Using Punctuation is Etiquette

This year 24 September 2011 has been designated “National Punctuation Day” by my good friend Jeff Rubin and his wife Norma.  In their honor, and to celebrate this important day, I am sharing a few solutions of my own on word and punctuation usage.  Check out their site that is filled with fun and useful tips:

One goal of Advanced Etiquette is to make people feel comfortable and at ease in social situations. While proper punctuation and word usage may not be directly related to having good manners and etiquette, using language correctly is part of presenting yourself to others with the best image possible. When you say or write something incorrectly, it sends uncomfortable signals to the listener or reader, similar to the screeching sounds of running your fingers across a chalkboard—yipes! Using correct punctuation and words will elevate your stature in both social and business situations

1. It’s versus Its. “It” is the exception to the possessive rule. Generally you add an apostrophe to indicate ownership. For example, this is Syndi’s newsletter.

“It’s” breaks the rule. It’s means “it is;” “its” is possessive.

2. There versus Their. Which is correct?… “Cheryl and Pam walked there dogs” or “Cheryl and Pam walked their dogs.” Choose Door Number 2. There is a location (among other meanings) but their is the pronoun for more than one person.

3. Further versus Farther. Further means time or quantity, as in, “He wished he could pursue the subject further.” Farther means distance, as in, “He threw the ball farther down the field than expected” and “New York is farther from Denver than Omaha.” English being an ever-changing language, some dictionaries now say these words are interchangeable. I find this unfortunate; to me these are, and should remain, totally distinct and separate words.

4. Less and More are not Fewer and Greater. Less and more refer to quantity. For example, “She filled the blue cup more (or less) than the red cup.” Fewer and greater refer to number. I am bothered every time I see “Express Line, 10 Items or Less.” These signs are incorrect, which irritates me to no end. The signs should read “Express Line: 10 Items or Fewer.” Every time I see this, it makes me think about never returning to that store. Their image as an educated, professional establishment goes straight to the bottom of the list.

5. Zero or O. Zero is a number. O is a letter. While most people are careful to type the right character, many folks are less careful when talking. In speech, use the word zero to state a number. For example, “the area code for San Jose, California, is four zero eight.”

6. Stationery versus Stationary. Use your beautiful personalized stationery to write a thank-you note for the business lunch; use a stationary bike to keep in shape. Stationary means to stay in one place and stationery refers to materials for letter writing.

7. Compliment versus Complement. Give a compliment to a friend whose jewelry complements her eyes. One refers to giving praise and the other mean to have something match or “go along” with something else.

8. Hyphens and Dashes. A hyphen is a very short horizontal line used between compound words such as your telephone number and zip code+4. To be correct, say the word “hyphen” not “dash” when stating your telephone number and/or zip code+4. A telephone number should correctly be stated as “area code 415-hyphen-346-hyphen-3665.”

A written dash is a longer horizontal line used to set-off a comment or interruption within a sentence. It is stronger than a comma and less formal than a colon. Verbally, these kind of comments are called “asides.”

For further information on National Punctuation Day, see

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Happy Practicing!

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2 Responses to "Using Punctuation is Etiquette"

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