The Basics: Punctuation, Capitalization, and Numbers
Punctuation, Capitalization, and
Commas Prevent Confusion
Consider the following sentences:
If you cook Mary will cleanup.
While we were eating a grizzly bear
approached our campsite.
When Jennifer was ready to iron her cat
tripped on the cord.
Without commas, Mary
gets cooked, the grizzly
bear gets eaten and the
cat gets ironed…..
Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction
joining independent phrases.
The seven coordinating conjunctions are: and, but, or, nor,
for, so and yet.
Commas tell the reader that one independent
clause has ended and another is beginning.
Ex: Nearly everyone has heard of the power of positive
thinking, but I actually practice it in my day to day life.
Use a comma after an introductory clause.
Ex: Having already eaten her dessert, Patty decided
to eat her husband’s desert as well.
When giving a date, use a comma after the day
of the month and after the year if your sentence
Use a comma between all items in a list or
series of three or more.
Ex: We bought paper, pencils, crayons, and paints
for the kids to take to craft camp.
Exceptions to the Rules
If the two phrases are short, and there is no
danger of confusion, the comma can be
omitted. (You don’t have to use a comma every time you want
the reader to take a breath.)
Don’t use a comma to separate coordinate
word groups that are not independent.
Ex: John brought home a new computer and
later went shopping to buy some computer self-
help books. (Although the word “and” is used, the two
phrases that surround it are not independent of each other.)
Serve as bridges between sentences or parts of sentences.
When these expressions appear between independent
clauses, the transitional expression is preceded by a semi
colon, and usually followed by a comma.
Exception to the rule - If a transitional expression blends
smoothly with the rest of the sentence, calling for no pause
from the reader, it does not need to be set off by a comma.
Expressions like certainly, also, at least, consequently,
indeed, of course, perhaps, moreover, then and therefore do
not always call for a pause.
Used to connect major sentence elements of
equal grammatical rank – when the phrases are
closely related and not separated by a
coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for,
so or yet.)
Ex: I love raspberries; I think they are the sweetest fruit on
If clauses are closely related and the relation is
clear without a conjunction, they may be linked
with a semicolon instead.
Ex: I’ve been healthy and I’ve been ill and healthy is better.
This could be written like this – I’ve been healthy and I’ve been
ill; healthy is better.
Use a semicolon between independent clauses linked
with a transitional expression when you want the reader
to pause. Transitional Expressions include Conjunctive
Adverbs and Transitional Phrases
Examples of conjunctive adverbs: accordingly, also,
anyway, besides, consequently, conversely, finally,
furthermore, hence, however, incidentally, likewise,
nevertheless, otherwise, subsequently, therefore, and
Examples of transitional phrases: after all, as a matter of
fact, as a result, at the same time, even so, for example,
for instance, in addition, in conclusion, in fact, in other
words, in the first place, on the contrary, and on the
Use between items in a series to help the
readers understand the major groupings.
Use to emphasize a sharp contrast
between clauses joined by a coordinating
Ex: We hate some people because we do not
understand them; and we never get a chance
to understand them because we hate them.
Used primarily to draw attention to the
words that follow it.
Use after an independent clause to direct
attention to a list, appositive or a quotation.
Use between independent clauses if the
second summarizes or explains the first.
Ex: I read the book at least 100 times: I felt like it
was written just for me.
Capitalize the first letter of proper nouns.
Proper nouns are names of specific
persons, places, nationalities, particular
courses, races, government departments,
organizations, political parties, historical
periods, sacred books, names for deities
Capitalize names of titles when you also include
the name of the person; i.e., Professor Smith.
Do not capitalize the title just to make the title
more important; i.e., I spoke with my professor
Capitalize all key words in titles and subtitles of
books, articles, songs and online documents.
Capitalize the names of schools – but not the
types of schools.
If a number has one or two words, spell it
If a sentence begins with a number, spell it
out if it is one or two words or rewrite the
For numbers more than two words (ex:
235) use the number.