Punctuation Exercise (591)

In each sentence, revise one or more punctuation marks to reflect correct usage.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: To Mary John was lazy and incompetent.
Correct : To Mary, John was lazy and incompetent.

Short introductory phrases are frequently written without a comma separating them from the main clause of the sentence, but in this case, the consecutive use of personal names with no intervening punctuation is confusion. Because of this exception and others, and because there is no firm rule about at what length an introductory phrase does benefit from a comma, it’s best to consistently use one regardless of how short or long the phrase is.

2.
Original: If convicted, Smith could face life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
Correct : If convicted, Smith could face life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.

Without the comma following "parole," the sentence reads as if the person could face life in prison without the possibility of two things: parole and the death penalty. But "life in prison without the possibility of parole" and "the death penalty" are two distinct outcomes Smith could face, and a comma should be inserted between them to clarify that distinction.

3.
Original: Review the agenda and anticipated outcomes; assign roles; and, if needed, review the norms.
Correct : Review the agenda and anticipated outcomes, assign roles, and, if needed, review the norms.

The semicolon and "and" are redundant to each other, separating two independent clauses.

4.
Original: The US Justice Department considers the Bandidos one of the eight most dangerous motorcycle gangs in the United States due to links to drug, weapon, and human trafficking (Bandido officers have often denied the majority of their members take part in organized criminal activities).
Correct : The US Justice Department considers the Bandidos one of the eight most dangerous motorcycle gangs in the United States due to links to drug, weapon, and human trafficking. (Bandido officers have often denied the majority of their members take part in organized criminal activities.)

When text in parentheses that appears at the end of a sentence itself constitutes a complete sentence, insert terminal punctuation (a period, question mark, or exclamation point) at the end of the first sentence and terminal punctuation for the second sentence inside the close parenthesis.

5.
Original: In 2008, King became the only living blues artist with his own museum in Indianola, Mississippi.
Correct : In 2008, King became the only living blues artist with his own museum, located in Indianola, Mississippi.

This sentence implies that King became the only living blues artist with his own museum located in a specific small town. But the meaning is that he became the only living blues artist with his own museum anywhere, and the location is incidental. The insertion of the comma after "museum" (with the addition to "location" to further distinguish the tag phrase at the end of the sentence) clarifies the purpose of the place name in the sentence.

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