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10. a. (3) Grammar and Other Word Usage

(The following are common problems found in written work of history students at Austin Community College.)

Correct Use of "It's" and "Its"

It's (with an apostrophe) is a contraction for it is. It can only be used correctly for this purpose. Its (without an apostrophe) is the possessive form of it.
It's going to be a beautiful day.
Its beauty lay in its simplicity.

Punctuation and Quotations

  1. Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation marks.
    Incorrect: Roosevelt declared, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself".
    Correct: . . . fear itself."
    Incorrect: Nixon declared, "I am not a crook", but the evidence was contrary.
    Correct: . . . not a crook," but . . .

  2. Exclamation marks go inside quotation marks. Question marks go inside quotation marks if they are part of the quoted material; outside if not. Colons and semicolons go outside of quotation marks.

  3. In a sentence, a quotation is preceded by a comma unless the introductory phrase is very formal, ending in words or phrases like thus or the following. In such cases the quotation is preceded by a colon. Also, a sentence which introduces a block quotation ends with a colon.

Commas after Introductory Phrases

These are usually followed by a comma, unless the phrase is very short.
Because of the seriousness of the impasse, the king sent his personal representative to bargain with the archbishop.

Commas in Compound Sentences

In compound sentences (sentences with two independent clauses), always place a comma before the conjunction connecting the two clauses.
The news shocked everyone present, and Speaker Rayburn responded immediately by recessing the House.

No Comma in Sentences with a Compound Predicate

This refers to two or more verbs with the same subject.
He had accompanied Sanford on his first expedition and had volunteered to remain with him at Port Royal.

Compound Sentences (Proper Use of)

Avoid illogical compound sentences, i.e., sentences in which the two coordinate clauses are not obviously closely related. Revise to create two separate sentences.
Bad: In 1839 government officials reopened the schools, and the junta leaders executed all remaining rebel prisoners.
Revision: In 1839 government officials reopened the schools. But reconciliation was still incomplete. That same year, the junta leaders executed all remaining rebel prisoners.

Pronouns and their Antecedents

These must agree in number (singular/singular; plural/plural). One cannot say: The western pioneer faced many challenges. They had to contend with Indians, loneliness, and the vagaries of weather. (Pluralize pioneer into pioneers.)

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