punctuation (page 2)


The period is used to mark the end of a sentence. It has also traditionally been used after abbreviations.

"Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

The automobile industry generated unparalleled economic activity in the United States.

NOTE. The first sentence above is attributable to former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt who made the statement during his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933. America was in the "Great Depression," and American citizens desperately needed hope and reassurance.

Mrs. Rodriguez (courtesy title for married woman)
Mr. Feldman (courtesy title for a man)
Ms. Pruitt (courtesy title for a woman regardless of martital status)

Miss Jaynes (courtesy title for an unmarried woman)

Mrs., Mr., and Ms. are abbreviations. The full spellings are rarely used, and the plural versions are rarely used. Consult your dictionary if you need either.

Abbreviations are a problem in the English language. Approximately 400,000 abbreviations have been identified. There are no widely observed spelling rules for abbreviations. Abbreviations are frequently used in specific fields of endeavor, but outsiders find it very difficult to interpret the meaning of those abbreviations. It is good practice to use only abbreviations your readers will recognize or explain each abbreviation where it first appears in your text.

US citizens will, of course, easily recognize these US Government agency abbreviations: FBI, CIA, DEA, DIA, ATF, USPS, NOAA, USA, USN, USCG, USAF, USMC, HHS, CDC, INS, FEMA, FMA, SSA, VA, FAA, IRS, OMB, FTC, NASA.

The trend is to use abbreviations without the customary period after each component.

We could write F.B.I., but in the computer era the trend is to write FBI.


The underline or underscore is used to identify books and to draw attention to particular words.

If you want to identify a bird that is native to the Eastern United States, Stokes Field Guide To Birds: Eastern Region is a good choice.

During the typewriter era underlining was the customary way to identify a book. Computers offer the opportunity to italicize the title of the book. Either method is acceptable.

If you want to identify a bird that is native to the Eastern United States, Stokes Field Guide To Birds: Eastern Region is a good choice.


Some English words or terms are customarily hyphenated. Some examples are given below. If you are uncertain whether a term should be hyphenated, consult your dictionary.

son-in-law      twenty-one      one-third      anti-American      president-elect

The numbers twenty-one through ninety-nine are hyphenated.

quotation marks

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

The quotation above is the opening sentence of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.

A quotation is an exact rendering of someone else's words, a verbatim quotation. The quotation marks (" ") are a signal that the words are rendered exactly as the original author wrote or spoke the words. A quotation usually requires attribution, i.e., identification of the author or the source. The Lincoln quotation above was obtained from a website: http://www.usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/25.htm. The website author indicated that he/she obtained the quotation from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 7 (1953-55), 22, Roy P. Basler, ed.

Attribution is an important part of quotation. Failure to recognize the source is called plagiarism, a form of stealing.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us." (Pogo cartoon by Walt Kelly)

If verbatim quotation is not possible or desirable, the words of another person may be paraphrased. Paraphrasing is stating the intent of the original writer or speaker in your own words. Quotation marks are not used, but it is necessary to attribute the source, and it is necssary to tell your readers or listeners that you are paraphrasing.

A long quotation may be deeply indented. Quotation marks may be omitted, but attribution is required.

The Demise of Courtesy

At a time long ago when travel was very dangerous, it became the custom for a friend or business associate to say to a departing traveler, I shall pray that God will keep you safe on your journey. That expression of genuine concern evolved over the centuries to: May God bless you, or May God go with you, and eventually, to Godspeed. During recent times as religious emphasis declined, the expression changed to May you have a good day or something similar. Whatever the expression, it was always the case that the speaker was extending effort, prayers, or genuine good wishes for the traveler or departing guest.

Now comes commercialization. The expression of civility and concern for the other person has been replaced by a rote command: Have a nice day. Corporate policies require service employees to use the now meaningless statement. It has been uttered, mechanically, so many times that it has become painful for both clerks and customers. It is a failed corporate substitute for employee training and leadership; it is no longer an expression of good will. In fact, some of us who traveled through Chicago's O'Hare air terminal a few years ago may remember the expression: "Have a nice day,  S-I-R-R-R",  uttered as a derogatory slur if we failed to donate money to a religious sect which used that high traffic location to badger people for donations.

After a particularly grueling 18 hour day, I dashed into a convenience store at 11:45 pm for a packet of aspirin. As I was departing, the clerk instructed me to: "Have a nice day".

I have a wish. It is my wish that every out-of-touch, overpaid, ivory tower executive would find the page in his company's employee training policy folder which demands that service employees continuously drool, Have a nice day, and rip it out. That would "make my day"!

The author of this on-line English grammar is also the author of the complaint that appears above in deeply indented format.

Quotation marks may be used to identify the title of an article that appears in a journal. The following representation is fictional.

Have you read "Ice Sculpting for Amateurs" in the July issue of Ice Age?


An asterisk is used to draw attention to an explanatory footnote. The asterisk should identify only one footnote on a page. If a page needs more than one explanatory footnote, use numerical superscripts to identify each explanatory footnote.

The village of Knawbone*, IN once had a US post office.


*The former village of Knawbone was located in the scenic hills of Brown County, IN, an area that currently enjoys a brisk tourist business. A century ago starvation was not impossible, and the name, Knawbone, is indicative of the difficulty of survival in an earlier era.

changing the way we do things

Electronic systems and computerization are influencing our English usage practices. When automated address reading devices became available to the US Post Office, that organization ask patrons to omit punctuation because the punctuation induced reading errors. Letters addressed for transmission through the US Post Office are written without commas or periods as shown in the following example.

Dr Mary Maybank
2021 Mt Pleasant Blvd
Charleston SC 29000

You may encounter a similar situation if you use your computer to place an on-line order and are expected to give your phone number. A phone number has traditionally been written: (000) 000-0000. However, unless the computer programmer specifically programmed the system to accept the parentheses, the hyphen, and the white space, the computer program may reject the phone number. The problem is solved by writing the phone number as ten consecutive digits, e.g., 0000000000. Ten consecutive digits could easily cause a human to err when reading the number. Computers sense the digits correctly.

We have developed a million or more words using the 26 letters of the English alphabet. Computer programmers have adapted the existing symbols on the keyboard to new uses. The tilde ~, the underscore _, and the vertical line | are frequently used as separation symbols.

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