go out for coffee and a bagel (or two).
- Read a newspaper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find (or think you find, but aren’t sure) with a red pen.
- Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.
- Stop in those stores to correct the owners.
- If the owners are not there, leave notes.
- Visit a bookstore and purchase a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
- Look up all the words you circled.
- Congratulate yourself on becoming a better written communicator.
- Go home.
- Sit down.
- Write an error-free letter to a friend.
- Take a nap. It has been a long day.
Frankly, this isn’t a big variance from my usual day of trying to write grammatically correct blog posts and stories and noticing, and if possible correcting, spelling and punctuation errors on publications and signs. (As I’ve said before, informal communication doesn’t count, so don’t worry about sending grammar geeks emails and tweets. They likely aren’t judging; they’re just happy you wrote them.) I do admit that I have yet to stop my car and enter the salon that keeps advertising “Hair Extentions,” but I am getting closer and closer to going over the edge.
How else can you celebrate? You can send in photos of improperly punctuated signs to the NPD website. You can write a letter to discuss punctuation or the day’s celebration. You can check out their Resources page, which has several promising links such as:
The Apostrophe Protection Society (England’s protector of the apostrophe). Did you know the apostrophe was in such danger?
The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks (Making fun of bad punctuation since
2004). It really does happen a lot.
Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. (Also promoting National Grammar Day on March 4). How can I join? Must you fill out the application with no errors?
For my celebration of National Punctuation Day, I want to quickly address three very common errors regarding punctuation. One of these was covered by Professor Punctuation a few months ago on my blog.
Plural, possessive nouns: Where does the apostrophe go? When using a plural, possessive noun that ends with “s” or “es”, the apostrophe goes after the word. You do not go to the Smith’s house, unless there is only one Smith. You go to the Smiths’ house. (Change your house signs accordingly.) It is also a mens’ club, girls’ sleepover, artists’ retreat, kids’ party, etc. You also use plurals with names just like any other noun, so if the house belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Jones, you’re at the Joneses’ house.
Compound sentences: Do you need a comma? Compound sentences are those which are basically two separate sentences joined by a conjunction such as and, but, or or. If you have two subjects and two nouns, and removing the conjunction leaves you with two distinct sentences, you need a comma between them. Examples (from my WIP):
The wind whips her hair across her face, and she fingers it back behind her ears.
I had indeed checked in with my mom, but I failed to mention that the coffee run was to cover the smell of tequila on Chloe’s breath.
Sometimes I wonder if I want to be valedictorian so much because I want that top spot, or if I want to squash Lisa because she’s so smug about getting it.
Quotation marks inside or outside with commas and periods? Let me first state that the British chose a different approach, so if you read something in their literature or articles and see different practices, that’s fine. As for American English, here is the rule: Always, always, always, the comma and period go inside the quotation marks. How’s that for easy to remember? The only exception I have seen is quotation marks around a letter or letters–e.g., the letter “A” or “es” above–and the comma came after the quotation mark in that instance. If you have a complete word, however, put the quotation marks after the comma or period, whether or not the punctuation was originally part of the quote. Examples (from my WIPs):
Before I could even utter “hello,” he started a sales pitch.
I taped up a sign saying “Be Back Soon,” and we headed down the sidewalk together.
Chloe cited a quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel: “‘Power is given only to him who dares to stoop and take it.'”
(Note: Just because we Americans like to make things difficult, the rules for question marks, semicolons, colons, etc. are different. I’m addressing commas and periods here because that’s where the misuse is most common.)
So that’s my contribution to National Punctuation Day (albeit a little late). What would you suggest doing to celebrate? What common punctuation errors would you like to correct?