Punctuation Exercise (644)

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

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: John had tried begging, bribing, and even demanding cooperation from his staff-all of whom were swamped with other work-before he gave up and wrote the report himself.
Correct : John had tried begging, bribing, and even demanding cooperation from his staff—all of whom were swamped with other work—before he gave up and wrote the report himself.

This type of error is a clear sign that a writer doesn’t know the difference between a hyphen and a dash or doesn’t know how type a dash, and has erroneously inserted a hyphen instead. Hyphens connect parts of words (for example, "pro-choice") or entire words used as compounds or phrasal adjectives (for example, "light-year" and "long-term" in the phrase "long-term goals," respectively), and dashes separate words, phrases, or clauses from each other.

2.
Original: She wants students to look at historical eras—say the Harlem Renaissance—and consider how gay men and women had an impact.
Correct : She wants students to look at historical eras—say, the Harlem Renaissance—and consider how gay men and women had an impact.

"Say" must be set off from the rest of the parenthetical phrase, whether the bracketing punctuation is dashes or parentheses. (Simple commas aren’t recommended, because a series of three commas obscures the parenthesis ("say") within a parenthesis ("say, the Harlem Renaissance").

3.
Original: Extended Stay has an opportunity—it could offer cradle-to-grave housing—developing everything from first-job apartments to single-family units for first-time home buyers to retirement cubes and, finally, high-efficiency cemetery plots.
Correct : Extended Stay has an opportunity: It could offer cradle-to-grave housing, developing everything from first-job apartments to single-family units for first-time home buyers to retirement cubes and, finally, high-efficiency cemetery plots.

The dashes in this sentence do not support the grammatical structure and are used erroneously. (To understand why, read the sentence without the set-off phrase.) Some separation must occur after "opportunity," and though a dash there (but not after "housing") is correct, a colon to indicate that the first phrase of the sentence is introducing the expansion of that idea is better.

4.
Original: Writers probably misunderstand—and as a result misuse, the dash more than any other punctuation mark.
Correct : Writers probably misunderstand—and as a result misuse—the dash more than any other punctuation mark.

The phrase "and as a result misuse" is a parenthetical, so the same type of punctuation mark should both precede and follow it.

5.
Original: Mary started to protest, "I don’t understand why . . ."
Correct : Mary started to protest, "I don’t understand why—"

When indicating abruptly interrupted dialogue, rather than a speaker trailing off or deliberately leaving a statement incomplete because the rest of the sentence is known and implied (for example, "If at first you don’t succeed . . ."), use a dash rather than an ellipsis.

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