When you write a sentence with more than one adjective modifying a noun, it’s sometimes tricky to determine if you need to separate those adjectives with commas. Here are a couple of sentences to consider:
1. Charlotte wants to meet an honest, reliable, considerate man.
Do all those adjectives refer to the noun “man” in the same way? (Yes.) Could you use “and” to connect them? Charlotte wants to meet an honest and reliable and considerate man. You wouldn’t write that, but it makes sense. And you can move those adjectives around with no change in meaning: Charlotte wants to meet a considerate, reliable, honest man.
2. Ella wore bright yellow, suede flat shoes.
What happens if you stick an “and” between those adjectives? Ella wore bright and yellow and suede and flat shoes. Weird, right? In this case, you can’t move the adjectives around without a change in meaning (or a very odd wardrobe choice): Ella wore suede, and bright and yellow and flat shoes. “Suede” is the adjective that most closely defines the flats. “Bright” modifies the shade of yellow.
This is how we punctuate in the United States. Other countries may do it differently.
1. Periods always go inside quotation marks:
Many women dislike being referred to as “you guys.”
2. Commas always go inside quotation marks:
“That’s not my book,” Angelo said.
3. Question marks can go inside or outside the quotation marks, depending on whether (a) the question mark refers to only the quoted material or (b) to the entire sentence:
(a) Pope Francis asked, “Who am I to judge?”
(b) Does he correctly pronounce the word “February”?
4. Like the question mark, the exclamation point can go inside or outside quotation marks, depending on whether (a) the exclamation point refers (a) only to the quoted word(s) or (b) to the entire sentence:
(a) Whenever his sister startles him, Charlie shrieks, “Stop it!”
(b) It really annoys me that he can’t pronounce “February”!
5. A colon always comes after a closing quotation mark:
She labeled the entrance exam “extremely difficult”: only 22% passed it.
6. Semicolons also come outside quotation marks:
She said the test would have to be revised to make it “somewhat difficult”; otherwise, too few people would be accepted.
Don’t worry: one of these days I’ll run out. But for now, some more from Drummond Moir’s Just My Typo.
• The way she swung her hips, it was clear she was a wonton woman.
• Oh, don’t be so mellow dramatic.
• The pond was stocked with plump, lazy crap.
• She cuddled up behind him, her arms circling his waste.
• It was like having a bitch you couldn’t scratch.
• The city had been obliterated by an unclear missile.
• If you see him, do give him my retards.
Sometimes you will write a list that contains items that are part of a single sentence, for instance:
Isaac is looking for the ideal car that has
• great fuel economy;
• room for five passengers;
• sporty styling;
• safe handling;
• a comfortable ride.
— Notice that all the items except the last are followed by a semicolon.
— The final item takes a period.
— Don’t put a colon after the last word of the introductory part of the sentence.
— You do not need the word “and” between the last and the penultimate item.
— In addition, don’t capitalize each item, because they are all continuations of the first part of the sentence about Isaac.
A bullet-point list may contain either all sentences or all fragments. Either way is acceptable in business writing, but do not mix sentences and fragments in the same list.
If your list contains all fragments, do not put a period after each item:
You’ll need to buy a variety of food for the office party:
• garlic bread
• paper goods
If your list contains sentences, do use end punctuation:
Many teachers complain about the following problems:
• Children come to school hungry and tired.
• Parents either do not or cannot help with homework.
• Money is scarce for all but the minimum supplies.
• Overtime hours for teachers are not compensated.