Punctuation 101

Guest Post by Jaclyn Dawn

As a writer and instructor, I have been asked by Alison to write a few guest blogs on basic grammar. At least with a blog, I couldn’t hear my audience groan.

Let’s start with punctuation. Despite what texting may lead you to believe, we still need punctuation. Below are the main punctuation marks, their basic uses, and some examples:

    • Period (.) If reading were driving, the period is a red light, indicating the end of a sentence. Stop. Example: Grammar is our friend.
    • Comma (,) Again, if reading were driving, the comma is a yield sign. Commas cause a reader to pause, while joining dependant parts of sentences to sentences or while separating items in a list. Examples: In advanced grammar lessons, I label those dependant parts of sentences. Adverbial, adjectival, and nominal clauses are dependant parts of sentences. 
    • Semi-colon (;) Like a period, the semi-colon is a full stop. Semi-colons separate sentences that can stand alone but are closely related in subject matter. Example: When in doubt, don’t throw in a comma or semi-colon; this is a common mistake. (Note: The only time a semi-colon can be used in place of a comma is when dividing complex items in a list, but that is getting a too complex for the purpose of this blog.)
    • Question Mark (?) The question mark simply follows a complete sentence that is asking a question, even if the question is rhetorical. Examples: Is this making sense? Do you, like me, have a love-hate relationship with grammar?
    • Exclamation Mark (!) The exclamation mark ends a sentence with emphasis, implying importance and demanding attention. Use them sparingly to avoid sounding like you are shouting and to ensure impact when you do use one. Example: Even if a sentence is really important, do not use more than one exclamation mark!
    • Colon (:) If you are attached to the driving analogy, would it be acceptable to compare colons to traffic circles since they are often misused? Colons follow a complete sentence and precede a list of one or more items. Examples: The majority of my students say this is the worst part of a communications class: grammar. I assure them of the following benefits: reduced miscommunication and increased professionalism.
    • Apostrophe (‘) I am abandoning the driving analogy. The apostrophe simply replaces missing letters or numbers in contractions or signifies possession. Example: The instructor’s opinion is that proper punctuation shouldn’t be a thing of the ‘90s.
    • Dash (-) In short, dashes are often lazy replacements for other forms of punctuation. Do not use these unless you are comfortable with the basics. Examples: In this example, commas which were previously discussed are being replaced by dashes. I could write entire blogs on each of the three types of dashes the em dash, the en dash, and the hyphen.
    • Quotation Marks (‘ and “) Quotation marks divide speech from the rest of the text. Examples: Quotation marks make it easier to decipher which words belong to the writer/narrator and which belong to someone else, Jaclyn explains. They get tricky when there are quotes within quotes.

Proper punctuation can make your writing easier to understand and more enjoyable to read, at least on a structural basis. In my defense, proper punctuation can only do so much for a grammar blog.

 

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