The importance of punctuation?
Punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence. Improving punctuation helps the reader understand you and makes the meaning clear.
Punctuation includes such marks as commas, quotemarks, question marks, used in writing to separate sentences and their elements to clarify meaning. In spoken language stress, pause, and tonal changes set the purpose of the sentence.
Punctuation is essential for the following reasons:
- Punctuation separates sentences.
- Punctuation shows us when to pause.
- Punctuation shows us where to place emphasis.
- Punctuation clarifies the meaning of the sentence.
Ambiguous, unpunctuated sentences can change the meaning and confuse the reader.
Consider the following sentence without punctuation.
“The fire is in the oil can you call the fire department fine powder extinguisher is good not the fire hose splashes will cause injury.”
Can you imagine saying this sentence in a monotone during an oil fire? Without punctuation, the sentence is confusing. In this case, misinterpreted instructions could lead to death or injury.
Consider how the meaning changes depending on where you put the punctuation,
“The fire is in the oil! Can you call the fire department. Fine powder extinguisher is good, not the fire hose, it spreads burning oil!
The person finds the burning oil, then calls the fire department. Gets the fine powder extinguisher and not the fire hose.
In this example, the meaning changes if the punctuation changes.
“The fire is in the oil can. You call the fire department fine powder. Extinguisher is good, NOT! The fire hose it spreads burning oil.
While the person is looking for a burning oil can, he says the fire department is fine powder. He doesn’t look for the powder extinguisher. and doesn’t want to use the fire hose because burning oil will come out of it.
Another example of punctuation changing meaning
“My 10 Million dollar estate is to be split among my husband, daughter, son, and nephew.
With the commas, it is clear the 10 million dollar estate is split four ways.
If the commas are removed, then the husband, daughter, and son would receive one half of the estate, and the nephew would receive the other half the estate.
A few punctuations rules
Use one space after punctuation. Do not put a space before or after a hyphenated word.
Two of the many rules about periods include:
- If the last word in a sentence ends in a period, do not follow it with another period.
- Use a period after an indirect question. For example, She asked where her keys are.
Ellipse Marks (three dots)
Ellipses are used for shortening a quote. Use three dots when omissions occur. For example, “Four score and seven years ago…”
These are a few of the many rules concerning commas:
- Use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more. For example,
“Can you get eggs, bread, and beans from the supermarket?”
- Use a comma to separate two adjectives when you do not use and. For example, “She is a fit, healthy young woman.”
- Use a comma around a person being directly identified. For example, “I am talking to you, Anne, put out the trash.”
- Use a comma to separate the day of the month from the year and after the year. For example, “It was May 5, 2001, the fire broke out.”
- Use a comma to separate the city from a state and after the state. For example, “The capital is Wellington, New Zealand, that you will find the prime minister.”
Semicolons are a comma with a full stop above. It is stronger than a comma.
Use a semicolon to separate two strong clauses in a sentence. For example, “Call me tomorrow; I will fill you in on the details.”
A Colon finishes a clause while continuing the sentence with a list. Rules concerning colons include:
- Use the colon after a complete sentence to introduce a list when introductory words such as for example, do not appear. For example, “You are required to bring the following items: pen, paper, ruler and protractor.
- A colon should not precede a list unless the list contains a complete sentence.
- Capitalization and punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases in bulleted form. For example,
The assistant should be able to do these tasks:
- input data,
- check reports,
- print datasheets.
- Use a colon instead of a semicolon between two strong clauses when the second clause explains the first clause. For example, “Release the pressure valve: the pressure valve releases the steam into the main radiator.”
- Use a colon to introduce a long quote.
Only use a question mark after a direct question. Do not use a question mark for an indirect question. Examples are:
- Are you listening to me?
- I asked if she was listening to me.
Only use exclamation points to show surprise or emphasis. Do not use exclamation points in formal or business writing.
Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks at the end of a quotation. For example,
“Do you want to go to the beach?”
If a sentence is a question including a quote, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks. For example,
Do you agree with the saying “All is true in love and war”?
Use an apostrophe with contractions at the place of the omission. For example, don’t, isn’t
Use an apostrophe to show possession. For example, the girl’s hat.
When showing plural possession, make the noun plural first. Then follow with an apostrophe — for example, The Joneses’ hats.
When a title is used as a noun, then use the apostrophe after the title to show plural where the apostrophe is needed to show possession. For example, I went to three M.D.s’ offices yesterday.
It is not always clear when to use a hyphen to separate a compound noun. For example,
- eye shadow
If you are not sure when to use a hyphen, then consult a dictionary.
Use a hyphen in a prefix of a proper noun — for example, un-American.
Use parentheses to encapsulate words or figures that support a statement. Examples are:
- I expect one hundred dollars ($100) to be paid into my account by Monday.
- Carbon reacts with Hydrogen (refer to the chapter on Hydrocarbons).
Use full parentheses to enclose numbers or letters used for a list. For example,
Before using the hand-gun (1) Perform a safety check (2) Check the chamber for ammunition (3) Check the safety switch is on.
Why should we care about punctuation?
If writing is confusing because of incorrect or missing punctuation:
- People might stop reading, and you lose your audience.
- People might be offended because the opposite meaning is conveyed.
- If you use poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation, you will lose credibility.
These articles will help in developing a good writing style:
- Clear and concise writing
- Common grammatical mistakes in writing
- Common grammatical errors that foreigners make
- Revising and consolidating grammar
Grammarly is an essential tool for writers. Grammarly checks writing in real-time, providing feedback with suggestions of grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary.