Common Punctuation Errors and How to Avoid Them

Proper punctuation is vital for content readability. Misusing punctuation marks will make your writing clumsy and unpleasant to the reader. It’s not difficult to avoid these mistakes.

With the right tips and some practice, you’re good to go! This article discusses the common punctuation errors and highlights how you can avoid them.

Common Punctuation Errors

Punctuation mistakes are common in written language, which is why we must pay attention to them and make sure we avoid them.

They are seen in nearly any writing and range from comma and apostrophe misuse to interchange of punctuations. Some of the punctuation mistakes commonly seen in writing are highlighted below:

1. Misuse of Apostrophes

An apostrophe is commonly used for two reasons—one, to form the possessive form of a noun, e.g., a dog’s bone. And two, to indicate a contraction, e.g., shouldn’t, couldn’t, isn’t.

A common misuse of the apostrophe is to pluralize nouns.


  • Incorrect: The house’s in this estate are beautiful.
  • Correct: The houses in this estate are beautiful.

Another misuse is in writing a possessive pronoun. Possessive pronouns, unlike possessive nouns, do not need an apostrophe.

  • Incorrect: The dog is beautiful. It’s eyes are charming.
  • Correct: The dog is beautiful. Its eyes are charming.
  • Incorrect: Is the purple bag your’s?
  • Correct: Is the purple bag yours?

2. Misuse of Comma

The comma is a commonly misused punctuation mark. Its absence or excessive use in writing creates a grammatically incorrect sentence that is difficult to understand.

The comma should be used in moderation to produce an appealing sentence. The correct use of commas prevents confusion and indicates relationships between ideas and sentence parts. Consider the examples below:

  • Incorrect: I bought a pair of shoes a video game and a guitar for my brother (absent of comma).
  • Incorrect: I bought, a pair of shoes, a video game, and, a guitar, for my brother (excessive use of comma).
  • Correct: I bought a pair of shoes, a video game, and a guitar for my brother.

3. Use of dashes and hyphens interchangeably.

The hyphen (-) and dash (—) are commonly used interchangeably. A common rule is to use the hyphen to link words that express a single idea. It is most frequently used to connect two words into a compound modifier, like part-time, blue-eyed, and well-behaved. On the other hand, the dash allows you to move to a different idea or thought.


  • Correct: Daniel is a part-time worker.
  • Incorrect: Daniel is a part — time worker.
  • Correct: I like the ice cream from the restaurant — it tastes delicious. But I prefer the chocolate kind — the milk isn’t perfect for me.
  • Incorrect: I like the ice cream from the restaurant-it tastes delicious. But I prefer the chocolate kind-the milk isn’t perfect for me.

4. Use of semicolons and colons interchangeably.

Semicolons are commonly used to connect two closely related independent clauses and emphasize their relationship. It’ll be utterly wrong to use a colon in place of a semicolon.

Colons are usually used to introduce a list, a quotation, or explain a previous statement. The statement after a colon is usually a summary, explanation, or interpretation of what comes before the colon.


  • Correct: I can’t go to the movies; I’m writing my final exams tomorrow.
  • Incorrect: I can’t go to the movies: I’m writing my final exams tomorrow.
  • Correct: I got three gifts for my birthday: a football, a computer game, and a wristwatch.
  • Incorrect: I got three gifts for my birthday; a football, a computer game, and a wristwatch.

5. Misuse of exclamation marks.

Another common punctuation error is the misuse of the exclamation mark. Exclamation marks are used to express strong emotions, such as anger, excitement, and astonishment. They are also used to create emphasis in writing.

An exclamation mark appropriately used can create a powerful impact in a text. However, when used excessively, it can overwhelm the reader and make them undermine the emotions behind your message. You must use exclamation marks in moderation if you want to be taken seriously.


  • Incorrect: Wow! Your dress is gorgeous! Where did you get it! It must have cost a fortune!
  • Correct: Wow! Your dress is gorgeous! Where did you get it? It must have cost a fortune.

6. Unnecessary Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are used for dialogue and to state the exact words of a speaker or writer.

Unnecessary quotation marks serve no purpose; it will be best to leave them out. The use of quotation marks can also change the meaning of a sentence.

For example,

  • Correct: “Did anyone see my notebooks,” Mary asked.
  • Correct: According to Joe, “Illiteracy is man’s biggest problem.”
  • Incorrect: Mary will submit our assignment to ‘the course instructor.”
person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

To Wrap Up

The dangers and impropriety of punctuation mistakes lie in their misuse. Misuse of punctuation marks often confuses the text’s original meaning and makes writing challenging to comprehend.

Some of the common errors in punctuation and how to avoid them have been highlighted in this article. By taking note of the rules and applying them, you will successfully improve your writing.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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