Compound Question

When someone asks two questions and uses “or” in between, there are two options: Put a comma/semicolon before the “or” that separates the two sentences and a question mark at the end; or make it into two questions. When the questions are lengthy or there is a lot of other punctuation, it is probably best to break them into two separate sentences.

…Was it on Monday, or did you do that later in the week?

…Was that on Monday, September 5, 2017? Or did you and your husband, Bill, do that on Sunday, the 11th?
…Did you notice whether the man you were talking to was wearing a heavy jacket? Or did you not pay any attention to the clothing he had on that afternoon?

Happy punctuating!


A Little-Known Dash Rule

Besides using the dash for interruptions (broken sentence structure), there are some grammar rules that govern the use of the dash.

When a pronoun refers back to one noun, use a comma in front of the pronoun; when a pronoun refers back to several nouns, use a dash in front of the pronoun.

…We received several letters, each of which I answered.
…We received letters, cards, and emails — each of which I answered.

…I sent it to three friends, all of whom I expected to attend.
…I sent it to Ray, Anita, and Roxanne — all of whom I expected to attend.

Happy punctuating!


The Idea of “Essential”

As I have stated on other occasions, there is widespread confusion or perhaps lack of understanding of what the terms “essential” and “nonessential” mean in punctuation.

I would say again: Putting a pair of commas around an element does not always mean that you can take it out of the sentence and have the sentence make sense. In other words, not all pairs of commas surround a “nonessential” element. You cannot always remove an element that is surrounded by commas and have the sentence make sense.


…He lived in Springfield, Ohio, and not in Springfield, Illinois, during that period of time.
…She called on May 24, 2015, and not on May 24, 2016, with the news.

Removing the elements that are surrounded by commas in these setnences would leave the sentences without meaning. However, that does not mean that we take the commas out. The commas are there in each sentence because there is a rule that the state be surrounded by commas after the city and that the year be surrounded by commas after the full date.

Consider this scenario:

…I want you to have 40 percent, Mr. Roberts, and you to have 25 percent, Mr. Williams.

Again, if we remove the names because they are surrounded by commas and are therefore “nonessential,” the sentence loses clarity. We surround direct address with a pair of commas without regard to whether that name is vital to the meaning of the sentence or not.

In summary, not all pairs of commas are placed/not placed because of the concept of essential/nonessential. In fact, many pairs of commas are placed around elements that are absolutely necessary to the meaning of the sentence but have commas because there is a rule for those commas.

I hope this helps.

Happy punctuating!


The Word “Then”

When “then” means “at that time,” it does not take a comma as it is an adverb.

…He was then on his way to becoming successful.
…I saw them and then began to wonder what would happen.

If “then” is at the beginning of a sentence, it starts a new sentence and needs a semicolon or a period in front of it. If “and” is in front of it, the “and” is irrelevant and does not affect the punctuation.

…He walked into the house; then he began to shake.
…He walked into the house, and then he began to shake.
…And then I noticed the bug.

When “then” doesn’t have any meaning but is just a “throwaway” type word, it takes commas around it.

…Well, then, are you intending to leave that here?
…Are you saying, then, that you need this here?

Happy punctuating!


“My Question Is…”

This construction always causes consternation and no end of disagreement. This is my understanding of the way English grammar works.

It is never correct to use a single separating comma between the verb and the predicate nominative. Surely no one wants a comma in the following examples.

…My name is Margie.
…Her response is that she was not home.
…My question was how long he was there.

When the predicate nominative is asking a question, (which is not particularly good grammar), I do not know of a separate rule that allows a comma to separate that question from the main part of the sentence. I would like the use of a comma between the verb and the predicate nominative explained from a grammar standpoint. How is it okay to put one separating comma in the middle of that sentence, which we do not do in the previous examples? How does the question there change the rule?

…My question is where did you go?
…My question is were you all there?

There is a rule that says that, when there are two parts to a sentence, one that is making a statement and one that is asking a question, it is the part at the end that determines the terminal punctuation.

…My question is when did he arrive?
…When did he arrive? is my question.

Happy punctuating!


Punctuate What Is Really There…

I have been on “hiatus” for a while. Actually I have been swamped for a while!! So I am back — still swamped but back.

There is a question on FB about the word “but” and whether it should have a comma before it when it ends the sentence. Remember that we punctuate what is really there. This sentence just does not work with the comma because you do not know what is coming.

…I have always come to his rescue, but — 🙁

…I have always come to his rescue but not today.
…I have always come to his rescue, but this is just not reasonable.

(And these examples are putting aside the issue of whether he was interrupted or trailed off.)

Happy punctuating!


A Comma After a Prepositional Phrase at the Beginning of a Sentence

In the “olden” days, the rule was to put a comma after ANY element that came at the beginning of the sentence. Ah, the good old days!

The rule today that many people get confused about is the rule about putting a comma after a prepositional phrase at the beginning of the sentence. It is often stated as something like “Put a comma after a prepositional phrase at the beginning of the sentence that has four words or more.”

This does not take into account parentheticals and transitional elements and independent comments, for which this rule does not apply.

…By the way, he was not interested in that.
…In contrast, he was not interested in that.
…To my knowledge, he was not interested in that.

The rule should read something like

“When one prepositional phrase that is a simple modifier comes at the beginning of the sentence, put a comma after it if it is ‘long.’ ‘Long’ is somewhere between four and five words.'”

…On a good day we were able to do about 20 of them.
…During the organizational meeting, we were able to do….

I believe that counting these words and sticking to the exact number of words misses the point. The point is you need to slow the reader down (with a comma) to show that the prepositional phrase has concluded and that the subject and verb is coming up.

Happy punctuating!


“I Believe” — Subject and Verb or Parenthetical?

When words like “I believe” and “I think” begin a sentence, they are functioning as the subject and verb in the sentence and take no punctuation.

…I believe he called in a little before 3:00.
…I think he was with us for ten years.

When they are in the middle of the sentence, they are parentheticals and need commas around them.

…He called in, I believe, a little before 3:00.
…He was with us, I think, for ten years.

Happy punctuating!


Punctuation Creates a Run-On

To say that the “attorney talks in run-on’s” is really not a correct statement. A run-on is created by bad punctuation. No one can “say” a run-on.

Using no punctuation or a comma between two sentences that have no conjunction between them CREATES a run-on sentence.

…He looked in my direction I tried to ignore him. 🙁
…I saw him out of the corner of my eye, that’s right. 🙁

When someone connects four or five sentences with the word and, that is not a run-on.

Be careful not to create a run-on sentence with bad punctuation.

Happy punctuating!


A Period or a Question Mark?

When the witness repeats the question or part of the question and then answers it, use a question mark after the question and let the rest of the answer stand on its own.

…Q   Was it after 10:00 that he called that night?
…A    Was it after 10:00? Yes.

…Q   What was the attire for the meeting?
…A   What was the attire? It was business attire.

…Q   Were you there alone?
…A    Was I alone? No.

…Q   Do you own a personal computer?
…A   Do I have a computer? Of course.

If what he repeats is not in the form of a question, then it can take a comma or a question mark, depending on the intonation.

…Q   Did you join him for dinner after that meeting?
…A   For dinner, yes.
…A   For dinner? Yes.

…Q   Did you buy a new car during that time period?
…A   A new car, yes.
…A   A new car? Yes.

Happy punctuating!