Punctuation Exercise (619)

In each sentence, revise one or more punctuation marks (and surrounding words) to reflect correct usage.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Let me put it this way, your boyfriend isn’t very good when it comes to gift selection.
Correct : Let me put it this way: Your boyfriend isn’t very good when it comes to gift selection.

The punctuation in this sentence is a comma splice (the erroneous use of a comma when stronger punctuation is required). What follows "Let me put it this way" is an explanation or extension of the setup that precedes it, and the ideal punctuation to separate setup and payoff is a colon. Note the capitalization of the first word following the colon.

2.
Original: Now make no mistake, and act accordingly.
Correct : Now, make no mistake, and act accordingly.

"Now" does not serve a temporal function; the first clause of the sentence does not mean "Do not make a mistake at this time." The word serves an idiomatic function as an emphatic tag, so it should be set off with a comma.

3.
Original: The standard is to have a first responder on the scene within four minutes, 90 percent of the time.
Correct : The standard is to have a first responder on the scene within four minutes 90 percent of the time.

The two factors—time and success rate—should not be separated by punctuation.

4.
Original: Oh please spare me your flimsy excuses.
Correct : Oh, please spare me your flimsy excuses.

"Oh" is an interjection, and such words and phrases must always be set off from the rest of the sentence.

5.
Original: Jones was outraged by the college’s flag ban, said her chief of staff John Smith.
Correct : Jones was outraged by the college’s flag ban, said her chief of staff, John Smith.

A lack of punctuation between the descriptive phrase "chief of staff" and the name "John Smith" implies that Jones has more than one chief of staff. Dividing the phrase from the name identifies them as appositives of each other—that is, two ways to describe the same thing (in this case, a specific person, who is Jones’s sole chief of staff).

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