Northcentral University Writing Center
Making Punctuation Choices


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Writing Center

Making Punctuation Choices

Comma, Semicolon, Period

 

In APA format, the writer has three basic forms of punctuation to use when joining complete ideas together: the comma, the semicolon, and the period. Each form means something different for the reader, so focusing on those choices during the Conventions stage of the NCU Writing Process can add an extra element of persuasion to an argument.

 

Note the following examples:

I like cats. I like dogs.

 

There is no relationship between the two ideas; they are simply two sentences placed together.

 

I like cats; I like dogs.

 

The choice of semicolon in this example implies a relationship between the two ideas. The reader is forced to pause to figure out how the two ideas are connected. If one is presenting a new idea or a controversial idea, the use of the semicolon to introduce that idea might be a good choice, as the semicolon prompts the reader to pause.

 

I like cats; however, I also like dogs.

 

The choice of semicolon in this example implies a relationship between the two ideas, and the signal word 'however' tells the reader exactly what that connection is. If one is presenting a new idea or a controversial idea and hopes to guide the reader's understanding of that idea, using a semicolon with a signal word might be a good choice, as this pattern forces a pause, and then it guides the reader to a desired conclusion.

 

I like cats, for I like dogs.          This sentence implies that liking cats leads to liking dogs.

I like cats, and I like dogs.         This sentence implies that cats and dogs are liked equally.

I do not like cats, nor do I like dogs.    This sentence implies that cats and dogs are disliked

                                                                     equally. Notice the inversion in the order of subject

                                                                     and verb in the second sentence. 

I like cats, but I also like dogs.       This sentence implies that liking both cats and dogs

                                                               might be unusual.

I like cats, or I like dogs.         This sentence implies that liking one excludes liking the other.

I like cats, yet I like dogs.       This sentence implies that liking both cats and dogs

                                                      might be unusual.

I like cats, so I like dogs.        This sentence implies that liking cats leads to liking dogs.

 

The choice of the coordinating conjunction and the comma in these examples implies a relationship between the two ideas. The reader is not forced to pause at all, as the comma is perceived as a slight mark of punctuation. Further, the coordinating conjunction in each example guides the reader to a desired conclusion.

 

Coordinating Conjunctions:  for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so

 

*note:  Coordinating conjunctions can only be used when a subject and a verb are present on both sides of the coordinating conjunction.

 

I like cats and I like dogs.     No comma is needed because there is

                                                   no second subject. Here, the coordinator, and, creates a

                                                   phrase, not a new, separate sentence.

 

Becoming accustomed to using the comma and coordinating conjunction method to join two complete thoughts together can take time and practice, so remember to double check for a subject and a verb on both sides of the coordinating conjunction. Again, this double checking is best performed while revising for Conventions during your NCU Writing Process.

 

For more information on this topic, please visit the Writing Centers at Colorado, Purdue, and Chapel Hill.