Punctuation Study Guide (page 2)
The writer who neglects punctuation, or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood. - Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) - American Poet, Critic, Short-Story Writer
This lesson provides a review of the basic punctuation marks that you must master if you are to become a better writer. Learning to use punctuation marks correctly is probably the simplest part of learning to write well, but that doesn't mean you should skimp on the review or take punctuation lightly.
This lesson focuses on the tiny little punctuation marks that can make all the difference between good writing and sloppy work. Remember, details are always important. As we've seen in the preceding grammar review lessons, the creation of sentences is a process of combining words into sentences that obey certain rules of construction. Those sentence structures are built using a variety of punctuation marks that are more than just an arbitrary set of dots and dashes. Try thinking of each and every sentence you write as a building you are constructing; its punctuation marks create the outer walls and inner hallways that determine the shape and size of the building. Indeed, punctuation marks are as essential to writing well as are correct verbs and coherent thoughts. Your building can easily crumble if its walls are not supported properly
The Proper Use Of The Period And Other End Marks
Everyone knows what a period is, but did you know that technically the period is called an end mark? Other end marks you must use very carefully are exclamation points and question marks.
Periods, Exclamation Points, and Question Marks
Use a period at the end of declarative sentences, those that simply make a statement, unless another punctuation mark is called for.
- It is cloudy today.
Imperative sentences (those that give a command) or exclamatory sentences or phrases (those that express a strong idea) often end with an exclamation mark.
- Be careful! That floor is very slippery!
- Yikes! I had forgotten to tell my mother what time I'll be home.
Interrogatory sentences, those that ask a question, end with a question mark.
- Did Tom invite you to his birthday party?
- What time did the pizzas arrive?
Beware! You should be very stingy with your exclamation marks. They can quickly lose their power if you use them too often. And a sure sign of a weak or untalented writer is one who is using exclamation points to convey meaning or emotion instead of using the words themselves to express the ideas.
Use periods at the end of initials and many abbreviations.
Abbreviations That Use Periods
- M.D. (doctor)
- Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy)
- P.O. (post office)
- B.A. (bachelor of arts)
- P.M. (post meridiem, Latin for after noon)
- A.M. (ante meridiem, Latin for before noon)
Abbreviations That Do Not Use Periods
- DVD (digital video disc)
- mph (miles per hour)
- CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)
- CA (California), NY (New York), CO (Colorado) (state designations as used by the U.S. Postal Service)
The rules for abbreviations are not entirely consistent. Your best bet is to notice carefully how certain abbreviations are being used when you read books and newspapers and websites, and memorize the accepted, standard usage.
The Ellipsis: The End Mark to Avoid
An ellipsis is the omission of a word or a phrase from a sentence that does not change the thought or the grammatical coherence of the sentence. The ellipsis is indicated by the use of three periods to show that something has been omitted from the sentence.
The ellipsis is best used when you are writing a research paper and quoting from another source.
- Here is an example of the correct use of an ellipsis in a sentence in this lesson:
- Your best bet is to notice carefully how certain abbreviations are being used . . . and memorize the accepted, standard usage.
Many writers make the mistake of using the ellipsis at the end of a sentence as a kind of trailing-off thought intended to indicate further unspecified thoughts on the part of the writer and the reader. This is a weak substitution.
Write what you mean; do not depend on the ellipsis to suggest something unsaid that you might have written but didn't.
Quotation marks are used to indicate that you are quoting the exact words that someone said, and you are attributing them to that person.
- Jane said, "I want to go to the game with you."
- "I will be going," said Marian, "whether or not you go."
Commas and periods always go inside closing quotation marks.
Note carefully that commas usually set off the explanatory words that accompany direct quotations. However, when an end mark is part of the direct quotation, you omit the comma:
- "Do you want to come with us?" asked Marian.
- "Don't you dare!" gasped his mother.
Note that the end mark (question mark or exclamation point) goes inside the quotation marks when it is part of what is being quoted. However, when the quoted words are part of a question or exclamation of your own and not the person you are quoting, the end marks go outside the quotation marks. For example:
- Do I have to listen to Jane saying over and over again, "I want to go"?
- I can't believe you said, "It's not a problem"!
If you are writing direct quotation dialogue between two people, you indicate a change in speaker by starting a new paragraph for each speaker:
- "Why would you want to come with us?" said Marian. And then she smiled sweetly, hoping that Jane would not be insulted by her question.
- "I think it's not a good idea for you to come," said Steve.
When you restate something that someone else has said, but without using their exact words, you are using an indirect quotation. In this case, you do not use quotation marks. Here are examples of the two kinds of quotations:
- Direct quotation: Jane said, "I want to go."
- Indirect quotation: Jane said she wants to go.
Colons and Semicolons
Colons are quite easy to use correctly. Use them in the following situations:
- when a list of items is to follow:
My favorite flowers are the purple ones: pansies, irises, and violets.
- after the greeting in a formal business letter:
Dear Dr. Jones: To Whom It May Concern:
- when you are describing time:
Meet me at 7:30 A.M. for a quick breakfast before school.
Semicolons are more complicated. Use them in the following situations:
||to connect two parts of a compound sentence when you are not using a conjunction (and, but, and so on) to connect the two parts:|
|We want to attend the game; getting there is going to be the tricky part.|
||to separate parts of a list when the individual parts of the list include commas:|
|The team had several problems to overcome. It had been suffering a losing streak lately; it had several injured players; and it resented its demoralized student body, which hadn't provided much support the past few months.|
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