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Does Humming Attract Birds? A Punctuation Problem

My friend Eric W., a great sign spotter, sent me this photo for your enjoyment. He asks, “What does it hum?”

I ask you, “What is the problem with the heading below?”


Humming Bird feeder

It’s an easy problem for a snowy Monday in Seattle–and an opportunity to remind you of my Punctuation for Professionals course. Take it to learn all about hyphens, dashes, and other essential punctuation marks. It’s an online self-study course that you can take in any weather.



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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

8 comments on “Does Humming Attract Birds? A Punctuation Problem”

  • I just want to say that I have taken Lynn’s Punctuation for Professionals course and it is fantastic! I highly recommend it!

  • Hummingbird is one word, like woodpecker. The ad infers that the feeder hums…or do the birds hum? Do they hum because they don’t know the words, or is it that neither has lips?

  • Kim, thanks for the endorsement about Lynn’s Punctuation for Professionals course. I’ve followed Lynn for years. Her Business Writing posts are often part of our breakfast ritual where we see how much we know, and more importantly what we don’t know or think we did. I have now added Lynn’s course to my tasks for 2019

  • Hello,
    Which is correct please. ‘A Mrs. Smith from the office called’. Or, ‘A, Mrs. Smith from the office called’.
    (Punctuation comma after the A or no comma after the A?)

  • Tash, that’s an interesting question. Either could be correct, depending on the circumstances.

    Your first choice–A Mrs. Smith from the office called–is correct if you are using the expression “A Mrs. Smith” as in “someone named Mrs. Smith.” That’s probably your intended meaning.

    However, your second choice–A, Mrs. Smith from the office called–is correct if you are writing to someone who goes by the name “A.” The purpose of the comma would be direct address, that is, you are directly addressing the reader.

    I hope that helps.


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