Common Punctuation Errors when Writing Essays

Even though correct punctuation is hugely important if an essay is to be successful, the misuse of punctuation is possibly the most common mistake among writers. The most frequently made mistakes in relation to essay punctuation relate to the use of commas, hyphens and apostrophes.

  1. In compound sentences, a comma should be used along with a conjunction to join sentences e.g., “Ideas are important in a good essay, but they may count for nothing if the grammar is incorrect.”  
  2. A comma is used to divide the information in the first and second parts of a sentence where the position is unusual in terms of syntax.

Wrong use:

“Five years ago the test was undertaken.”

Correct use:

“Five years ago, the test was undertaken.” or

“The test was undertaken five years ago.”

  1. A comma is required between the items in a list where three (or more) items are being listed in a sentence e.g., “Four important components of an essay are 1) original ideas, 2) grammar, 3) writing style and 4) vocabulary.”
  2. Commas are used to separate any epithets where these are used prior to describing a noun e.g., “Writing is a difficult, time-consuming job.”
  3. Commas are used to single out words or constructions in parenthesis or in a non-defining relative clause and/or in the case of appositions. For example:

“His uncle, Professor Biggins, was a renowned mathematician.”

“And, finally, don’t forget to keep an eye on the deadline.”

“First year students, who are unfamiliar with life at university, can encounter many problems.”

  1. Commas are used to highlight any phrases that one quotes in their writing e.g. “The poet Wordsworth wrote ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud …’”
  2. In US English, the comma is used to separate sets of three digits in numbers and in dates e.g. to separate the day, month, date and year. For example:

“The company’s annual turnover is $9,500,000.”

“The deadline for the assignment is Tuesday, April, 2nd, 2016.”

  1. Hyphens are used with numbers and compound adjectives e.g. (twenty-two and time-consuming) and in prefixed words e.g. ex- (ex-girlfriend), self- (self-employed), great- (great-grandfather).
  2. Apostrophes are used in contractions so you should pay close attention to where they are placed in various words. It should be noted, however, that it is not usually recommended to use contractions in formal writing.

Wrong use of contractions:

“Lets go to the cinema.”

“He could’nt get to the cinema on time.”

Correct use of contractions:

“Let’s go to the cinema.”

“He couldn’t get to the cinema on time.”

  1. Apostrophes should be used in possessive nouns, but you need to be careful about their position in singular and plural nouns (before the s in singular cases and after the s in plural cases).

If you adhere to these tips, you should avoid the most common grammar mistakes.