Originally answered Aug 20, 2019
Use a hyphen to combine words to form an adjective. Do not use a hyphen if both words are not modifying a third word. For example:
- We need to use third-party vendors to sell real-time systems. Each third party we use can help us deliver a system that works in real time.
Using Quotation Marks
Avoid using quotation marks except when quoting someone or when referring to the spelling or usage of words rather than to their meaning. Do not use quotation marks to indicate colloquial expressions or buzzwords.
- “Spell better,” she said.
- “To” is a preposition.
- He seemed pretty “laid back” to me.
- IBM provides “best in class” solutions.
Using Colons and Semicolons
Use a colon to set off a list or an example. Use a semicolon to combine two sentences into one compound sentence, or to separate a list of phrases that contain commas. For example:
- The following cities have domed stadia: New Orleans, LA; Houston, TX; and Indianapolis, IN. NFL football is played in all of these stadia; baseball is no longer played in domed stadia in Seattle or Minneapolis.
Apostrophes are often misused. As a rule, an apostrophe should be used to form a possessive, but not a plural. One exception involves the words “its” and “it’s” — these are often confused. “Its” is the possessive form of “it,” and “it’s” is the contraction of “it is.” Following are examples.
- Singular: PAC — Plural: PACs
- Singular: memo — Plural: memos
An apostrophe is used when forming a possessive. For example:
- There are many PACs. Visit a specific PAC’s web site to learn more about its agenda.
- When sending out multiple memos, it’s a good idea to ensure that each memo’s subject is clearly defined and its addressees are listed.
From The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, page 1:
Form the possessive singular of nouns with ‘s. Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,
- Charles’s friend
- Burns’s poems
- the witch’s malice
This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.
Exceptions are the possessives of ancient proper names ending in -es and -is, the possessive Jesus’, and such forms as for conscience’ sake, for righteousness’ sake. But such forms as Achilles’ heel, Moses’ laws, Isis’ temple are commonly replaced by
- the heel of Achilles
- the laws of Moses
- the temple of Isis
The pronominal possessives hers, its, theirs, yours, and oneself have no apostrophe.
When forming the possessive of a plural, the apostrophe goes after the final “s” in the word. If the apostrophe appears before the final “s” in a word, then the word must be singular. For example:
- We have many customers. We understand our customers’ problems.
- One customer’s problem will not necessarily be the same as another customer’s problem, and we are able to propose solutions for most customers.
- The King’s English by H.W. Fowler — Chapter IV. Punctuation
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
- Is it right to expect everyone to write the right way?
- What we have here is a failure to communicate
- Word Usage
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