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Learn to Write English Clearly and Correctly

Set 4 - Lesson 19 ( Go to the Answer Key )


Lesson 19, Apostrophes, Brackets, Dashes, Parentheses: Special Rules for Special Punctuation


Use an apostrophe to indicate that a noun is showing possession or ownership. To make a plural noun possessive, put  's after  plural forms that do not end in s and only an apostrophe if the plural ends with s.

  • women's shoes, the two cats' kittens,   the Joneses' house,  both buildings' fire escapes,   all five children's lunch boxes
  • The book belongs to Janet.  This is Janet's book. 
  • The bumper is attached to the car.  It is the car's bumper.

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Use an apostrophe to show where letters or numbers have been left out in a contraction.

  • it is = it's , with the apostrophe taking the place of the missing i from IS.
  • has not = hasn't , with the apostrophe taking the place of the missing o in NOT.
  • association = ass'n , with the apostrophe taking the place of the missing OCIATIO.
  • 1898 = '98 , as in the Blizzard of '98.

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Use an apostrophe to form the plurals of numbers and symbols, of words  when they are referred to without regarding their meanings, and to show the plurals or other forms for abbreviations.

  • The painter put too many 6's on the store's sign.
  • It is important to learn how to use ?'s, !'s and ( )'s correctly when you write letters.
  • I prefer listening to the music from the 1960's.
  • Law books have hundreds of and's, wherefore's and thus's in their pages of fine print.
  • The poll results included 56 O.K.'s and 19 No's.
  • Mary's collection contains 342 CD's.
  • Jack's boss O.K.'d his trip to Houston.

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Use dashes mainly to set off explanations, to show an abrupt change in the flow of the sentence and to set off a thought that is repeated for stress or emphasis.

  • I saw Harry the other night - didn't he used to live here? - and he looked terrible.
  • I went to check out that used car -  the one I told you about yesterday - to see if it was a good deal.
  • Sonny finally bought a CD outfit - Sony or Hitachi, I forget which - and he wants me to see it later.

Use a dash before a clause that summarizes a series of words or phrases.

  • Printers, scanners, digital cameras, CD recorders - all are gadgets that can be hooked up to your computer.

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Use brackets [ ] to enclose comments or explanations within quoted material.  Use brackets to correct errors.  Use brackets to enclose a passage that already has  parentheses in it. 

  • The company needed to purchase a hyperframistan [a newly-developed energy stabilizer (but only for molecular energy) as demonstrated by Pseudo-Tech Industries] in order to complete its government contract.

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Use parentheses to enclose parenthetical or explanatory expressions that are not part of the primary sentence structure.  Parentheses are a stronger separation than commas or dashes.

  • The band Jefferson Starship (formerly known as Jefferson Airplane) has not been seen in ages.

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Parentheses are used to enclose a numerical figure when it follows the same amount written out in words or when the American equivalent of foreign currency is given.

  • Four hundred fifty-five dollars and thirteen cents ($455.13) was all that remained after the robbery.
  • In Germany, a new Volkswagon will cost M43,799 ($13,995).

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In official court or Congressional testimony, use parentheses to enclose actions that take place during an individual's testimony and the name of a new person who begins to testify.

  • Q. (by Senator Hollings) Mr. Gates, do you actually believe that $18 billion is not too much money for one person to possess?
  • A. I certainly do believe that is too much money to possess, but (he hands several sheets of paper to the clerk) I do not have that much money.  As these figures will show, that money is tied up in property, buildings, equipment, investments, retirement plans for my employees, and so on.

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Parentheses are used to enclose numbers or letters itemizing a list within a sentence.

  • We were told to bring (1) two sharpened pencils, (2) a gum eraser, (3) five sheets of tablet paper, and (4) a paper bag in case we get sick.

Note: Use normal punctuation marks (. , ? ! ) within the parentheses if those marks are part of  or belong to the enclosed words. 

  • He was telling me the story ( for the tenth time!) of his fishing trip to Canada.
  • Her mother asked, "Patricia, where are you going (as if she didn't know!) this late at night?"

Exercise A: Make the following nouns possessive.

1. geese 2. lion 3. wolves 4. kangaroo 5. men

Exercise B:  Make the following items plural.

1. 24 2.  if 3. & 4. 1800 5. CEO

Exercise C: Put the correct punctuation  in the following sentences.

1. I remember how beautiful the stars were  was it only last night?  when we walked along the shore.

2. Ebay  one of the largest on-line auction sites is very well organized.

3. Pickles, hot dogs, rolls, mustard  we'll need all of it for the picnic.

4. Everywhere we went, people  at least the ones who noticed  told us we looked so happy.

5. There are a few things you need to be sure of   1  Have the reservations been confirmed?  2  Do you have the Travelers Checks?   3  Is the luggage all here?

6. When I traveled to Italy, I went to the bank and got six million lira   $845  so I could go shopping.

7. "Four score and seven   87  years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent ......"

8. Charles finally finished painting the window frame  the last one, he hoped  and started to clean up the mess.

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Examination:  Put all the punctuation that is required in the following sentences, not just apostrophes, dashes, brackets or parentheses.  Write the corrected sentences on the lines.

1.   Its very clear  said the editor that there are too many buts and commas in that sentence


2. The painter Gregory will show his works in Baltimore Maryland on Tuesday March 18



3. However you can accomplish it be here by the end of the week


4. However  it would be nice if you got here earlier


5. Joe Smith hes your cousin isnt he telephoned this morning


6. Did the agency ruin its reputation he wondered


7. The cattlemens assn was founded in the late 1890s


8. We will send the two thousand dollar $2000 deposit by the fastest means


9. Hurry  take the parcel to the following address  4043 Cimmaron Blvd  Boulder CO


10. Yes the dedication will be played on Station WABC at 1115


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