The Five Commandments of Grammar, Punctuation and Style

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It’s that time of year again – students are preparing for exams, polishing final essays and putting the finishing touches on class projects before winter break. So, in accordance with requests from professors, here is a simple guide – though not complete – of grammar, punctuation and style tips from senior Mitch Galloway, editor of The Echo newspaper. 

Proofread. Don’t rush through an assignment. If you think a paper needs another look, it probably does. It was the esteemed author Oscar Wilde who once said, “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” Even the greats make errors, misplace their modifiers and omit the occasional Oxford commas.

Apostrophes. Apostrophes are commonly confused in English writing. An apostrophe shows ownership or possession in most cases (e.g., it is Molly’s dog, or, the Smiths’ cat is orange). However, apostrophes are NOT intended to make singular nouns plural, like this: “I love going to football games on Saturday’s.” Saturday’s what? I am a big fan of personification, but I don’t think that is what you had in mind in your latest Instagram post. The other uses of apostrophes?  Well, there is the omission – shown with an apostrophe – of one or more letters (e.g., it is being changed to it’s). Or, the omission of figures (e.g., class of ’15). There are, in fact, many rules for the use of apostrophes. A good resource for clarification is the Associated Press Stylebook (often referred to as a journalist’s bible).

Spell Checking. Despite Microsoft Word’s capabilities with its Spelling & Grammar tab, it would still be beneficial to have a dictionary (try Merriam-Webster!) in hand, or nearby. Words have many spellings and meanings that might create red squiggly lines under your text documents; however, a dictionary will help fix those problems.

Subject/Verb Agreements. When writing, it’s important to make sure your subject matches your verb: “Dylan (the subject) is riding (verb phrase) his bike to work today.” That simple sentence may not be too tricky for you. However, one must know what is singular and what is plural in order to match the sentence and make it grammatically correct. The words anyone, everyone, someone, no one and nobody are singular words. As a result, those words – those indefinite pronouns – would need a singular verb.  Example: “Everyone (subject) is attending (verb phrase) the game tonight.”

Capitalization. According to the AP Stylebook, writers are required to capitalize titles only immediately before a proper noun. Like this: “President (CORRECT) Franklin Roosevelt served four incomplete terms.” Not this: “The President (INCORRECT) plans to meet with the prime minister today.” With capitalization, it is best to identify the proper nouns in the sentence first: Joanne, Michigan, the Detroit Tigers. When in doubt, grab the dictionary or stylebook, or do a Google search.
Need extra assistance? 
The Center offers help from advisors and tutors, as well as many other academic resources. Feel free to visit the Center in Mott any time!     



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