3 Quiz Questions for National Punctuation Day

man with coffee ponders punctuationSunday, Sept. 24, 2017, is National Punctuation Day.

How will you celebrate?

I’ve thought about spending the day as founder Jeff Rubin suggested:

Sleep late. Go out for coffee and a bagel. Read a newspaper and use a red pen to circle all the punctuation errors. Visit a grocery store and make a list of all the “grocer’s apostrophes” you see (apple’s anyone?).

But I’d rather devote my time and this space to something helpful and constructive for you, my valued readers.

Grammar quiz leads to grammar book
I’ve spent hours in bookstores this summer, promoting my book Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from the Ruthless Editor. Rather than sit at a table with copies spread out and hope someone notices me or stops to talk, I stand and greet everyone with an invitation:

Are you up for a short grammar quiz today?

Or for those meandering into the store with a cup of java in hand:

How about a quick grammar quiz to go with your morning coffee?!

Some folks are in a hurry. Others smile sheepishly and say, “No thanks.”

But many are up for a challenge and jump in with an enthusiastic “Sure!”
Some preface their willingness with a cautionary, “I’m terrible at grammar.”

One young woman teasingly (I hope) threatened her male companion: “If you get even one wrong, we’re done!”

I do wonder about folks who make grammar mastery the foundation of their relationship, but she apparently is not the only one. (See my blog on grammar and dating websites)

3 punctuation questions, 3 explanations
My quiz has six questions: Three relate to word use, and three relate to punctuation use. Let me share the punctuation questions with you. (The page numbers correlate with that topic in the book.)

No. 1:
Could you please send me your résumé by this Friday?
Could you please send me your résumé by this Friday.
page 114

No. 2:
I didn’t know what he meant when he claimed to be “outraged”.
I didn’t know what he meant when he claimed to be “outraged.”
page 110

No. 3:
The seminar is for small business owners.
The seminar is for small-business owners.
page 100

Some people get them all right, but it’s rare. Here are the explanations I use when I review the quiz with willing participants:

No. 1
Could you please send me your résumé by this Friday.

Ending with either a question mark or period is correct, but I prefer to end the request with a period. If a manager is in hiring mode, is she giving you a choice about whether to submit your résumé? If you want the job, you’ll consider her request a politely worded directive or command.

No. 2
I didn’t know what he meant when he claimed to be “outraged.”

In American English, periods (and commas) ALWAYS go inside quotation marks. No exceptions. You’ll find it’s the opposite in British English and in some places in Canada, although I’m told that the American style dominates in the provinces.

No. 3
The seminar is for small-business owners.

Unless you hyphenate small-business, you might interpret the seminar as being planned for business owners who are … well … small, short, diminutive. By adding a hyphen, small-business becomes a compound modifier, making clear that the event targets owners of small businesses.

The reverse also would be true: A seminar for large-business owners would be designed for those whose companies have a significant number of employees — or possibly sales volume.

Proper Punctuation Promotes Clarity
Appropriate punctuation is critical to clear, effective communication. From the apostrophe to the hyphen to the interrobang, you’ll find usage explanations for just about every punctuation mark in Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from the Ruthless Editor.

Order on Amazon and other online-only sources as well as brick-and-mortar stores (many of which are also online outlets) such as Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or your favorite local bookstore. If it’s not in stock, ask staff to order it for you.

Closing note: I subjected this post to Microsoft Word’s spellcheck, which had a field day making inappropriate “corrections.” Don’t ever assume that spellcheck is 100 percent correct or reliable.

Happy National Punctuation Day! I trust that you’ll celebrate it in a manner that honors its importance and acknowledges your appreciation for grammatical correctness.

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Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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2 thoughts on “3 Quiz Questions for National Punctuation Day

  1. william

    “Could you please send me your résumé by this Friday.”

    Please forgive the constant nit-picker for inserting word choice into a punctuation exercise. ‘Could’ questions the subject’s ability to send a resumé. ‘Would’ is the word if willingness is the point. And please, no accent over the first ‘e’ in resumé.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      William, I use The Associated Press Style Guide as my primary reference and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as my second choice.

      Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) lists the spellings in this order: “résumé” or “resume,” also “resumé.” (The wording indicates that the first two are equal in popularity, and the third is somewhat less common.)

      I consider consistency more important in this case than whether to use one accent mark or two.

      Regarding could or would and the question mark, I stand by my preference to not use a question mark. I consider a period appropriate with either construction and have found it interesting that those who choose the period often are people in business.

      And please know that I welcome nit-picking!

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