Entries Tagged as 'Punctuation'

How to Identify Essential and Non-Essential Clauses

Sometimes a dependent clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence.  Sometimes, dependent clauses add additional non-essential details.  These steps will help you decide if a clause is essential or non-essential.

Step 1:  Read the whole sentence and identify the clause.  Underline the clause

Step 2:  Read the sentence without the clause.  Does it make enough sense?

Step 3:  Read the sentence again, but this time with the clause.  Does it make more sense?

Step 4:  If the sentence makes complete sense without the clause, place commas around the clause.  If the sentence needs the clause to make sense, do not place commas around the clause.


Follow the steps above and practice with these two sentences. Only one sentence needs commas.  Which one?

  • Our hotel which was near the beach offered free room service.
  • The room which has the ocean view is more expensive than the three-room suite.

Answer:  The first sentence contains a non-essential clause, and therefore, will require commas around the clause.

Pesky Apostrophes: Irregular Plural Nouns

Irregular plural nouns break the rules when it comes to using apostrophes.

For regular plural nouns, the apostrophe goes after the -s.  An example would be:

I don’t like that dining room set because the chairs’ legs are iron.

But irregular plurals will rarely have an -s to indicate more than one, such as in the word people, children, men, and women.  In this case, since there is no –s on the word, add the apostrophe as you would on a singular verb, but keep in mind that they are still plural.

The People’s Court (the court belongs to all the people)

The Children’s Room (the room belongs to more than one child)

The Men’s Section (the section has clothes for men)

The Women’s Department (the department has items for women)

Sometimes you will see Ladies’ Department.  That is correct, too.  The word lady is not irregular.

Commenters’ Corrections Answers to 1-14-11

Here was the comment from Friday 1-14-11:

there use to be a better one what happen to it

  1. Punctuation should appear at the end of both clauses.  A period (.) should appear after one, and a question mark (?) should appear after it.
  2. Once new sentences are created, make sure you have capitalized the first word in each sentence.  The T in there and the W in what should be capitalized.
  3. When “use” + “to” is intended for a past ongoing action that no longer happens, “use” should appear in the past:  used to.
  4. Since there used to be one, and now it’s gone, something happened (in the past) to it.  The commenter is asking what happened, so happen should be in the past simple.
  5. Finally, a better what?  The person uses the word one, but doesn’t specify what one represents.  Basically, you’re looking at a pronoun without an antecedent.  Make sure your pronouns have nouns they can easily refer to.

A corrected version might look like this: 

There used to be a better one.  What happened to it?

Commenters’ Corrections 1-7-11

Here’s the comment from 1-7-11:

she is so pretty, i love this song, she will launch her new album soon, i saw it their pocodot, profile, great site, better than facebook

If this person were in my class I would recommend that they

  • begin a sentence with a capital letter
  • capitalize the pronoun “I”, the name Pocodot, and the name Facebook
  • change this run-on sentence to 3 sentences with three separate topics (loving her, launching the album, and opinions about the website).
  • make sure that every clause contained a subject and a verb.  Instead of “great site”, I would suggest, “it is a great site”.

A corrected version might look like this:

She is so pretty, and I love this song.  She will launch her new album soon, which I saw on their Pocodot profile.  Pocodot is a great site;  it’s better than Facebook.

The semicolon is optional.  I just felt like being fancy.

Commenters’ Corrections from 1-5-11

On 1/5/11, I posted 4 comments with grammar errors for you to analyze.  Here are the corrections:

  1. MY EARS ARE BURNING AND MY EYES TO. = Using all caps indicates a loud, yelling tone.  I recommend avoiding all caps at all costs.  The word “to” at the end should be “too” which means the same as “also”.  Correct:  My ears are burning and my eyes, too.
  2. Thumb’s up = This isn’t necessarily incorrect, but using the apostrophe means the ‘s represents a contraction of the verb is.  This person is actually saying “Thumb is up.” If only one thumb is up, you need an article or quantifier (My thumb’s up – or – One thumb’s up).  Not to mention, the phrase “Thumbs up” refers to sticking up two thumbs, meaning you like something a lot.  If you put up only one thumb, it’s only good, but not great.  Also, in some cultures putting any thumbs up is considered offensive, so use this gesture with caution.
  3. Anyone noticed Drake in the video? = A common past simple tense error has occurred.  The person put the main verb in the past tense when forming a question instead of using the auxiliary did.  Correct:  Did anyone notice Drake in the video?
  4. fal = Spelling fail correctly would get this person’s point across better.  Correct:  Fail. (Stylistically, I think adding the period puts more emphasis on the statement, although unfortunately in comments, punctuation is often collateral damage in the standard usage massacre we see online everyday).

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Commenters’ Corrections.  More to come on Friday!

Writing and Saying the Date in the United States

Writing and saying the date in English varies slightly from country to country, but here is a quick guide for you if you are in the United States.


  1. Put the month first, then the day, then the year. Always.  If you don’t, you’ll confuse bank tellers.
  2. When writing, you can choose to spell the entire month, or abbreviate.  Abbreviations for months are the first three letters, then a period. So they are:  Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. May, June, July, Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. and Dec.  Notice May, June, and July aren’t abbreviated.
  3. If you abbreviate the spelling of the month, you cannot shorten the year.  Example:  Dec. 15, 2010 (correct);  Dec. 15, 10 (incorrect).
  4. Capitalize the months (even in the abbreviated form) because they are proper nouns.
  5. Sometimes you can write the date before the month, but you have to use the ordinal form, then “of”, then the month.  Example: The 15th of December.  This way is usually formal (as seen on wedding invitations or the 4th of July) so don’t abbreviate the month.
  6. You can abbreviate with numbers.  Example:  December 15, 2010 can be written 12/15/10.  (Notice the year is shortened to just the last two numbers).  You can also write:  12/15/2010.
  7. Punctuation is important.  It goes Month Day Comma Year (December 15, 2010)…separate the day and the year with a comma – otherwise, you’ll have too many numbers in a row, and that gets confusing.  If you abbreviate the month, it goes Mon Period Day Comma Year (Dec. 15, 2010).


  1. Use ordinal numbers.  Example:  What’s today’s date?  The fifteenth (you don’t always have to say the month);  I was born on the third of January.  We’re meeting on the eighth, right?

An all around good tool for English learners

I have always interpreted this song as it might pertain to students learning English, especially the younger ones.

I am posting this song for those of us who need an uplifting start to one of the last weekends of summer as the new school year looms in the near distance.  Sometimes you have a blank page before you, but you have an assignment to complete.  Where does your inspiration come from?

Open up the dirty window, feel the rain on your skin…are just a few of the suggestions from Natasha Bedingfield as she explains that this upcoming year or school year is the beginning of whatever you want your life to be.

If you like studying English in non-traditional ways, I recommend going back to the lyrics of the song and listen for the variety of verb tenses presented here.  How many can you hear?  The song also contains the passive voice, complex sentences, and English phrases that you adopt as your own:

  • Can’t read my mind
  • I’m just beginning
  • Staring at the…
  • Open up the…
  • Reaching for…
  • in the distance
  • So close…
  • you can almost…
  • No one else can …
  • Only you can…
  • The rest is…

If you really want to challenge yourself, go back and read the lyrics and count the missing apostrophes!

Have a great weekend!

Sense and Sentence Ability: Prepositional Phrases

Test yourself:  Write a sentence that begins with a prepositional phrase. Don’t forget to punctuate correctly!

Example:  In the morning, my alarm goes off at 6:00 am.

Here is an activity that might help you use prepositional phrases as transitional phrases:

How to Use Exclamation Points

The exclamation point (!) is used to express something in writing with strong emotion.  A better way to describe how to use the explanation point is to think of this:

If you imagine yourself speaking, and in your imagination you are screaming or using a loud voice, if you are mad or angry, or if you are excited or surprised, use the exclamation point when you put those words in writing.

It’s so easy!

My only suggestion is that one exclamation point at the end of a sentence is enough.

Some people, like Seinfeld’s Elaine, take their exclamation points VERY seriously.  Watch:

Single and Double Quotation Marks Activity

Here’s an activity practicing the use of single and double quotes…when someone is quoting someone else.

Quotation Marks: Single and Double (quoting someone who’s quoting)