Category Archives: Writing Basics

Writing Tips (Part 2)

Punctuation is complicated. Here are a few tips to clarify some common situations. 

Quotation Marks

Generally punctuation follows logic. However, when using American English in the United States, periods and commas ALWAYS go INSIDE quotation marks, (with extremely rare exception), even inside single quotes within double quotes. It doesn’t always make sense logically but grammatically it’s correct.

The sign changed from “Walk,” to “Don’t Walk,” to “Walk” again while we waited.

The girl’s mother said, “Buy it.”
“What did she say?” he asked.
I replied, “She said, ‘Buy it.'”

Interesting Tidbit
When it comes to periods, commas, and quotation marks, logic has less to do with American English than history. American typesetters were more obsessed with neat, straight, horizontal lines than our British friends. When printed type was handset, a little period or comma tile outside of a tall quotation marks tile at the end of a sentence tended to get knocked out of position, so the typesetters relocated the tiny tiles inside the quotation marks to keep them in line. British typesetters risked the misalignment of their periods and commas to maintain grammatical logic while Americans kept things conveniently straight and tidy regardless of logic. Nowadays, with printed material widely available with both British and American English influence, the comma-period-quotation marks issue is increasingly complicated. So when in Rome…

When we use a question mark or an exclamation point with a sentence that ends in a quotation, we logically place the question mark or exclamation point where it makes the most sense.  If it is part of the quotation itself, we put it inside the quotation marks. If the whole sentence is a question including a quote but not the material being quoted, we put it outside the quotation marks.

Have you read the email, “Monday Memo”?
No, but I did read, “Where Are The Tortoises?”
Well, you didn’t miss much because that email was exactly like, “Tuesday Memo”! 

Remember, when it comes to commas and periods, though, logic is not followed in the United States.  Commas and periods go inside the quotation marks, regardless of logic, even when the enclosed text at the end of the sentence is a single word.

To see the attachment, click on “Open.”

The only American exception is when the last enclosed text is one letter or a number. In that case the period or comma goes outside the closing quotation marks. I have no idea why but I’d guess it’s for clarity.

The tank that needs cleaned is marked with a large “X”.
On this scale, the expected rating is a “5”, not a “10”.

To further confuse matters, if another set of words or a parenthetical citation gets between the quoted material and the end of a sentence, then the comma or period will follow the intervening elements.

 “Ian, put the siphon down and go eat lunch” was what Sherry said, but what Ian heard was “You’re too thin” or something equally mothering.

As taught in the seminar, what you must remember is the concept of, “perception trumps intention” (slides 2-3).


Use an apostrophe with contractions. The apostrophe is always placed at the spot where the letter or letters have been removed to join the two words.

do not — don’t
is not – isn’t
you are – you’re
they are – they’re
she is – she’s

Use only an S to make something plural and use an apostrophe S to show possession. Place the apostrophe before the S to show singular possession, after the plural word ending in S to show plural possession.

She learned her ABCs in the 1970s.
In the ‘80s we thought big hair was attractive.
(plural only, no possession so no apostrophe)
The Emersons usually park around back. (plural, no possession, no apostrophe)
Those are the Emersons’ vehicles. (plural, possession)
The old, black pickup is Tim Emerson’s. (single, possession)

Although names ending in S or an S sound don’t require the second S added to show possession, it is preferred for the sake of clarity.

Kansas’s weather is always interesting.
Maria Jimenez’s shift ends at 11.
Reese’s peanut butter cups are delicious.

“It” has an exception. Use “its” without the apostrophe to show possession.

It’s looking for its food.

The only time an apostrophe is used for “it’s” is when it is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.”
I don’t know why. It just is what it is.

It is looking for its food.
It’s been eating a lot lately.


Finally, the semicolon.

The most common use of a semicolon is to connect two independent, complete sentences that are each grammatically complete but so conceptually connected that you are tempted to create a run on sentence by using a conjunction. Basically, when you need to keep the two grammatically complete thoughts together to better convey your meaning, use a semicolon.

Read your email; that situation has already been addressed.

Okay, that should do it for today’s lesson. Please feel free to plagiarize this email for your next grammar essay and my employees should keep it handy when doing any writing for Pet World. Yes, you should have learned all this by middle school but they just don’t teach grammar like they used to.

Writing Tips (Part 1)

My recent staff reminders for our writers, bloggers, status updaters, and any other interested parties.

In everyday communication, text, chat, etc. no one really cares about this stuff. Half the time the mistake belongs to auto-correct. But if it’s going in print for others to read in any form of publication, make sure your writing is correct. Intentional rule breaking for the sake of voice and expression is one thing. Sloppy writing is another.

Your, You’re

“Your” is possessive.
That is your cage. It belongs to you. It’s yours.

“You’re” is a contraction and used in place of “you are.”

Tip: When you come across the words “your” and “you’re” while proofreading say the words “you are” to yourself to confirm the correct “your” is being used. IMAG4221_1

He likes your smile.
He likes you are smile.
Nope, that doesn’t make sense.

He likes you because you’re funny.
He likes you because you are funny.
Yep, that makes sense.

If you can substitute the words “you are” for your “you’re” then you’re using the correct “your.”

There, Their, They’re

Remember this: Where? Here or there?

To designate placement, look for the word “here” inside the word “there.” If you can logically sub “where” or “here” for “there” and the sentence still makes sense, you’re good.

He has too many fish in where?
He has too many fish in there.
He has too many fish in here.

Where is your order?
There is your order.
Here is your order.


To show possession, use “their.” Notice the letter “i” and let it be your cue.

I don’t own it; it’s theirs.
I didn’t get a frog and this one is not yours so it must be theirs.
They own it, not I.


“They’re” is a contraction, just like “you’re.” If you can’t sub the words “they are” then you are using the wrong “there.”

I don’t know what they’re thinking.
I don’t know what they are thinking.
Yep. That works. 

Then and Than

“Then” indicates progression.
First I fed the fish and then I rearranged the décor.

“Than” is used in comparison.
I’d rather have freshwater fish than saltwater fish.
My tank is bigger than yours.

Further verses Farther

“Further” is conceptual.
She made it further in life than anyone thought she could.

“Farther” is measurable.
He can throw it farther than his brother.

Accept and Except

“Accept” is in regard to “acceptance.”
“Except” is in regard to an “exception.”

I accept your proposal, except the part about the reduced wage.

Note the “ex” to EXclude the item and make it an EXception.


To, Too, and Two

Please give this to the cashier.

She needs a copy, too. (Tip to remember? Add a comma, add an O. Also or in additionadd an O)

That’s why we make two copies.


I know you didn’t pay attention in school because you never thought you’d need this stuff but I promise, it’s important. Bad writing can distract readers to the point of losing interest. It’s annoying. If your words are worth saying, they’re worth proofreading and editing.