The Seven Basic Punctuation Formulas

 

Almost every sentence that you will read or write in the English language will fall into seven basic punctuating formulas. If you know these formulas and how to apply them, you should be able to punctuate almost any English sentence properly.

Below is a list of these seven formulas. To understand them, you must know that

  • an independent clause (IC) functions as a complete sentence. It has a subject/verb and carries a complete thought.
  • a dependant clause (DC) can also be called a fragment; it can have a subject and a verb but does not complete a thought.
  • Below, the element marked “cc” stands for “coordinating conjunction, and there are seven of these: and, or, for, nor, but, yet, so.
  • the element “trans” means “transitional word” like these ones: however, therefore, and so on.

When you are proofreading and/or editing, decide which formula your sentences resembles and apply the appropriate punctuation.

Formula #1: IC. IC.


Example:
Writing out your thoughts can be a way to discover your own opinions.  It might be difficult.

Example: The technicians have made it clear that there are inconsistencies on how these tests are run.  Density test procedures need to be stanardized and documented in a formal manual.

Formula #2: IC, cc IC. 

Example: Writing out your thoughts can be a way to discover your own opinions, but it might be difficult.

Note:  What usually goes wrong with sentences trying to use this construction is that writers forget that if using a [comma + conjuction], then both sides of that construction need to be an independent clause (IC).

The other common problem is that commas are misplaced or forgotten entirely.

Wrong:  This solution is not as efficient as the standard system but other advantages sometimes outweigh this big disadvantage.

Right:  This solution is not as efficient as the standard system, but other advantages sometimes outweigh this big disadvantage.

 

Wrong: Our in-house engineers create unique bills of material for each job, and then release them to the Procurement department for specialized production.

Right:  Our in-house engineers create unique bills of material for each job, and they then release them to the Procurement department for specialized production.

Here is another format that is also correct: Our in-house engineers create unique bills of material for each job and then release them to the Procurement department for specialized production.

 

Wrong: The digital x-ray detector technology was available, but had not penetrated a significant portion of the market.

Right: The digital x-ray detector technology was available, but it had not penetrated a significant portion of the market.

 

Wrong: A drill press can ensure that the hole will be drilled or tapped straight but some pieces are so large that they are unable to be drilled using a drill press.

Right: A drill press can ensure that the hole will be drilled or tapped straight, but some pieces are so large that they are unable to be drilled using a drill press.

Formula #3: IC; IC. 

Example: Writing out your thoughts can be a way to discover your own opinions; it might be difficult.

Note: The problem writers encounter with semicolons is that they forget that each side of  the semicolon needs to function as an IC.

 Wrong: Integrated biometrics and high definition display would improve the customer workflow; making the customer and the business more profitable.

Right: Integrated biometrics and high definition display would improve the customer workflow; this would make the customer and the business more profitable.

Formula #4: IC; trans, IC.

Example: Writing out your thoughts can be a way to discover your own opinions; however, it might be difficult.

Wrong: A new design would be too expensive, therefore we should replace the steel bearing with a different type of bearing.

Right: A new design would be too expensive; therefore, we should replace the steel bearing with a different type of bearing.

Wrong: Nationwide temperatures have risen by 1ºF in the last 40 years alone, however, in Wisconsin the rate has been somewhat slower.

Right: Nationwide temperatures have risen by 1ºF in the last 40 years alone; however, in Wisconsin the rate has been somewhat slower.

Formula #5: IC DC.

Example: Writing out your thoughts can be a way to discover your own opinions even though it may be difficult.

 

Wrong: Our proposed model represents the state transformation of liquid to solid carbon dioxide, as it cools from room temperature, and through its freezing point at 216 Kelvin.

Right:  Our proposed model represents the state transformation of liquid to solid carbon dioxide as it cools from room temperature and through its freezing point at 216 Kelvin.

Formula #6: DC, IC.

Example: Even though it may be difficult, writing out your thoughts can be a way to discover your own opinions.

Note: For writers in the technical field, the use of introductory commas, as shown in this formula, is essential.  These introductory commas often help the reader to parse meaning efficiently. Often, the comma could be left out; however, meaning may be difficult to discern.

Grammatically correct but not optimal: Within this context our mission is to develop the best breed of virtualization tools for our technology division.

Better: Within this context, our mission is to develop the best breed of virtualization tools for our technology division.

 

Grammatically correct but not optimal: Although the vast majority of these errors did not result in negative consequences the systems proponents say the value of bar code-scanning medication applications lies in eliminating the small number of errors that can cause serious patient harm.

Better: Although the vast majority of these errors did not result in negative consequences, the systems proponents say the value of bar code-scanning medication applications lies in eliminating the small number of errors that can cause serious patient harm.

Grammatically correct but very hard to read: With stoichiometric fuel control the mechanism is flexible and will be able to automatically adjust fuel delivery for E10 to E85 minutes.

Better: With stoichiometric fuel control, the mechanism is flexible and will be able to automatically adjust fuel delivery for E10 to E85 minutes.

 

Think about your uses! Another way to think about the comma is to consider how the comma can help to construct or clarify meaning.  Where do the commas go here?

Because the fan does not blow straight up into the air fumes have a tendency to linger on the roof of the building when the wind is blowing causing the fumes to be blown right into the supply air intake.

Formula #7: Start of IC, DC, end of IC.

Example: Writing out your thoughts, even though difficult, can be a way to discover your own opinions.

Wrong: Advanced product development has in the past, been outsourced.

Right: Advanced product development has, in the past, been outsourced.

Combining Formulas for Professional Writing

You can combine these formulas to make more complex sentences. Here are three examples.

 

Complex Combo Example #1

Although it might be difficult, writing out your thoughts can be a way to discover your own opinions, and it may lead to clarity in your final project.

Complex Combo Example #2

If unloaded, with a high pressure in the fluid, then it would oscillate;  however, if excited, it would act in a manner analogous to a mass supported by a single coil spring.

 Complex Combo Example #3

Even after a utility company wins permission to build a large electric power line, important controversies can remain with respect to the placement of its route and the design of its towers; even after an organization has decided to institute a system of computers, controversies can still arise with regard to the kinds of components, programs, modes of access, and other specific features the system will include [1]


 

Do you want more help?  Are you writing at the graduate or professional level?  Here is a recommended book:

Berger, Robert. A Scientific Approach to Writing for Engineers and Scientists. Wiley-IEEE Press, 2014.


 

References:

[1] From David Winner’s “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”

Skip to toolbar