Punctuation is a (not so secret) code: dots and squiggles that help you make sense of what you are reading. Crack the code and you have the meaning; encode your writing carefully and your reader will get the message you intended.
Joanna Gutmann, author of the iPhone app ‘Dots & Squiggles’, offers tips for some of the awkward marks.
Most problems with the code are with the marks known to be tricky; the semi-colon is a case in point. See that semi colon? I could have put a full stop but I wanted to keep the information in one sentence with a pause. Because both parts would stand alone as sentences, the pause is indicated by a semi-colon not a comma.
The apostrophe is the mark that causes most confusion. In fact the code is simpler than many realise. Ask yourself two questions:
1. What is owned?
2. Who owns it?
Draw a circle around the owner’s name and put the apostrophe on the circle. As clear as mud? Have a look at an example:
- Maxs car is parked in the directors car park.
1. What is owned? Two things: the car and the car park.
2. Who owns them? Max and the directors. (Turn the sentences around if it helps: the car of Max, the car park of the directors.)
Draw your circles: Maxs car is in the directors car park.
Put the apostrophe on the circle: Max’s car is in the directors’ car park.
Apostrophe before the ‘s’ for a singular owner, after the ‘s’ for plural owners… easy! But, English being English, there’s always an exception:
- The woman’s meeting with the handler brought their problems out into the open.
- The women’s meeting with the handler brought their problems out into the open.
Both singular and plural owners have the apostrophe before the ‘s’. It’s because plurals that don’t end in ‘s’ have the ‘s’ added with an apostrophe before it – don’t worry about it – just place the apostrophe by circling the owner.
Some punctuation problems concern marks which are apparently much simpler, the capital letter being typical. Because ‘The Health and Safety Committee’ has capitals, ‘the Committee’ gets the same treatment when it should be written as ‘the committee’. ‘Doctor Smith/Dr Smith’ is capitalised because it’s a title, but if ‘doctor’ is used in a sentence (your doctor will advise you), no capital is needed.
Since clients have high expectations of their VAs, a bit of time developing your encoding skills is time well spent!
Jo launched her grammar iPhone app “Dots and Squiggles”earlier this year – find out more:
Facebook: Dots and Squiggles
Get the app: iStore