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Punctuation Advice for “Ask Amy”

Today I read “Ask Amy” in The Seattle Times. Amy was giving advice to someone who could not set boundaries for herself. I liked Amy’s advice, but her punctuation–or lack of it–grabbed my attention.

Which punctuation mark would you add to the sentence below? After you decide, scroll down to read my ideas.

Hint: Several different marks would be correct.

Ask Amy example
These are all correct:

When you’re really ready to stop, you won’t feel terrible–you’ll feel liberated.

When you’re really ready to stop, you won’t feel terrible; you’ll feel liberated.

When you’re really ready to stop, you won’t feel terrible: You’ll feel liberated.

When you’re really ready to stop, you won’t feel terrible. You’ll feel liberated.


Each mark communicates slightly differently. The dash is breezy and informal. The semicolon communicates a sense of calm and order. The colon says, “And here’s why.” The period says, “Stop and think about this. Then I’ll enlighten you.”

The original sentence–without punctuation between the two parts–is wrong. It’s considered a run-on.

Which punctuation mark did you insert? Which mark do you think Amy intended? No doubt she had inserted punctuation, but somehow it dropped out.

If you want to learn more about correct punctuation, take my online self-study course Punctuation for Professionals. To proofread more effectively (and find errors in “Ask Amy”!), take Proofread Like a Pro.


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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