Minding Your aPostrophes and Quotation Marks

’ (apostrophe) vs. ‘ (single quotation mark)

In the old days of writing with a typewriter, there was no option to distinguish between an apostrophe ( ’ ) and a single quotation mark ( ‘ )—they were typed with the same key that produced the same character meant for both situations: ( ' ).

The only people who had to worry about distinguishing between them were professional typesetters, and they knew what they were doing.

But then along came Microsoft Word and other word processing software, which offered the user the option to choose to add “typographer’s quotes” (sometimes called “smart quotes” or “curly quotes”) automatically. What this meant was that you could type "quotes" and it would render what you’d typed as “quotes.” If you wrote you're, it’d render it as you’re. This was a pretty nice feature.

But as with all simple fixes, it often failed to perceive important distinctions between the two punctuation marks. And so, there are an awful lot of single quotation marks out there where apostrophes should be.

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Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes: What’s the Difference Between -, –, and —?

Keyboard of manual Smith-Corona typewriter

Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes have been around for quite some time, but contemporary writers are not always sure how they should be used or what the difference is between them.

Are These Really That Different?

They are! Despite their having been around for a long time, many people today are not familiar with their use for one main reason: the typewriter.

Space limitations on the typewriter meant that not every character could be represented. Some characters had to do double duty:

  • The numeral l was provided by the lowercase l
  • The exclamation point ! was provided by the . and then backspacing to type ‘
  • The en and em dashes were made by typing the hyphen – twice (- -) and three times (- – -)1I once knew someone who wanted to call her band “Em Dash and the Triple Proxy Hyphens”
The hyphen key on a Smith-Corona manual typewriter

But because there was only one – key on the keyboard, the differences in the usages of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes were lost. Our modern computer keyboards still lack these symbols as separate characters, and although there are some workarounds (such as typing two hyphens in rapid succession to produce an em dash or using ALT codes), our general familiarity with these symbols and their use remains lacking.

Fortunately, we’re here to help.

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How Are We Supposed to Use Semicolons?

Close-up of computer keyboard with the semicolon key in the center

Some punctuation marks are pretty straightforward—the period, the comma, the exclamation point (unless you’re Elaine Benes). And there are those marks that few know how to distinguish (the hyphen, en-dash, em-dash). But then there are those that are used all the time, but many people are unsure how they’re supposed to be used, like the semicolon. So, how are we supposed to use semicolons?

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Do I Need to Use the Oxford Comma?


If you’ve been on social media at all and paid attention to grammar arguments, you may have seen a lot of discussion about the Oxford comma and whether writers need to use it.

The Oxford comma—or serial comma—is the comma that appears before the final item in a series, such as:

  • The colors of the American flag are red, white, and blue.
  • The most popular pizza toppings are pepperoni, mushrooms, and olives.

Some people insist that this final comma is unnecessary and that those sentences are just as intelligible if written:

  • The colors of the American flag are red, white and blue.
  • The most popular pizza toppings are pepperoni, mushrooms and olives.
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