The Remedy of the Week: Five years time or five years' time?

Each week proofreader Hannah Jones discusses and offers a remedy to common problems we encounter when writing. Today she demonstrates the use of apostrophes with time periods.

A common stumbling block for many writers is whether to use an apostrophe in phrases such as five years time/five year's time. Which is the correct usage?

An apostrophe should be used in phrases where a time period modifies a noun (e.g. notice):

two weeks' notice

a month's holiday

five years' time

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The Remedy of the Week: Comma splices

Each week proofreader Hannah Jones discusses and offers a remedy to common problems we encounter when writing. Today she explains what comma splices are and how to avoid creating them.

What is a comma splice?

A comma splice (sometimes referred to as a run-on sentence) occurs when a comma is incorrectly used to link two independent clauses.

Unsure of what exactly constitutes an independent clause? Let's have a quick recap. An independent clause is one which can stand by itself as a sentence and expresses a complete thought.

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The Remedy of the Week: Dashes

Each week proofreader Hannah Jones discusses and offers a remedy to common problems we encounter when writing. Today she explains the difference between hyphens, en-rules and em-rules.

Types of dash

Not to be confused with hyphens (-), there are two main types of dash which each serve distinct purposes: the en-rule (–) and the em-rule (—). Historically based on the size of a capital M, an em-rule is twice the length of an en-rule.

Punctuating sentences

While hyphens are used to link two or more words together (e.g. copy-editor) or to divide a word if it is too long to fit on a line, dashes can be used to punctuate sentences. The most common example of this is to set parenthetical matter – such as this – apart from the rest of the sentence. In this way, dashes can be used much like commas or brackets.

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The Remedy of the Week: How to use ellipses … effectively

Each week proofreader Hannah Jones discusses and offers a remedy to common problems we encounter when writing. Today she discusses perhaps the most suspenseful of punctuation marks … the ellipsis.

What is an ellipsis?

An ellipsis (from the Greek elleipsis meaning 'leave out') is a set of three, usually unspaced, dots (…). As the name suggests, these dots signify that a word or words have been intentionally omitted.

When should an ellipsis be used?

There are many occasions when ellipses can come in handy. Here are some of the most common uses – and some common pitfalls to avoid!

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The Remedy of the Week: Brackets (and how to use them)

Each week proofreader Hannah Jones discusses and offers a remedy to common problems we encounter when writing. Today she discusses brackets and whether punctuation should appear inside or outside them.

Uses of brackets

Round brackets (or parentheses) are typically used to set apart information that is supplemental or incidental to the main thought. This information may be in the form of a word, a phrase or even a full sentence.

No matter what is inside the brackets, a sentence must still make sense if the brackets and their contents are deleted.

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The Remedy of the Week: Semicolons

The semicolon is a punctuation mark that many people feel unsure when to use. Friends tell me that they just stick one in when they feel like it, to make their writing look more interesting or more professional.

Many of us were so encouraged to employ semicolons during exams, to demonstrate our full range of punctuation prowess, that we still feel the need to liberally sprinkle them into our writing, without being entirely certain that we're using them correctly. 

So when should a semicolon be used? Are they even necessary in these times where punctuation is being used more and more sparingly?

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