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*Capitalize all proper nouns and all proper adjectives (adjectives derived from proper nouns). The chart below provides a quick overview of capitalization rules. The information following the chart explains specific or special uses of capitalization.
Capitalization at a Glance
Days of the week- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday
Months- June, July, August
Holidays, holy days- Thanksgiving, Easter, Hanukkah
Periods, events in history- Middle Ages, the Renaissance
Special events- the Battle of Bunker Hill
Political parties- Republican party, Democrats, Socialists
Official documents- Declaration of Independence
Trade names- Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Pontiac Sunbird
Formal epithets- Alexander the Great
Official titles- Mayor John Stuart, Senator Kennedy
Official state nicknames- the Badger State, the Aloha State
Planets, heavenly bodies- Earth Jupiter, the Milky Way
Continents- Australia, South America
Countries- Ireland, Grenada, Sri Lanka
States, provinces- Ohio, Utah, Nova Scotia
Cities, towns, villages- El Paso, Burlington, Wonewoc
Streets, roads, highways- Park Avenue, Route 66, Interstate 90
Sections of a country or continent- the Southwest, the Far East
Landforms- the Rocky Mountains, the Sahara Desert
Bodies of water- Nile River, Lake Superior, Pumpkin Creek
Public areas- Yellowstone National Park
*Capitalize words like father, mother, uncle, and senator when they are parts of titles which include a personal name or when they are substituted for proper nouns (especially in direct address).
Hi, Uncle Duane! (Uncle is part of the name.)
My uncle, Duane, likes me. (Uncle is not part of the name.)
Did you know that Senator Proxmire kissed my mother?
The senator, Bill Proxmire, is a cool guy.
Mom has been appointed postmaster general.
We are relieved to see you, Ambassador.
Note: To test whether a word is being substituted for a proper noun, simply read the sentence with a proper noun in place of the word. If the proper noun fits in the sentence, the word being tested should be capitalized; if the proper noun does not work in the sentence, the word should not be capitalized. (Further note: Usually the word is not capitalized if it follows a possessive- my, his, our, etc.)
Did Mom (Sue) say we could go? (Sue works in this sentence)
Did your mom (Sue) say you could go? (Sue does not work here; the word mom also follows the possessive your.)
*Words such as home economics, history, and science are proper nouns when they are the titles of specific courses, but are common nouns when they name a field of study.
That guy failed his home economics assignment because he tried to cook eggs in the microwave oven. (a field of study.)
"Who teaches History 202?" (title of a specific course)
"The same guy who teaches that sociology course." (a field of study)
Note: The words freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior are not capitalized unless they refer to an entire class or they are part of an official title: the Sophomore Class of Elkhorn High School, Junior Prom, Senior Banquet.
*Words which indicate particular sections of the country are proper nouns and should be capitalized; words which simply indicate direction are not proper nouns.
Skiing in popular in the North.
Sparrows don't fly south because they are lazy.
We visited some friends in western Wisconsin.
*Nouns or pronouns which refer to the Supreme Being are capitalized.
God, Him, Jehovah, the Lord, the Savior, Allah
*The word Bible and the books of the Bible are capitalized; likewise, the names for other holy books and sacred writings are capitalized.
Bible, Book of Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Koran
*Capitalize the first word in every sentence and the first word in a full-sentence direct quotation.
He never saw a snake he didn't like.
The old lady shouted up the stairs, "You kids stop fightin' this minute or I'll spank the both of ya!"
Capitalize the first word in each sentence which in enclosed in parentheses if that sentence comes before or after another complete sentence.
Converted Republican Ronald Reagan won the '84 election by a comfortable margin. (He won 49 of the 50 states.)
Do not capitalize a sentence which is enclosed in parentheses and is located in the middle of another sentence.
Converted Republican Ronald Reagan (he was an active member of the Democratic party early in his career) won the '84 election by a comfortable margin.
Capitalize a complete sentence which follows a colon only if that sentence is a formal statement or a quotation. Also, capitalize the sentence following a colon if you want to emphasize the sentence.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who made the following comment: "What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say."
"All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been: It is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books." - Thomas Carlyle
*Capitalize the first word in a line of poetry only when the author does the same.
"The colors of their tails
Were like the leaves themselves."
"wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world"
*Capitalize races, nationalities, languages, and religions. Note: Today some authors capitalize Black and White when the words are used as proper nouns in place of Negro and Caucasian.
Negro Navajo Canadian Caucasian
Black Hebrew Catholic White
*Capitalize the first word of a title, the last word, and every word in between except articles (a, an, the), short prepositions, and short conjunctions. Follow this rule for titles of books, newspapers, magazines, poems, plays, songs, articles, films, works of art, pictures, and stories.
Milwaukee Journal; A Midsummer Night's Dream; Sports Illustrated; The Red Badge of Courage; Building Self-Respect
*Capitalize the name of an organization, association, or team and its members.
New England Historical Society; Elk Rapids High School Drama Club; Burlington Memorial Hospital Auxiliary; Fond du Lac Jaycees; the Red Cross; Green Bay Packers; Republican, Democratic party
*Capitalize abbreviations of titles and organizations. (Some other abbreviations are also capitalized. See Writers INC for help.)
U.S.A; NAACP; M.D.; Ph.D.; A.D.; B.C.; R.R.
Also capitalize the letters used to indicate form or shape.
U-turn, I-beam, S-curve, A-bomb, T-shirt
*Do not capitalize any of the following: 1) a prefix attached to a proper noun, 2) seasons of the year, 3) a common noun shared by (and coming after) two or more proper nouns, 4) words used to indicate direction or position, 5) the words gods or goddesses when they are referring to mythology, or 6) common nouns which appear to be part of a proper noun.
Capitalize Do Not Capitalize
January, February winter, spring
Lakes Erie and Michigan Missouri and Ohio rivers
The South is quite conservative. Turn south at the stop sign.
Are you going to the Junior Prom? Only juniors are welcome.
Duluth Central High School a Duluth high school
Governor Michael Dukakis Michael Dukakis, our governor
President George Bush George Bush, our president
The planet Earth is egg shaped. The earth we live on is good.
I'm taking History 101. I'm taking history.
*An apostrophe is used to show that one or more letters have been left out of a word to form a contraction.
Don't-o is left out; she'd-woul is left out; it's-i is left out.
An apostrophe is also used to show that one or more letters or numbers have been left out of numerals or words which are spelled as they were actually spoken.
Class of '85-19 is left out; good mornin'-g is left out
Note: When two apostrophes are called for in the same word, just omit the second one.
Follow closely the do's and don'ts (not don't's) on the checklist.
*An apostrophe and s are used to form the plural of a letter, a number, a sign, or a word discussed as a word.
A-A's; C-C's; 8-8's
You use too many and's in your writing.
*The possessive form of singular nouns is usually made by adding an apostrophe and s.
Spock's ears; John Lennon's assassination
Note: When a singular noun ends with an s or z sound, the possessive may be formed by adding just an apostrophe. When the singular noun is a one-syllable word, however, the possessive is usually formed by adding both an apostrophe and s.
Dallas' sports teams (or) Dallas's sports teams
Kiss's last concert; my boss's generosity (one-syllable)
*The possessive form of plural nouns ending in s is usually made by adding just an apostrophe. For plural nouns not ending in s, an apostrophe and s must be added.
Joneses' great-grandfather; bosses' office; children's book
Remember! The word immediately before the apostrophe is the owner.
Kid's guitar……………………………….kid is the owner
Kids' guitar……………………………….kids are the owners
Boss's office………………………………boss is the owner
Bosses' office……………………………bosses are the owners
(Please don't write, "My sisters' hip is out of joint.")
*When possession is shared by more than one noun, use the possessive form for the last noun in the series.
VanClumpin, VanDiken, and VanTulip's fish (all three own the same fish.)
VanClumpin's, VanDiken's and VanTulip's fish (each owns his own fish.)
*The possessive of a compound noun is formed by placing the possessive ending after the last word.
His mother-in-law's (singular) mouth; the secretary of state's (singular) wife
Their mothers-in-law's (plural) husbands; the secretaries of state's (plural) wives
*The possessive of an indefinite pronoun is formed by placing an apostrophe and s on the last word.
Everyone's; anyone's somebody else's
*An apostrophe is used with an adjective which is part of an expression indicating time or amount.
Yesterday's news; a day's wage; a month's pay
*The omission of one or more paragraphs from a quotation is indicated by centering three asterisks on one line. No other material should be printed on that line.
* * *
*An asterisk may be used in a short paper to indicate to the reader that additional information is included in a footnote at the bottom of the page.
His first year* was very difficult.
*The brace is used to join related matter. The brace is not a standard punctuation mark, but it is used often in notes, forms, or letters.
pizzas 12 in. } $2.98 - $4.76
*Brackets are used before and after material which a writer adds when quoting another writer.
"Sometimes I think it [my writing] sounds I walked out of the room and left the typewriter running." -Gene Fowler
(Note: The brackets indicate that the words, my writing, were not part of the quotation but were added for clarification.)
*Place brackets around material which has been added by someone other than the author or speaker.
"Congratulations to the astronomy club's softball team which put in, shall we say, a 'stellar' performance." [groans]
*Place brackets around an editorial correction.
The French [Germans] relish sauerkraut.
*Brackets should be placed around the letters sic (Latin for "as such"); the letters indicate that an error, appearing in quoted material, was created by the original speaker or writer.
"No parent can dessert [sic] his child without damaging a human life."
*A colon may be used after the salutations of a business letter.
Dear Ms. Asche: Dear President Bush:
*A colon is used between the parts of a number which indicate time.
8:32 a.m. 11:03 p.m.
*A colon may be used to emphasize a word, phrase, clause, or sentence which explains or adds impact to the main clause.
Television entertains America's children with the most popular theme of the day: violence. In a single evening children can witness rapes, robberies, fistfights, riots, and murders: all in the quiet confines of their living rooms.
*A colon is used to introduce a list.
Debbie dropped the purse and out spilled the contents: fingernail clipper, calculator, car keys, wallet, and a ragged old nylon.
*A colon should not separate a verb from its object or complement, and it should not separate a preposition from its object.
Incorrect: Hubert hated: spelling, geography, history, and reading (separates verb from objects).
Correct: Hubert hated his subjects:spelling, geography, history, and reading.
Correct: Hubert hated these: spelling, geography, history, and reading.
Incorrect: He just looked at: his fingernails, the ceiling, the teacher, and girls (separates preposition from objects).
Correct: He just looked at other subjects: his fingernails, the ceiling, the teacher, and girls.
*The colon is used to distinguish between title and subtitle, volume and page, and chapter and verse in literature.
The Write Source: A Student Handbook Psalm 23:1-6
Encyclopedia Americana IV: 211
*A colon may be used to formally introduce a sentence, a question, or a quotation.
It was John F. Kennedy who said these words: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
*A comma may be used between two independent clauses which are joined by coordinating conjunctions such as these: but, or, nor, for, yet, and so.
My friend smokes constantly, but he still condemns industry for its pollution.
Note: Do not confuse a sentence with a compound verb for a compound sentence.
My friend smokes but still condemns industry for its pollution. (This is a simple sentence with a compound verb; use no comma.)
*Commas are used to separate individual words, phrases, or clauses in a series. (A series contains at lease three items.)
I used a rapalla, a silver spoon, a nightcrawler harness, and a Swedish pimple.
The bait I used included kernels of corn, minnows, bacon rind, larva, and spawn sacks.
Note: Do not sue commas when the words in a series are connected with or, nor, or and.
I plan to catch bass or trout or sunfish.
*Commas are used to enclose an explanatory word or phrase inserted in a sentence.
Spawn, or fish eggs, are tremendous bait.
An appositive, a specific kind of explanatory word or phrase, identifies or renames a preceding noun or pronoun. (Do not use commas with restrictive appositives. See the third example below.)
My father, an expert angler, uses spawn to catch brook trout.
The objective, to hook fish, is easier to accomplish with spawn.
The word angleworm applies to an earthworm used for fishing.
*Commas are used to separate coordinate adjectives, adjectives which equally modify the same noun.
Trout gobble up the small, soft, round eggs.
Notice in the example above that no comma separates the last adjective from the noun.
Most small panfish also eat spawn.
In the example above, most and small are not separated by a comma because the two adjectives do not equally modify panfish. To determine whether adjectives modify equally, use these two tests: 1) Shift the order of the adjectives; if the sentence is clear, the adjectives modify equally. (If most and small were shifted in the example above, the sentence would be unclear.) 2) Insert and between the adjectives; if the sentence reads well, use a comma when and is omitted.
Note: If the first adjective modifies the second adjective and the noun, use a comma.
He sat down on the soft, velvet cushion.
*Commas are used to separate contrasted elements from the rest of the sentence and are often used to show word omission in a certain grammatical constructions.
We need strong minds, not strong emotions, to solve our problems.
Wise people learn from the mistakes of others; fools, from their own.
(The comma is used to show that the word learn has been omitted from the second half of the sentence.)
*A comma should separate an adverb clause or a long modifying phrase from the independent clause which follows it.
"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance."
Note: A comma is usually omitted if the phrase or adverb clause follows the independent clause.
"This will never be a civilized country until we expend more money for books than we do for chewing gum." -Elbert Hubbard
*Commas are used to enclose nonrestrictive phrases and clauses. Nonrestrictive phrases or clauses are those which are not essential or necessary to the basic meaning of the sentence. Restrictive phrases or clauses- those which are needed in the sentence because they restrict or limit the meaning of the sentence- are not set off with commas. Compare the nonrestrictive and restrictive clauses in the following examples:
Rozi, who is making funny faces, is my sister.
(Note: The clause, who is making funny faces, is merely additional information; it is nonrestrictive [not required]. If the clause were left out of the sentence, the meaning of the sentence would remain clear since the name of the girl is given.)
The girl who is making funny faces is my sister.
(Note: This clause is restrictive. The clause, who is making funny faces, is needed to identify the girl.)
Compare the following examples:
The novelist Sinclair Lewis was the first American writer to win a Nobel Prize for literature. (restrictive)
Sinclaire Lewis, a novelist, was the first American writer to win a Nobel Prize for literature. (nonrestrictive)
*Commas are used to set off items in an address and items in a date.
They live at 3141 Pine Street, Wilmar, Minnesota 56342, during the summer.
(Note: Do not use a comma to separate the state from the ZIP code.)
Democracy would be dead by Wednesday, July 4, 1984, according to George Orwell. Orwell wrote that in July 1949 with pin in cheek. (Note: If only the month and year are given, it is not necessary to separate them with a comma.)
*Commas are used to set off the exact words of the speaker from the rest of the sentence.
"Didn't you know," she exclaimed, "that dirty socks can stunt your growth?"
*A comma is used to separate an interjection or weak exclamation from the rest of the sentence.
Hey, will you do me a favor? Wow, that was quite a tip!
Yes, I'd be happy to.
*Commas are used to set off a word, phrase, or clause that interrupts the movement of a sentence. Such expressions usually can be identified through the following tests: 1) They may be omitted without changing the substance or meaning of a sentence. 2) They may be placed nearly anywhere in the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence.
As a general rule, the safest way to double your money is to fold it and put it in your pocket. That is, however, only true for those with deep pockets.
*Commas are used to separate a series of numbers in order to distinguish hundreds, thousands, millions, etc.
The Democrats wasted $720,806 on a foolish domestic program. The Republicans invested $1,320,252 to prove that the Democrats wasted money.
*Commas are used to enclose a title or initials and names which follow a surname.
J.L Vanderlaan, Ph.D., and G.S. Bruins, M.D., sat in their pajamas playing Old Maid.
Asche, H., Hickok, J.B., and Cody, William F., are three popular Western heroes.
Casey Jones, Jr., was a good friend of John Henry, Sr.
*Commas are used to separate a vocative from the rest of a sentence. (A vocative is the noun which names the person/s spoken to.)
Don't you realize, George, that you're the very first president who thinks we need independence?
Benedict, honey, stop giggling. Don't you know it's dangerous to let the little Franklin boy play with your kite in such awful weather?
*A comma may be used for clarity or for emphasis. There will be times when none of the traditional comma rules call for a comma, but one will be needed to prevent confusion or to emphasize an important idea. Use a comma in either case.
Several days before, he had complained of headaches. (clarity)
What she does, does matter to us. (clarity)
Those who can, tell us what happened. (clarity)
"They can't yank a novelist like they can a pitcher. A novelist has to go the full nine, even if it kills him." -Ernest Hemingway (emphasis)
Note: Do not use a comma which could cause confusion. There should be no comma between the subject and its verb or the verb and its object. Also, use no comma before an indirect quotation. (The commas should not be used.)
The man who helped us unload the truck, is my uncle.
Uncle Hank said, he would never again move my player piano.
*The dash is used to indicate a sudden break or change in the sentence.
"The sun- the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man- burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory." - Charles Dickens
*A dash may be used to emphasize a word, series, phrase, or clause.
He ran downstage, glared at the audience, screamed his terrible epithet-- and his pants fell down.
"The writer is by nature a dreamer- a conscious dreamer."-Carson McCullers
*A dash is used to show interrupted or faltering speech in dialogue. (Note: A dash is indicated by two hyphens-without spacing before or after-in all handwritten and typed material.)
Why, hello, Dear-yes, I understand-no, I remember-oh, I want to-of course I won't-why, yes, I-it was so nice to talk with you again, Dear.
Note: A dash may also be used to show that words or letters are missing.
Listen, you d--- Yankee!
*A diagonal is used to form a fraction. Also, place a diagonal (also slash) between and and or to indicate that either is acceptable. (Avoid this use of the diagonal in formal writing.)
His hat size used to be 8-1/2; with his haircut, it's 6-7/8.
Use calamine lotion and/or aloe to soothe those spider bites.
*When quoting more than one line of poetry, use a diagonal at the end of each line.
The following three lines from Frost's "The Road Not Taken" hint at both the costs and rewards of nonconformism: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--/ I took the one less traveled by/ and that has made all the difference."
*The exclamation point is used to express strong feeling. It may be placed after a word, phrase, or a sentence. (The exclamation point should be used sparingly.)
Help! Mom! Help!
Wow, man, what a way to go!
Please! Tell me that's not a cop!
*Never write more than one exclamation point; such punctuation is incorrect and looks foolish.
Isn't kissing fun!!!!
Who even thinks about the germs!!!
*The hyphen is used to make a compound word.
great-great-grandmother, run-of-the-mill, mother-in-law, three-year-old, 26-year-old songwriter, teacher-poet (coequal nouns)
The Ford-Carter debates helped make peanut butter as patriotic as apple pie.
Note: Don't use a single hyphen when a dash (two hyphens) is required.
*A hyphen is used between the elements of a fraction, but not between the numerator and denominator when one or both are already hyphenated.
Four-tenths five-sixteenths (7/32) seven thirty-seconds
Note: Use hyphens when two or more words have a common element which is omitted in all but the last term.
We have cedar posts in for-, six- and eight-inch widths.
*A hyphen is used to join a capital letter to a noun or participle.
U-turn A-center T-shirt V-shaped
*A hyphen is usually used to form new words beginning with the prefixes self, ex, all, great, and half. It is also used to join any prefix to a proper noun, a proper adjective, or the official name of an office. A hyphen is used with the suffix elect.
Ex-mayor, self-esteem, all-knowing, pro-American, post-Depression, mid-May, president-elect, governor-elect, great-grandson, half-baked
Note: Use a hyphen with other prefixes or suffixes to avoid confusion or awkward spelling.
Re-cover (not recover) the sofa. Shell-like (not shelllike)
*The hyphen is used to join the words in compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine when it is necessary to write them out.
*Use the hyphen to join two or more words which serve as a single adjective (a single-thought adjective) before a noun.
Slow-moving tank mud-caked shoes five-year-old child
"A pessimist is a person who looks both ways before crossing a one-way street." -L.J. Peters
Note: When words forming the adjective come after the noun, do not hyphenate them.
The tank ahead of us was slow moving. Max's shoes were mud caked.
When the first words in an adverb ending in ly, do not use a hyphen; also, do not use a hyphen when a number or letter is the final element in a one-thought adjective.
Freshly painted barn Grade A milk number 360 sandpaper
*The hyphen is used to separate a word at the end of a line of print. A word may be divided only between syllables, and the hyphen is always placed after the syllable at the end of the line- never before a syllable at the beginning of the following line.
Additional Guidelines for Using Hyphens
1. Always leave enough of the word at the end of the sentence so that the word can be identified.
2. Never divide a one-syllable word: rained, skills, through.
3. Avoid dividing a word of five letters or less: paper, study, July.
4. Never divide a one-letter syllable from the rest of the word: omit-ted, not o-mitted.
5. Always divide a compound word between its basic units: sister-in-law, not sis-ter-in-law
6. Never divide abbreviations or contractions: shouldn't, not should-n't.
7. Avoid dividing the last word in a paragraph.
8. Never divide the last word in more than two lines in a row.
9. When a vowel is a syllable by itself, divide the word after the vowel: epi-sode, not ep-isode.
10. Avoid dividing a number written as a figure: 1,000,000; not 1,000,-000.
11. Always check a dictionary if you are uncertain where a word should be divided.
*The hyphen is used to join numbers which indicate the life span of an individual, the scores of a game, the term of an event, etc.
The child lived a short life: 1971-1973.
The score, 78-27, suggests the nature of the Elk Rapids- Traverse City basketball game.
*Parentheses are used to enclose explanatory or supplementary material which interrupts the normal structure.
Abraham Lincoln began his political career in Springfield (Ill.) where he served four terms as a state legislator. Following his fourth term, Lincoln tried unsuccessfully to capture the Whig party's nomination. (Lincoln later joined the Republican party.) After failing a second time to secure the nomination, Lincoln decided to make one last effort; if he failed, he would retire from politics. His third attempt was a major triumph, for Lincoln won not only the nomination, but the election as well (1846). He was soon off to Washington D.C., where he was to become one of the most controversial of all U.S. Presidents (Sanndburg 42).
Note: Punctuation is placed within parentheses when it is intended to mark the material within the parentheses. Punctuation is placed outside parentheses when it is intended to mark the entire sentence, of which the parenthetical material is only a part. Also note that words enclosed by parentheses do not have to begin with a capital letter or end with a period- even though the words may compose a complete sentence.
*For unavoidable parentheses within parentheses, use brackets (…[…]…).
*A period is used to end a sentence which makes a statement, or which gives a command that is not used as an exclamation.
"That guy is coming over here."
"Don't forget to smile when you talk."
"Hello, Big Boy."
It is not necessary to place a period after a statement which as parentheses around it and is part of another sentence.
Jenny gave Jim an earwich (an earwich is one piece of buttered bread slapped on each ear) and ran for her life.
*An ellipsis (three periods) is used to show that one or more words have been omitted in a quotation. (Leave one space before and after each period when typing.)
"Give me your tired … yearning to breathe free."
If an omission occurs at the end of a sentence, the ellipsis is placed after the period which marks the conclusion of the sentence.
"Ernest Hemingway was fond of fishing…. His understanding of that sport is in many of his writings."
Note: If the quoted material is a complete sentence (even if it was not in the original) use a period, then an ellipsis.
An ellipsis also may be used to indicate a pause.
"Well, Dad, I … ah … ran out of gas … had two flat tires … and ah … there was a terrible snowstorm on the other side of town."
*A period should be placed after an initial.
Dena W. Kloosterman, Thelma J. Slenk, D.H. Lawrence
* A period is placed after each part of an abbreviation- unless the abbreviation is an acronym. An acronym is a word formed when the first (or first few) letters of words in a set phrase.
Abbreviations: Mr., Mrs., Ms., a.m., p.m., Dr., A.D., B.C.
Acronyms: WAC (Women's Army Corps); Radar (Radio Detecting and Ranging); NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
When an abbreviation is the last word in a sentence, only one period should be used at the end of the sentence.
When she's nervous, she bites her nails, wrings her hands, picks at her clothes, etc.
*Use a period as a decimal and to separate dollars and cents
6.1 percent 28.9 percent $3,120.31
*A question mark is used at the end of a direct question.
Are your relatives mushy when you visit them?
Are your grandparents heavy on the kissy-huggy stuff?
No question mark is used after an indirect quotation.
My aunt always asks how I am doing in school.
I always wonder what "doing in school" means.
*When two clauses within a sentence both ask questions, one question mark is used.
Does your uncle greet you as mine greets me- with a "cootchy-coo" under the chin and a "How old are you now, little lady?"
Do you think he would feel insulted if I gave him a "cootchy-coo" in the beard and said, "I'm 17, Uncle, and how old are you getting to be?"
*The question mark is placed within parentheses to show uncertainty.
Although my cousin is only 18 (?), he looks down his nose when he says "Hello" to his younger cousins.
*A short question within parentheses is punctuated with a question mark.
You may visit me next week (is that possible?) as long as your handshake is firm and you don't pat my head.
*Only one question mark should punctuate a question. The following punctuation is both silly and incorrect.
Do you mean that kid with the purple socks???
Really! Why did you ever date him???
*Quotation marks are placed before and after direct quotations. Only the exact words quoted are placed within quotation marks.
"I really don't know," he said, "whether this year's drought will result in higher food prices, food shortages, or both." (Note: The words he said are not in quotation marks because the person did not say them. Also, the word whether is not capitalized because it does not begin a new sentence.)
*Quotation marks are placed before and after each passage being quoted.
"My brother built a horse which could walk, buck, trot, and gallop. The torso of this 'creation' was a telephone pole. One end of the pole was bolted to the hitch of a tractor. The other end of the pole was bolted to a fifty-gallon barrel (a saddle was tied on the barrel). The center of the pole was straddled by a metal U-frame. One end of a large spring was connected to the top of the U. The other end of the spring was connected to the pole and suspended in the center of the U. The legs of the U were carried by spoked metal wheels- the centers of which were welded off center. The mechanical horse could perform an interesting variety of tricks- depending on the direction and speed of the tractor."
*If more than one paragraph is quoted, quotation marks are placed before each paragraph and at the end of the last paragraph. Quotations which are more than four lines on a page are usually set off from the text by indenting ten spaces from the left margin ("block form"). Quotation marks are placed neither before nor after the quoted material unless they appear in the original.
Note: Although it is no longer the preferred method, lengthy quotations are sometimes indented five spaces from both the left and right side and typed using single spacing.
*Quotation marks also may be used (1) to distinguish a word which is being discussed, (2) to indicate that a word is slang, or (3) to point out that a word is being used in a special way. (Note: Italics may be used in place of quotation marks for each of these three functions. Also remember, in handwritten material or in typed material, each word which should be in italics is underlined.)
I am "firm," you are "stubborn," he is "pigheaded."
Ray is one of those "no problem" types who somehow manages to screw up everything.
In order to be popular, she works very hard at being "cute."
*Quotation marks are used to punctuate titles of songs, poems, short stories, lectures, courses, episodes of radio or television programs, chapters of books, unpublished words, and articles found in magazines, newspapers, or encyclopedias.
"Born in the U.S.A." (song)
"Uncle Wiggly Loses His Pants" (short story)
"The Raven" (poem)
"Fundamentals of Oil Painting" (course title)
(Note: When you punctuate a title, capitalize the first word, the last word, and every word in between except articles, short prepositions, and short conjunctions.)
*Single quotation marks are used to punctuate a quotation within a quotation. Double and single quotation marks are alternated in order to distinguish a quotation within a quotation within a quotation.
"I never read 'The Raven'!"
"Did you hear him say, 'I never read "The Raven"'?"
*Periods and commas are always placed inside quotation marks.
"I don't know," said Albert. Albert said, "I don't know."
*An exclamation point or a question mark is placed inside quotation marks when it punctuates the quotation; it is placed outside when it punctuates the main sentence.
I almost croaked when he said, "That won't be a problem for you, will it?"
Did the teacher really say, "Finish this by tomorrow"?
*Semicolons or colons are placed outside quotation marks.
I wrote about Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"; "Sunday Morning" was too deep for me.
*A semicolon is used to join two or more independent clauses which are not connected with a coordinating conjunction. (This means that each of the clauses could stand alone as separate sentences.)
I once had a '55 Chevy with a 283; that was the first V-8 I ever owned.
Note: The exception to this rule can occur when the two clauses are similar, short, or conversational in tone.
To rule is easy, to govern difficult.
*A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses within a compound sentence- when the clauses are connected only by a conjunctive adverb. (Common conjunctive adverbs are these: also, as a result, besides, for example, furthermore, however, in addition, instead, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, similarly, then, therefore, thus.)
My neighbor proudly brags that he is free from racism; however he also feels compelled to say that one of his childhood friends was black.
*A semicolon is used to separate independent clauses which are long or contain commas.
Someone righteously cleansed the library of all "dirty literature"; so the library now contains only "clean" classics such as Romeo and Juliet, Gulliver's Travels, and The Canterbury Tales.
*A semicolon is used to separate groups of words or phrases which already contain commas.
I packed a razor, toothbrush, and deodorant; blue jeans, bathing suit, and jacket; tennis balls, fish hooks, and golf clubs.
*Italics is a printer's term for a style of type which is slightly slanted. In this sentence the word happiness is typed in italics. In handwritten or typed material, each word or letter which should be in italics is underlined.
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird tells an important story. (typed)
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird tells an important story. (printed)
*Underlining (italics in print) is used to indicate a foreign word which has not been adopted in the English language; it also designates scientific terms.
Angst is a painful state of mind. (foreign word)
The chills and fever of malaria result from a bite by the anopheles mosquito.
Underlining is used to designate a word, number, or letter which is being emphasized or discussed (referred to as a thing in itself).
I got an A on my test because I understood the word classify.
*Underlining is used to indicate the titles of magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, books, plays, films, radio and television programs, book-length poems, ballets, operas, lengthy musical compositions, record albums, legal cases, and the names of ships and aircraft.
A Tale of Two Cities (novel) M*A*S*H (television program)
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (film) Motorists Handbook (pamphlet)
New York Times or New York Times U.S.S. Arizona (ship)
(Note: When the name of a city is used as part of the name of a newspaper, the name of the city need not be underlined.)
Exceptions: Do not underline or put in quotation marks sacred writings (including the Bible and its many books) or the names of any series, edition, or society which might appear alongside (or in place of) the actual title. Also, do not underline or put in quotation marks your own title at the top of your page.
Bible, Genesis, Talmud (sacred writings)
NCTE Research Report No. 9 (series)
The Baltimore Edition of the Complete Works of Poe (edition)
*When one title appears within another title, punctuate as follows:
"Upstairs, Downstairs Is Back" (television program in an article)
"An Interpretation of 'The Raven'" (poem in an article)
A Tale of Two Cities as History (book in the title of another book)