SAT Essay Help: Apostrophe and Comma Misuse (page 2)
Apostrophes are used to form contractions, indicate possession or ownership, and form certain plurals. Eight rules cover all of the situations in which they may appear:
- Add 's to form the singular possessive, even when the noun ends in s:
- The school's lunchroom needs to be cleaned.
- The drummer's solo received a standing ovation.
- Mr. Perkins's persuasive essay was very convincing.
- A few plurals, not ending in s, also form the possessive by adding 's:
- The children's toys were found in every room of the house.
- The line for the women's restroom was too long.
- Men's shirts come in a variety of neck sizes.
- Possessive plural nouns already ending in s need only the apostrophe added:
- The customers' access codes are confidential.
- The students' grades improved each semester.
- The flight attendants' uniforms were blue and white.
- Indefinite pronouns show ownership by the addition of 's:
- Everyone's hearts were in the right place.
- Somebody's dog was barking all night.
- It was no one's fault that we lost the game.
- Possessive pronouns never have apostrophes, even though some may end ins:
- Our car is up for sale.
- Your garden is beautiful.
- His handwriting is difficult to read.
- Use an 's to form the plurals of letters, figures, and numbers used as words, as well as certain expressions of time and money:
- She has a hard time pronouncing s's.
- My report card had three A's. (Without the apostrophe, this could be misread as the word as.)
- The project was the result of a year's worth of work.
- Show possession in the last word when using names of organizations and businesses, in hyphenated words, and in joint ownership:
- Sam and Janet's graduation was three months ago.
- I went to visit my great-grandfather's alma mater.
- The Future Farmers of America's meeting was moved to Monday.
- Apostrophes form contractions by taking the place of the missing letter or number.
- We're going out of town next week.
- She's going to write the next proposal.
- My supervisor was in the class of '89.
Misplacing commas or leaving them out when they're called for can confuse meaning and create sloppy writing. These six rules will guide you in the correct usage of commas:
- Use a comma to separate items in a series, including the last two items. This comma is known as the serial comma. One of the most famous examples highlighting the need for this comma is a book dedication: "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God." It appears that the author's parents are Ayn Rand and God, whereas if there was a serial comma after Rand, it would be clear that the author was dedicating the book to 1) his parents, 2) Ayn Rand, and 3) God.
- Use a comma with the conjunctions for, and, nor, but, or, and yet (remember the mnemonic FANBOY) to join two independent clauses. This comma may be dropped if the clauses are very short.
- He left for the Bahamas, but she went to Mexico.
- I am neither excited about the idea, nor am I even thinking about using it.
- Use a comma to separate adjectives when the word and makes sense between them.
- Right: That was the most depressing, poorly directed movie I've ever seen!
- Wrong: It was a bleak, November day. (November day is the subject, modified by bleak—you wouldn't say bleak and November day.)
- Wrong: He wore a bright, red tie. (Bright modifies the color red, not the tie. You wouldn't say bright and red tie.)
- Use a comma after introductory phrases.
- Since she is leaving on vacation next Friday, she scheduled a replacement for her shift.
- As the Cabinet considered the effect of the gas tax, they asked many citizens to share their opinions.
- Use commas to set off words and phrases that are not an integral part of the sentence.
- Jill, Jack's wife, works at the bank.
- Henry's penchant for one-liners, while annoying to his family, delights his friends.
- Use commas to set off quotations, dates, and titles.
- Napoleon is said to have remarked, "The word impossible is not in my dictionary."
- On July 4, 1776, the United States of America declared its independence.
- Robert Zia, MD, is my general practitioner.
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