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issue 15

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How to Punctuate by George Davidson

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Training Bulletin Issue 15

Welcome to the latest issue of The Training Bulletin from Plain Words, where we’ve put our Pedant’s Hat on—and we aren’t the only ones.

The two million dollar comma

Last year, a power company in Canada found that an extra comma changed the terms of a contract. This change meant that it might have to pay over two million dollars a year more than it had budgeted for the service it had bought.

The phrase in question was that the agreement “shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.” The second comma means that the conditions of termination apply to the first five year period as well as the subsequent ones, and not just the successive periods.

If you’re interested in the full story, you can read it here:

Half of teacher’s can’t see this mistake

The press is regularly full of stories about poor punctuation and its side-effects. In November, the Daily Telegraph pointed out that many teachers could not see common punctuation errors.

Last March, the Guardian reported in aghast tones that examiners were going to start marking down students with poor punctuation.

The sad truth is that since the 1970s, schools have not taught punctuation. They are starting to do so again but for many of us, that’s a bit too late.

It’s not just greengrocers who get it wrong

The infamous greengrocer’s apostrophe was so named because of the proliferation of signs outside their shops advertising “juicy pear’s” or “ripe banana’s”. All with an unnecessary apostrophe.

But it’s not just greengrocers who get it wrong. If you don’t believe me, pop into your local BP garage and look at the promotion they’re running at the moment for scented candles that have several aroma’s.

Marks and Spencer became a laughing stock last Christmas for marketing a set of children’s pyjamas with the following printed on it: “Mum’s dreaming of a quiet Christmas just like the one’s she used to know…!”
The full story is here: (

Dot Comma: Punctuate Right Now!

No matter what training course we’re running, the conversation eventually comes around to punctuation. And people usually tell us one of two things: either they get annoyed at the errors they see in documents, or they avoid everything except full stops because they’re afraid they’ll get them wrong. Because of the intense interest that punctuation evokes, we’ve created a new half-day training course: Dot Comma: Punctuate Right Now!

If you rely on spell checkers, then your punctuation muscles will become weak from lack of exercise. Correct punctuation isn’t rocket science. I bet that all of you deal with more complicated concepts every day as part of your work. But for about the last thirty years, schools have expected students to pick up punctuation and grammar without being taught. It’s noticeable that people who learnt English as a foreign language often have a better grasp of these matters because they were drilled on them.

Poor punctuation makes writing look ungrammatical and will distract readers from your meaning. But we’re confident that half a day will be enough to clarify most common punctuation problems for you. Nail down once and for all the uses of the comma (there’s four of them and this is why most people get them confused,) the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, and everything to do with apostrophes.
Call 01235 60 30 22 or email to find out more, or check the full course outline.

Editor recommends

How to Punctuate by George Davidson

This is one of the Penguin Writers’ Guides, and a recent publication (2005). This means that it is up to date on current usage, as punctuation has changed a lot in the last two decades. It is comprehensive and will tell you everything you need to know and more about all aspects of punctuation.

Find it at Amazon

Public course schedule

Follow this link for the dates of our public courses.

The price is £495 + VAT per person for a one-day course and £850 + VAT for a two-day course. Half day courses are £295 + VAT per person.

We also offer private courses at your premises. Please call 01235 60 30 22 for details.

How to book

To book, call Abi on 01235 60 30 22 ext 20 or use the booking form.

Kind Regards
The Plain Words Training Team

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