Are You Making this Common Mistake with Appositives?

An appositive is a modifier. It’s a noun or noun phrase that immediately follows another noun or noun phrase to further define it. You probably use appositives all the time without even realizing it. But are you punctuating them correctly?

Why am I devoting a blog to appositives? I’m so glad you asked!

Learning how to punctuate appositives—most often done with commas but sometimes with parentheses—isn’t difficult, but I see incorrect examples almost every day. The sad thing is that so many of this common appositive punctuation mistakes show up in Amazon book descriptions, websites, book reviews, and pretty much anywhere you find the written word.

Punctuating appositive nouns and phrases is easy once you understand the rules. Click To Tweet

So let’s review definitions, and then I’ll show you how easy it is to correctly punctuate whenever you use an appositive in your writing.

What Is an Appositive?

As a reminder, an appositive is a noun or noun phrase that provides additional information. Like other types of modifiers, an appositive can be essential (restrictive) or nonessential (nonrestrictive) to the sentence. Removing an essential modifier may cause confusion, but removing a nonessential one still leaves most of the meaning intact.

Essential: My cockatoo Snowflake attacked my computer.

Nonessential: My cockatoo, Snowflake, attacked my computer.

Snowflake’s handiwork the day she decided I was working too much.
Snowflake the Cockatoo

What’s the difference, and why does it matter?

If I had more than one cockatoo, I wouldn’t use a comma—I’d want to make it clear that I’m discussing Snowflake and not another bird. I’m specifically throwing “Snowflake” under the bus (she deserves it, don’t you think?). If I delete her name (the essential modifier), I remove the clue that tells you which bird was the culprit, so I could be referring to one of several birds.

The second example is the one I personally would use because I only have one cockatoo, and her name is Snowflake. If I delete the appositive (her name), which is a nonessential modifier, you still know my only pet cockatoo created some trouble. Continue reading “Are You Making this Common Mistake with Appositives?”

4 Simple Answers to the Question "Where Do Those Pesky Periods Go, Anyway?"

periods quotation marks
“Where in the heck does this period go???”

We all know a period comes at the end of a sentence, but there seems to be some confusion about its placement when quotation marks or parentheses are involved.

I love to start my day by reading other bloggers posts. I usually find at least one gem to post on my Facebook page (check it out—lots of great writer-related stuff there!). Lately, though, I’ve also found the same mistake made across numerous blog posts: the incorrect placement of a period. It’s a simple mistake and one I’m particularly aware of, since I too made it a million times before I got the rules through my thick head!

Simple Rules for Periods with Quotation Marks and Parentheses

  1. Periods and commas precede closing quotation marks, whether double or single. Example: “Mary wore red shoes,” he told us, “because she doesn’t own a pair in black.”
  2. The exception to #1 is when a parenthetical reference follow. Example: “Mary wore red shoes,” Smith wrote. “She doesn’t own a black pair” (13).
  3. When an entire independent sentence is enclosed in parentheses or square brackets, the period belongs inside the closing parenthesis or bracket. Example: Mary wore red shoes. (She doesn’t own a pair in black.)
  4. When text in parentheses or brackets—even a grammatically complete sentence,—is included within another sentence, the period belongs outside. Example: Mary word red shoes (because she doesn’t own a pair in black).
Where do periods go when quotation marks are involved? #editing #grammar #punctuation #writetip Click To Tweet

But WAIT! I’ve been speaking of American English . . . what about British English? And what about less “formal” writing, like text messages and blog posts?

What about Texting or in Social Media Use?

According to Slate.com, “Indeed, unless you associate exclusively with editors and prescriptivists, you can find copious examples of the “outside” technique—which readers of Virginia Woolf and The Guardian will recognize as the British style—no further away than your Twitter or Facebook feed.”

Hmmm . . . so is this Slate.com writer saying common usage trumps the rules? I don’t agree; common usage and proper usage aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m as relaxed as the next person when I’m quickly typing a text message, but I’ll continue to correct those outside-the-quotes periods when I’m editing a manuscript.

What about you? Do you care where those pesky periods show up? How do you remember if they go inside or outside other punctuation?

Check reliable reference sources like the Chicago Manual of Style, the Modern Language Association (MLA) handbook, or Purdue Owl for more on this topic.

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Candace Johnson is a professional freelance editor, proofreader, writer,  and writing coach who has worked with traditional publishers, self-published authors, and independent book packagers on nonfiction subjects ranging from memoirs to alternative medical treatments to self-help, and on fiction ranging from romance to paranormal. As an editorial specialist, Candace is passionate about offering her clients the opportunity to take their work to the next level. She believes in maintaining the author’s unique voice while helping them create and polish every sentence to make it the best it can be. Learn more here.

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Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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