Test Yourself: Using Commas and Semicolons

How confident are you in your use of commas and semicolons? The article below contains 10 intentional errors that involve commas and semicolons. Note: I use the serial comma. If you don't use it, your error count will be different.

A corrected version and a list of rules follow the test. No peeking until you are finished! 

****************************

Nurturing Your Professional Network

Your network is just like your garden. It must be nurtured, coaxed, and fed to continue to thrive and bear fruit for you. If you’ve been at a loss for ways to nurture your professional network consider these tips.

Tend your network with many thanks. Write a note of thanks promptly when a professional contact helps you, then follow up when you make progress because of that help. For example if your contact recommends a professional organization, report back on the positive experience you have had after you attend a meeting of the group.

Keep your network in the know. Whether they live in New York, New York or Walla Walla, Washington, people like to feel in the know. When new things come to light in your job search or profession, share them with your network. My friend Sarah began a job search on September 1, 2012, and ended it three months later; nevertheless, she still networks. She emailed me last week and wrote, “Kate, I made some new decisions recently, and I want to tell you about them.” I was delighted to hear from her and your contacts are likely to feel the same about you.

Cross-fertilize your network. Share information with your contacts who are in career transition, but don’t forgot those who are not. Recently I read an article I knew would interest a colleague and sent a copy to him with a brief note. I haven’t heard back from him, however, I am certain he was pleased to receive the information.

If you are in a job search be patient. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “No great thing is created suddenly any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you desire a fig, let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” Plant the seeds tend your garden and new growth will gradually take place.

****************************

 

 

Corrected version: 

Nurturing Your Professional Network

Your network is just like your garden. It must be nurtured, coaxed, and fed to continue to thrive and bear fruit for you. If you’ve been at a loss for ways to nurture your professional network, consider these tips.

Tend your network with many thanks. Write a note of thanks promptly when a professional contact helps you; then follow up when you make progress because of that help. For example, if your contact recommends a professional organization, report back on the positive experience you have had after you attend a meeting of the group.

Keep your network in the know. Whether they live in New York, New York, or Walla Walla, Washington, people like to feel in the know. When new things come to light in your job search or profession, share them with your network. My friend Sarah began a job search on September 1, 2012, and ended it three months later; nevertheless, she still networks. She emailed me last week and wrote, “Kate, I made some new decisions recently, and I want to tell you about them.” I was delighted to hear from her, and your contacts are likely to feel the same about you.

Cross-fertilize your network. Share information with your contacts who are in career transition, but don’t forgot those who are not. Recently I read an article I knew would interest a colleague and sent a copy to him with a brief note. I haven’t heard back from him; however, I am certain he was pleased to receive the information.

If you are in a job search, be patient. The Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you desire a fig, let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” Plant the seeds, tend your garden, and new growth will gradually take place.

Rules: 

  1. Use a comma after an introductory clause: "If you’ve been at a loss for ways to nurture your professional network, consider these tips."
  2. Use a comma to separate two sentences connected with the word then: "Write a note of thanks promptly when a professional contact helps you; then follow up when you make progress because of that help." (You might instead break the compound sentence into two sentences.) 
  3. Use a comma after an introductory word or phrase such as however, furthermore, on the other hand, and for instance that guides the reader: "For example, if your contact recommends a professional organization, report back on the positive experience you have had after you attend a meeting of the group."
  4. Use commas around the state, province, or country when a city precedes it in a sentence: "Whether they live in New York, New York, or Walla Walla, Washington, people like to feel in the know."
  5. Use a comma to connect two sentences using and, or, but, nor, so, yet, or for (unless the sentences are very short): "I was delighted to hear from her, and your contacts are likely to feel the same about you."
  6. Use a semicolon to connect two sentences using however. Insert a comma after however: "I haven’t heard back from him; however, I am certain he was pleased to receive the information."
  7. Again, use a comma after an introductory clause: "If you are in a job search, be patient."
  8. Use a comma to eliminate confusion that would result without a comma: 
    The Greek philosopher Epictetus said: “No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig."
  9. Use commas to separate items in a series: "Plant the seeds, tend your garden, and new growth will gradually take place."

Which comma rules challenge you? 

For more practice finding errors, get my "Error Quests" as a printed booklet or a desktop tool. It has 50 short proofreading challenges, each with just one error. 

To make the correct punctuation choice every time, take my online course Punctuation for Professionals

Lynn 
Syntax Training 

6 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Lynn!

    I’m having trouble with this example. I believe that adding the comma, as you have, makes the sentence more confusing; it looks weird and unnecessary.

    Could you have another example, or do others in the industry disagree with you?

    ‘Use a comma to eliminate confusion that would result without a comma:
    The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig.”‘

    Thanks,

    Marlene

  2. Okay, I just re-read Marlene’s comment, and I think I misunderstood her intent. Sorry, Marlene, but I’m with Lynn on that one. Without the second comma, that sentence could cause injury to susceptible individuals. 😉

  3. Lynn, I think a semicolon is not correct in #2. I would use a comma there. I have not found a source online to justify this, but I believe the reason is the meaning of “then.”

    In your sentence, you use it in a temporal or ordinal sense: “Do this, then do that.” A semicolon is not necessary there. I think a semicolon before “then” is used when “then” is a transitional phrase meaning “as a result.” For example, “I bought some earplugs; then I was able to sleep.” A comma would also work there, actually, but a semicolon is acceptable.

    I avoid semicolons as much as possible. They can make your writing seem stuffy and “precious.” A professor of mine in college once said, “Semicolons are for sociology majors” (take that as you will), and Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

    Many times, when I find I want to use a fussy little semicolon, I rewrite the sentence instead.

  4. Hi, everyone. Thanks for the comments.

    Marlene, I believe you are questioning the comma between “suddenly” and “any more.” Its purpose is to prevent the reader from grouping “suddenly any more,” which is not the writer’s intention.

    Here’s another example:

    I watched John as he read my email and couldn’t stop laughing.

    A comma after “email” would help the reader recognize that the writer is laughing, not John. (Yes, it would be better to add “I” again to make it very clear.)

    Here’s another one:

    Soon after we left for Europe.

    A comma after “after” clarifies the meaning.

    Bob, I am not sure I understand your “serial, comma” question. The “serial comma” is one that is used with items in a series.

    Bob, you are right about the colon. I didn’t focus on the two-sentence aspect of the quote. As soon as I publish this comment, I will change the passage. Thank you!

    Christina, your comment came in while I was writing this one. I will respond a little later.

    Thanks, all!

    Lynn

  5. Hi, Christina. Thanks for questioning the semicolon connecting two sentences with “then.”

    “The Gregg Reference Manual” is clear about using the semicolon in such instances. It gives these examples:

    “Melt the butter over high heat; then add the egg.”

    “Let’s give them another month to see what they can accomplish; then we can pin them down on their progress.”

    I agree that semicolons are stuffy, and I would use a period to separate the two sentences in the examples above.

    Nevertheless, in a test on semicolons and commas, I felt comfortable including the sample sentence using a semicolon and “then” to connect the two sentences.

    In my writing, I occasionally break the rule the way you do, when the sentences are short. For example, I might write this:

    “Call him, then send an email.”

    When I teach business writing classes, I typically teach the rules rather than how to break them. That way, class participants won’t get in trouble on the job.

    “The Chicago Manual of Style” may agree with you, but it doesn’t provide examples. It lists a few “transitional adverbs” including “however,” “hence,” “thus,” “indeed,” “accordingly,” “besides,” and “therefore.” It adds (with no examples), “And sometimes ‘then.’ ”

    These manuals do not weigh in on “then” with a semicolon: “Microsoft Manual of Style,” “The Associated Press Stylebook,” and “Garner’s Modern American Usage.”

    Thanks for your comment.

    Lynn

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here