Write On!, 0217 WYBJ, Vol. 40 No. 1. 50

Author:John H. Ridge, City of Cheyenne Cheyenne, Wyoming
 
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Write On!

Vol. 40 No. 1 Pg. 50

Wyoming Bar Journal

February, 2017

Five Punctuation Mistakes We Commonly Make

John H. Ridge, City of Cheyenne Cheyenne, Wyoming

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.1

Not a single person notices when we correctly punctuate our letters and briefs. Even when we toss in something sexy, like an em-dash, no one ever says, "Whoa there, friend. Nice use of some brawny punctuation." But when we misuse even a single comma, the punctuation police come out in full force.

While it can be annoying, having our friends point out our comma splices and misplaced apostrophes is probably a good thing. The correct use of punctuation leads to clarity and distinctness in our writing, while the misuse of punctuation can dramatically alter the thought or idea we are trying to communicate. Consider the following examples. • The first associate billed twenty four-hour days.

• The second associate billed twenty-four hour days.

The first associate likely needs to put in additional time at the office, while the second associate should be expecting a call from her firm's ethics attorney.

For lawyers, punctuation is particularly important. In the examples below, the misplacement of two simple commas alters the evidence about who is guilty of a crime. • The government's own witness said the defendant stole the money.

• The government's own witness, said the defendant, stole the money.

To help us become better writers, this article discusses five punctuation mistakes we commonly make.

1. The Comma Splice

As we all know, a complete sentence contains both a subject and a predicate. When two complete sentences...

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