Not the most interesting part of the English language, punctuation can seem like a chore to learn. It is, however, extremely important when writing fiction or poetry and alters the rhythm and tone of the text. Here are some of the basics. For more detail on other uses, click the blue writing and check Wikipedia. I may go into more detail about these in a later post.
- Full-stop or Period (.) – This marks the end of a sentence. It splits up one phrase from another and brings the rhythm of the sentence to a stop.
- Comma (,) – Looks like an apostrophe or quotation/speech mark but is at the bottom of the line. We use this as a pause. When you see this you pause quickly and then carry on with the rest of the sentence.
It can also be used in lists:
I.e. The list said eggs, bacon, toast and bakes beans.
- Speech Marks/Quotation Marks/Inverted Commas (`’ or ” ” ) – These are used to show speech or quotes. Full stops, commas and question marks should normally be inside the speech marks. Some people use (`’) single speech marks, while others use (“”) double speech marks (especially in the U.K).
“How should I know,” he replied, his nose still buried in the morning paper.
Remember to paragraph new lines of speech with an indent otherwise the reader can get confused about who is speaking. Pressing the Tab button on your PC or notebook will do this.
- Question Mark (?) – Though this can have many other uses, the most common usage is to mark someone asking a question. For example:
“How did that get there?
“How should I know?”
- Exclamation Mark (!) – Often overused for emphasis. This is the equivalent of shouting or sounding excited. It’s main use is to emphasise but it does make the sentence seem louder as if it’s jumping for attention, so use it sparingly. Several exclamation marks are like shouting at the top of your voice. So remember:
Readers don’t like to be screamed at !!!!!!
- Brackets/Parantheses () – I’ve used them through this whole list. They are usually used to add information to a sentence. Think of it as whispering or saying `by the way did you know’. Comma’s and — can also be used in this way.
I.e. He walked towards the building (Billy’s Arcade Complex) and peered in the window.
Or can be written as ‘Billy’s Arcade Complex’ or — Billy’s Arcade Complex —
Most of the time brackets are preferred to — which is used very sparingly, if at all.
- Apostrophe (‘) – This is used to signify ownership or possession or to indicate a missing letter. It is often used incorrectly. Here is how it should be used.
Example 1 – Possession:
Simon’s mother owned a new car. The car’s engine stalled and spluttered making a horrible whirring noise when you turned it on.
Example 2 – Missing Letter(s) – I can’t (cannot), I won’t (will not) and I don’t (do not) want to.
That’s some of the basics. There’s a lot I haven’t gone into. I.e. colons (:), semi-colons (;) etc. I’ll go into them in another post as it’s better to discuss them in comparison to each other to really see the difference.
* Hint: If you really want to learn about all the uses, including the lesser known ones, pick up a copy of
It’s informative but one of the funnier, more entertaining books about punctuation.
- ‘Logical Punctuation’ vs. Traditional Rules of Style, Charles W. Moore, Miscellaneous Ramblings (lowendmac.com)
- Why So Little Punctuation? (dogsmeat.wordpress.com)
- The Quotation Marks Go Where? (writingtomarketing.wordpress.com)
- Logical punctuation (gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com)
- ‘The British style’? ‘The American way?’ They are not so different | Mind your language (guardian.co.uk)