So far, our revision prep for punctuation has focused on the comma, which makes sense. Misuse of commas is the single most common mistake made in writing, and SHSAT writers will take advantage of those mistakes and see if you can identify them. But, there are many other punctuation mistakes that are made in writing. You will want to Power Up your revision skills by adding knowledge of these best practices in revising.
Contractions. The apostrophe is used to contract two ideas into a single, unified idea. You probably will not see a lot of apostrophes being used for contractions, for one simple reason: academic writing usually does not use contractions. Contractions make writing seem more conversational—more similar to how we talk—and so aren’t usually used on reading passages like the SHSAT. But, if you did run into a contraction on the exam, it probably would be for variations of words will, has, and was, contracted with not (so, won’t, hasn’t, haven’t, wasn’t, etc.).
Dates. Many middle schoolers believe that the apostrophe is required when writing about events that occurred over time, written with a year followed by the letter ‘s’. For example, it is common—but wrong—to write the following: “With the advent of Stranger Things and Dark, you can only conclude that we are back in love with 1980’s culture.” But, culture doesn’t belong to the 1980s in this sentence—the 1980s doesn’t possess culture, so we do not use an apostrophe. The only time you would revise a date to include an apostrophe is if you are contracting out the century and focusing on the decade. So, it would be appropriate to write: “With the advent of Stronger Things and Dark, you can only conclude that we are back in love with the ‘80s.” In this example, the apostrophe is not possessive. Instead, it stands in place of ‘19’ as a century-marker.
Brackets ([ ])
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
If you were asked to revise this to include gender-neutral language, you would use brackets to show where you made a change:
“A fool thinks [themselves] to be wise, but a wise [person] knows [themselves] to be a fool.”
The brackets show where a slight alteration has been made in the passage, and lets the reader know that you, as someone who has approached this quote, has revised it. (It also allows the reader to disagree with how you changed the text!)
I asked Shannon to get Bananas: Apples: Cherries; and Pickles.
Your revision would ensure that the list is started with the colon and capitalized correctly:
I asked Shannon to get: bananas, apples, cherries, and pickles.
It’s stunning to think what might have happened…if…only….
then there are several ideas communicated. Something else could have happened—if—something else occurred. Something else could have happened if—only—something else occurred! But, also, you are thinking deeply about what could have happened if only something else occurred. The ellipsis at the end of the sentence (followed by the period) means that your idea is concluded by continued thought about this stunning idea!
One other way that ellipses are used is to show that there is part of a quotation that has been removed from a passage because that material is not important to the overall meaning of the passage. (Ellipses should not be used to take out text that is not convenient for your view!) Consider this longer passage, from philosopher Rene Descartes (who famously said, “I think, therefore, I am!”:
“The fact that I can vividly and clearly think of one thing apart from another assures me that the two things are distinct from one another—that is, that they are two—since they can be separated by God. Never mind how they could be separated; that does not affect that judgement that they are distinct. So, my mind is a distinct thing from my body.”
This passage actually tells us where we can use an ellipsis to shorten it! (“Never mind how they could be separate,” etc.). So, we can edit this to say:
“The fact that I can vividly and clearly think of one thing apart from another assures me that the two things are distinct from one another—that is, that they are two—since they can be separated by God….So, my mind is a distinct thing from my body.”
The ellipsis demonstrates that there has been information (that the reviser believes is not crucial to the argument Descartes makes).
John worked for the Secretary of State; this job is less dangerous.
The writer here wants to strongly connect John’s two different jobs. They could be separated by a sentence, but the meaning would be that the first job (for the Secretary of State) is not connected to this job. The way the sentence is written, they are connected and the fact that this job is less dangerous may be a reason why John wanted this job.
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