Do You Really Need That Comma? A 4-Part Punctuation Refresher

blog author
Chris Murvine
CEO | Founder

We’re all guilty of making grammatical mistakes whether it's because we’re typing so fast we misspell a word, or we simply never mastered some of the finer intricacies of written English.

No big deal—generally. Most of us can deal with a misplaced comma in a friendly e-mail. But in the context of digital marketing materials put out by a legitimate company, errors are a bit more irksome. We expect businesses to be professional, and rightfully so. Content someone is paid to write should be held to a higher standard than the casual text or email.

Businesses understand that accuracy in their collateral, including grammar and punctuation, increases the trust a reader feels for their company. Yet, continually, errors appear. Why? Not because  writers or reviewers or approvers are lazy but because, quite often, they’re simply unaware of certain errors.

Here’s a refresher on the simple punctuation structures we so often misuse:

1. Comma

Second to the period, the comma is the most popular form of punctuation (and as such, it is essential to get right).

Contrary to popular belief, a comma does not simply indicate a pause. It serves three, much more specific purposes:

• To separate independent clauses: When writing a sentence that could be broken down into two separate sentences, you need a comma between the halves.

Mary walked to the store, and Julia biked alongside.

Note: when a comma is used for this purpose, it must be followed be a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

• To follow an introduction: When introducing a sentence with additional information, use a comma after the introduction.

Before going to the store, they stopped at McDonald's.

• To separate items in a list: When listing items, always use one less comma than the number of items in the list.

They ordered fries, 2 burgers, and a diet coke.

2. Semicolon

When you don’t want to bother with a comma and a coordinating conjunction, use a semicolon. It serves to separate two complete, but related thoughts.

Julia wanted to share the coke; she only had a few dollars.

Which could be stated: Julia wanted to share the coke, for she only had a few dollars.

Notice how the first example is more straightforward. I use semicolons when I want to be direct; you should too.

3. Quotations

Most writers know when to use quotations—to quote. (The title doesn’t leave much room for debate.) Where they tend to slip up is when placing other punctuation around these quotations. The rule: place punctuation inside quotation marks.

So you want to share the soda?” she asked.

4. Parentheses

In copywriting and blogging, parentheses are most often used to enclose words that clarify or provide additional information. When parentheses are used for this purpose, they could be substituted by two commas.

We answered (after exchanging a glance) that yes, we would.

We answered, after exchanging a glance, that yes, we would.

If used correctly, you should be able to extract the information enclosed in parentheses (or commas) and still have a complete sentence.

We answered that yes, we would.

As a digital marketers who focus on content marketing strategies for businesses, you can bet we take grammatical accuracy seriously. Contact us to start a conversation about how we can help build trust with your prospective customers through grammatically accurate content that is geared towards your buyers and their needs.

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