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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.


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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.

6 comments on “Punctuation Advice for “Ask Amy””

  • Hi Peter. I thought about the word “really” too–typically a throwaway. But in Amy’s emotional context–ready vs. really ready–I think it may add something.

    Thanks for commenting.


  • I’d have used a simple comma, which you didn’t even consider. I’m afraid I’ve lost touch with the semicolon, as in “I don’t really know when to use it”. In this case, after your explanation, I think I’d go for the semicolon.

    I don’t think “you’ll feel liberated” gives enough clarification to answer the question “why”, so I wouldn’t pick the colon. I feel that the period would also be a good choice.

    I’m not familiar with the dash, I don’t think we use it much in my language (at least no one taught me anything about it in school). Would that have been appropriate in this context? Was the article informal enough?

  • Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for thinking about the question! You are quite thorough.

    In fiction–in which the author has creative license–the comma would have been acceptable. But in business writing there’s no rule that supports it. It leads to a run-on sentence–that is, two sentences run together.

    The dash would be a good choice. It has energy, which the reader needs in that sentence.

    Learn about dashes here:

    Learn more about semicolons here:


  • Hi Mark,

    The ellipsis has become very popular. At the same time, none of the prominent style manuals (last time I checked) recommend using it that way for business writing. So I don’t normally recommend it.

    That said, I agree with you about the nice pause without harshness.

    Here’s another post I wrote with information about ellipses:

    Thanks for the question.


  • I was originally thinking the period or semicolon was the way to go, but I’m now thinking I would use an ellipsis. It provides a nice pause without the harshness of a period or colon, or even a semicolon.
    When you’re really ready to stop, you won’t feel terrible…you’ll feel liberated.
    What do you think?

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