The other day, a friend who shares my passion for good grammar posted on Facebook this picture of Rachael Ray to show how important a simple comma can be.
While this example may be a bit extreme (yet hilarious), it shows that punctuation is important! Too often writers are lazy about using commas correctly, but as demonstrated above, one or more missing ones can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
A missing hyphen can also have the same effect. Consider the following:
A) My book is a financial guide for small business owners.
B) My book is a financial guide for small-business owners.
Is your book a guide for owners of small businesses, or is it a guide for business owners who happen to be small people? One hyphen. Two very different meanings.
The above is an example of omitting a hyphen where one is needed, but I often see hyphens where they shouldn’t be: after adverbs. Adverbs don’t require hyphens. If you’re not sure what adverbs are, they usually end in “ly,” and they are often used to modify adjectives. For example, “extremely” and “highly” are adverbs. Here are examples of correct and incorrect usages of a hyphen:
CORRECT: He wrote an extremely funny novel that became a huge hit.
INCORRECT: She wrote an extremely-humorous query letter but didn’t get a reply.
CORRECT: She was a highly paid attorney before becoming an author.
INCORRECT: He turned down a highly-lucrative job offer to be here.
Commas and hyphens may be little, but they matter, just like small business owners do. And Rachael Ray’s family.
Happy New Year!
Palo Alto native Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the romantic comedies Perfect on Paper, It's a Waverly Life, and Honey on Your Mind. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.