3 Cases of Insufficient Punctuation

By Mark Nichol

Each of the following sentences is compromised by the lack of one or two punctuation marks, resulting in a potential for confusion among readers. Discussion following each example explains the flaw, and a revision demonstrates clearer sentence composition.

1. Move over millennials—this group is taking over the rental market.

The imperative “move over,” followed by a word identifying who is to act according to the imperative to step aside, reads as if an unspecified audience is being told to change their location at a position above a certain demographic group. When a sentence begins with a directive and a modifier, separate the two sentence elements with a comma: “Move over, millennials—this group is taking over the rental market.”

2. This paper introduces a methodology based on industry-accepted frameworks that details all the steps firms need to take to conduct a comprehensive and compliant risk assessment.

Here, the lack of agreement between frameworks and details signals that the verb does not apply to the noun, but their proximity still introduces a signal-to-noise obstacle, which would be amplified if the noun and verb did agree. To clarify that details pertains to methodology, not frameworks, bracket the modifying phrase “based on industry-accepted frameworks” with commas: “This paper introduces a methodology, based on industry-accepted frameworks, that details all the steps firms need to take to conduct a comprehensive and compliant risk assessment.”

3. Distribution and routes to market can be helped by implementing an automated digital portal although this is a bit more complex since it can have an impact on commission.

This breathlessly barreling sentence benefits from a couple of inserted commas to signal nested subordinate clauses—the phrase beginning with since is subordinate to the one beginning with although, which in turn is subordinate to the main clause: “Distribution and routes to market can be helped by implementing an automated digital portal, although this is a bit more complex, since it can have an impact on commission.”

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3 Responses to “3 Cases of Insufficient Punctuation”

  • D.A.W.

    These examples bring to mind an old but great joke.
    (The film “Ben Hur” was on TV recently, too.)
    “Listen up, galley slaves, I have good news and bad news for you this morning. First the good news — you will get a big breakfast and an extra ration of grog! Then the bad news is that the captain wants to go water-skiing this afternoon.”

  • D.A.W.

    Sentence #1 falls under a simpler rule: Interjections should be set off by commas and/or other punctuations. This includes the insertion of the ID of the people being addressed.
    “Move over, millennials—this group is taking over the rental market.”
    This is just like, “Watch out, heathens, the Roman Army is coming over the top of the ridge!”, or “Watch out, barbarians — two Roman legions are entering the valley from opposite ends!”

  • Rich Wheeler

    I always enjoy stretching my grammar legs with these posts. I’m usually reminded something I’ve forgotten, or else I learn something new. This time, I’m going to suggest a difference of opinion, however, and hope I don’t end up with egg on my face.

    In #2, I’m bothered by the disagreement in number in “steps firms need to take to conduct a comprehensive and compliant risk assessment.”

    No clue indicates that firms would conduct a joint assessment, so I assume that each firm conducts its own assessment. The snippet should read, “steps firms need to take to conduct comprehensive and compliant risk assessments.”

    In #3, in “although this is a bit more complex since it can have an impact on commission,” I’m uncomfortable with adding a comma before since. All that follows “although” forms a unit that is subordinate to “although.” Adding the comma separates the final clause (“since…”) from the preceding clause (“although…”), which creates the possibility that it directly modifies the main sentence.

    The problem caused by a second comma might become more intuitive if you read it while substituting “because” for “since.” )

    My preferred treatment is to rearrange the larger clause:
    “although, since this can have an impact on commission, it is a bit more complex.” Now, using both commas make sense, and the sentence makes more sense, too.

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