Lesser-known Punctuation Rules

By Ian Pisarcik, Legal Publications Attorney Editor

Let’s start the week off right with some lesser-known punctuation rules.

  1. Punctuation and closing quotation marks

    Most people agree that periods and commas precede closing quotation marks (let’s forget the loveably misguided British for a moment). However, confusion abounds when colons and semicolons enter the mix. To clear things up, colons and semicolons (along with question marks and exclamation points) follow closing quotation marks unless they appear in the original quoted matter. Moreover, all punctuation should appear outside quotation marks when distinguishing words to be typed. For example:

    President Barak Obama invited me to the presidential inauguration to recite the lyrics to my hit song “Peace in the World”; instead I lectured the nation on the rules of punctuation. I was able to record a video of the event before a large man with dark sunglasses grabbed me by the shoulder and asked me how I expected to make any friends. To view the video, go to my homepage, click on the search function, and type “Ian attends the inaugural address”.

  2. Using a comma before “such as” and “including”

    Many people automatically place a comma before “such as” and “including.” But a comma is only necessary when followed by a nonrestrictive, nonessential phrase or clause. For example:

    Songs such as “Hands on the Wheel” and “Can I Sleep in Your Arms” appear on Willie Nelson’s 1975 album.

    Some songs, such as “Hands on the Wheel” and “Can I Sleep in Your Arms,” are commonly referred to as old-country or classic-country songs.

  3. Punctuating one-word questions

    When a question consists of a single word, the question mark can be omitted. For clarity, the word should be italicized. For example:

    Joe asked himself why.

  4. Hyphenating phrasal adjectives

    Phrasal adjectives are almost always hyphenated. As Bryan Garner put it, “[I]f two or more consecutive words make sense only when understood together as an adjective modifying a noun, those words should be hyphenated.” Thus, “high-school dropout” and “first-year graduate student” are proper. Naturally, there are exceptions, including when a phrase contains a proper noun (e.g., “the famous World War II battle”).

  5. The interrobang

    To round off all this punctuation fun, I thought I’d introduce a lesser-known punctuation mark. Ladies and gentlemen: the interrobang The interrobang is an overlapping question mark and exclamation point. It was invented in 1962 and managed to make its way onto many typewriters and into several dictionaries. It even made its way into the default typefaces in the Apple and Microsoft operating systems. While its rise is admirable, I wouldn’t expect it to see it on BarBooks™ any time soon.

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