Punctuation Exercise (597)

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

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Strong goal statements answer the question: how much, or how many?
Correct : Strong goal statements answer the question "How much, or how many?"

The colon in this sentence brings it to a halt and implies that only one question exists. No punctuation is required between the question and its preceding setup phrase, and for clarity, the question should be enclosed in quotation marks.

2.
Original: I spoke with Dr. Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center headquartered at University of Southern California.
Correct : I spoke with Dr. Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, headquartered at University of Southern California.

This sentence implies that of two or more Southern California Earthquake Centers, the one Jordan directs is at the University of Southern California. To show that the location is incidental—that, by the way, the sole earthquake center by that name is located at USC—a comma should precede the phrase about the location.

3.
Original: South African comedian Trevor Noah was named Jon Stewart’s successor for Comedy Central’s wildly popular "Daily Show," naturally the Internet collectively asked, "Who is Trevor Noah?"
Correct : South African comedian Trevor Noah was named Jon Stewart’s successor for Comedy Central’s wildly popular "Daily Show." Naturally, the Internet collectively asked, "Who is Trevor Noah?"

This sentence contains a comma splice. The part following "Daily Show" is an independent clause, so a period or a semicolon must precede it, and "naturally" should be set off from the rest of that clause by a comma.

4.
Original: She heard the pop and crash of breaking glass, and from below, the rat-a-tat sound of explosions like artillery fire.
Correct : She heard the pop and crash of breaking glass and, from below, the rat-a-tat sound of explosions like artillery fire.

Sentences such as this one with a compound predicate (in which two things, not just one, are told about the subject—she heard both breaking glass and explosions) are often erroneously treated as if they consist of two independent clauses. The only purpose of internal punctuation in this sentence, however, is to set off the interjected modifying phrase "from below."

5.
Original: Maybe I could score a couple of extra weeks vacation.
Correct : Maybe I could score a couple of extra weeks’ vacation.

This reference to a period of time in this sentence is not merely plural but also plural possessive. (Technically, the phrase is in the genitive case, but in essence the vacation "belongs" to the two weeks.) The phrase "worth of" is implied here, and though the elision is acceptable for conversational writing, the sentence would be better rendered "Maybe I could score a couple of extra weeks’ worth of vacation."

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