Style Guide - Punctuation

See Possessives

Use a colon before a list of a series of items. The following courses are offered: Math, Science and History. There should be no space before the colon.

Stanstead College style does not incorporate the serial comma (Oxford comma). In a series of three or more items, do not place a comma before the “and” or “or.” I like rice, potatoes and fries.

Exception: Use a comma before the and if it is needed for clarity: I like rice with fish, potatoes with steak and onions, and fries with hamburger. Often, though, a unclear sentence may be made clear by re-ordering. A popular meme example is We invited the strippers, Stalin and Churchill. This ambiguity can easily be fixed as follows: We invited Stalin, Churchill and the strippers.

Avoid unnecessary commas
When it comes to commas, we tend to err on the side of excess. Too many unnecessary commas, however, can slow down the text and clutter the page. And sometimes they just confuse. For example: preparation for the final, Ministry exam in June. Here, final and Ministry are not separate adjectives describing exam. If that were so, the sentence would still make sense if you replaced that comma with and (the final and Ministry exam). Instead, final is modifying Ministry exam. No need for a comma.

Compound vs simple sentences
Compound sentences are two independent sentences joined by and, but, or, etc. These require a comma between the clauses: Joe did well on his test, and I wish him luck in the future. Note that each clause could stand alone as a separate sentence.

A simple sentence doesn’t require a comma: Martha found the subject challenging but fared well on the final.

A handy trick is to see whether the verbs share the same subject (in this case “Martha found” and “Martha fared”). If so, there’s probably no comma necessary.

It seems like a small matter but the comma can help avoid confusion in a sentence: Martha is all about peace and hate will never be in her heart versus Martha is all about peace, and hate will never be in her heart.

Note 1: Canadian Press suggests that the comma may be omitted when the clauses are short. The gun boomed and the race went on.

Note 2: CP also suggests, “When in doubt, err on the side of too few commas.”

Before a name
Use a comma before a proper noun in direct address. Otherwise it could cause confusion, e.g. Rest, think and return ready to conquer Robyn! To avoid conquering Robyn, you need a comma after conquer.

Serial adjectives
Use a comma to separate adjectives when the comma could be replaced by and and the sentence still make sense. He was a handsome, smart man. (He was a handsome and smart man.) Another way is to reorder the adjectives to see if the sentence makes sense. If it doesn't, don't use a comma. my new wool sweater vs my wool new sweater

Exclamation mark
In formal writing, reserve exclamation marks for expressions of genuine surprise, shock, volume or emotion. That pumpkin just exploded! Fire! Never use more than one exclamation mark in formal writing, e.g. What a surprise!!!

Curiously, email and texting etiquette has evolved such that a simple declarative expression of gratitude (Thanks.) may appear unenthusiastic or even sarcastic. In this case, Thanks! has become an acceptable means of maintaining interoffice diplomacy.

Hyphens help clarify ideas and avoid confusion. But make sure you actually need one.

Compound adjectives
Compound adjectives tend to take a hyphen: He is a hard-working student. Here, hard-working is an adjective describing the student. Without the hyphen, hard could be seen as modifying working student. By contrast, in the sentence He is hard working, the word hard is an adjective modifying working, so no comma is necessary.

The same holds true with “well” words: She is well respected by all vs She is a well-respected member of our school. Other common compound adjectives: She tapped into new-found, much-needed, above-average study skills. (Avoid loading up adjectives like that, by the way…)

Most “under” words are hyphen-free and one word: underperform, underachieve, underappreciated, underemployed, etc. Underrate has no hyphen but under-represent does. (Consult the Canadian Oxford Dictionary or a reliable online dictionary.)

Most other compound adjectives require a hyphen: mural-sized, above-average, new-found, hard-working, much-needed, mid-term (but not midway). You would write I hope to see better results at the end of term, but I hope to see better end-of-term results. There are many exceptions, e.g. eyecatching. Consult the Canadian Oxford Dictionary or a reliable online dictionary.

If one of the components of the compound adjective includes a word ending in “ly” you probably don’t need a hyphen: This is not a highly motivated class. Simply put, thanks to the “ly” ending, there is no potential for confusion. Exception: What kindly-looking eyes my grandfather had.

Quotation marks
As a general rule, punctuation is placed inside quotation marks: “Isn’t this a great day?” she asked. Then I told him, “That’s it!” Look for the window that reads “Place bets here.”

However, there are times when the punctuation must fall outside the quotes for clarity: Did you just say“Rapunzel”?

The semicolon always goes outside the quotation marks: The police finally cornered the “bear”; it was a poodle.

When using quotation marks in regular text, whether to quote someone or to set off a word or phrase, use double quotation marks, not single. Place the envelope marked “Important” in the red box. Use single quotation marks when quoting inside a quote. “I said, ‘Buzz off!’ but he wouldn’t listen,” she said.

See also Names and Titles: Publications

Use a semicolon to separate statements that are too closely related to stand as separate sentences. I never watch television; it rots the brain.

A semicolon is also used to clarify lists that contain commas. He owns a cat with large, brown eyes; a goat decorated with a sash; and five huge, ugly dogs.

Do not use semicolons to introduce lists; use a colon.