Thursday, December 8, 2011

Capitalization and Punctuation

We previously discussed common errors made when writing at intermediate level. This current entry is about punctuation, and what we should consider when writing at this level. Here are some basic rules on how to use the period, comma, semicolon, colon, question mark, and exclamation mark.

Remind students that they should end a sentence with a period (full stop - British English). A sentence is a group of words which contains a Subject, and a Verb.

He went to Detroit last week.
They are going to visit.

Utilize students' writing and other guided activities to show how the comma is used. Teach the more advanced uses, or the ones which differ from their mother tongue (if/when the group's source language is one).
Here is a list of most common uses:
1. It's used to separate a list of items. This is one of the most common uses of a comma. Notice that a comma is included before the conjunction 'and' which comes before the final element of a list.

I like reading, listening to music, taking long walks, and visiting with my friends.
They would like books, magazines, DVDs, video cassettes, and other learning materials for their library.

This use is a good example of the conjunction 'and' used with a comma. This is in reference to one of your queries on how to use the comma with conjunctions such as and.

2. Use it to separate phrases (clauses). This is especially true after a beginning dependent clause.


In order to qualify for your certificate, you will need to take the TOEFL exam.
Although he wanted to come, he wasn't able to attend the course.

3. Use it to separate two independent clauses that are connected by a conjunction such as 'but'. This is another clear example of how to use the comma with the conjunctions but, and, etc.


They wanted to purchase a new car, but their financial situation would not allow it.
I'd really enjoy seeing a film this evening, and I'd like to go out for a drink.

4. Use it as parentheses to separate a noun, a noun phrase, or non-defining relative clauses.


Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, comes from Seattle.
My only sister, who is a fantastic tennis player, is in great shape.

I am personally very confused about the first use of the semicolon and avoid it. It is common and required in American English to use it when separating two independent clauses:
1. You can use it when one or both of the clauses are short, and the ideas expressed are usually very similar.


He loves studying; He can't get enough of school.
What an incredible situation; it must make you nervous.

2. The second use is more common, and I tend to resort to it in longer sentences. Use it also to separate groups of words that are themselves separated by commas.


I took a holiday and played golf, which I love; read a lot, which I needed to do; and slept late, which I hadn't done for quite a while.
They plan to study German, for their travels; chemistry, for their work; and literature, for their own enjoyment.

A colon can be used for two purposes:
1. To provide additional details and explanation.


He had many reasons for joining the club: to get in shape, to make new friends, to lose some weight, and to get out of the house.
She gave notice for the following reasons: bad pay, horrible hours, poor relations with colleagues, and her boss.

2. To introduce a direct quote (a comma can also be used in this situation).

He announced to his friends: "I'm getting married!"
She cried out: "I never want to see you again!"

Point out to students that a question always ends with a question mark.


Where do you live?
How long have they been studying?

Utilize their writing and other reading texts to demonstrate that the exclamation mark is used at the end of a sentence to show surprise. It is also used for emphasis. Stress that they should be careful not to use an exclamation mark too often.


That ride was fantastic!
I can't believe he is going to marry her!

Students at this level very often find it difficult to follow the capitalization rules. Possibly because they are different in their mother tongue. Currently, they rebelliously refuse to use capital letters because of bad writing habits when answering emails and writing text messages.
Take every opportunity to remind them to:
1. Capitalize the first word of a sentence.

There is something wrong with this cheese.
Strange things have happened recently.

2. Capitalize the pronoun "I"

He asked me where I had bought my jacket.
If I see her, I will give her your message.

3. Capitalize proper nouns

I visited California on my vacation.
She gave Peter a present for his birthday.

4. Capitalize languages, states, countries, nationalities, continents, etc.

Do you speak Russian? My friend lives in South Carolina.
We are planning a vacation in South Africa.

5. Capitalize days of the week, holidays, and months of the year.

She flew to Dallas in September.
Do you have any time on Monday?

These are some basic tips on how to prepare for a writing task. As a teacher I keep a checklist when reviewing writing assignments. These are some key points on my checklist. I hope you've found this article informative. I'd very much appreciate your comments regarding the topic.

Please, click on the following links for further information on punctuation and capitalization.


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