Does Punctuation Matter?

Does Punctuation Matter?

PUNCTUATION

Why is punctuation important? And does punctuation matter if we get it wrong? This article tells you why using full stops when we are texting can make us sound insincere.

Marks of punctuation play a very important role in giving intended meaning to the language. Use of the wrong mark of punctuation or even wrong placement of mark of punctuation can change the meaning of the sentence completely and sometimes even convert the sentence to complete nonsense.

You can quickly see why punctuation is important if you try and read this text which has no punctuation at all:

“perhaps you dont always need to use commas periods colons etc to make sentences clear when i am in a hurry tired cold lazy or angry i sometimes leave out punctuation marks grammar is stupid i can write without it and dont need it my uncle Harry once said he was not very clever and i never understood a word he wrote to me i think ill learn some punctuation not too much enough to write to Uncle Harry he needs some help”

Now let’s see if punctuating it makes a difference!

Perhaps you don’t always need to use commas, periods, colons etc. to make sentences clear. When I am in a hurry, tired, cold, lazy, or angry I sometimes leave out punctuation marks. “Grammar is stupid! I can write without it and don’t need it,” my uncle Harry once said. He was not very clever, and I never understood a word he wrote to me. I think I’ll learn some punctuation – not too much, enough to write to Uncle Harry. He needs some help!

Learn punctuation to make your English clearer & better organized.

IMPORTANT PUNCTUATION & RULES IN ENGLISH

  • the period (or full stop in British English)
  • the comma
  • the exclamation mark
  • the question mark
  • the colon
  • the semicolon
  • the quotation mark
  • the apostrophe
  • the hyphen and the dash
  • parentheses and brackets

THE PERIOD, FULL STOP OR POINT

The period (known as a full stop in British English) is probably the simplest of the punctuation marks to use.

Mark the end of a sentence which is not a question or an exclamation.

EXAMPLES

  • Rome is the capital of Italy.
  • I was born in Australia and now live in Indonesia.
  • The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.

Indicate an abbreviation 

Many abbreviations require a period. Dr, Mr, Mrs, and Ms do not take a period in British English, nor do most abbreviations taken from the first capital letters such as MA, Phd, or CIA.

EXAMPLES
  • I will arrive between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.
  • We are coming on Fri., Jan. 4.

THE COMMA

There are some general rules which you can apply when using the comma. However, you will find that in English there are many other ways to use the comma to add to the meaning of a sentence or to emphasize an item, point, or meaning.

Separate phrases, words, or clauses in lists

When making a list, commas are the most common way to separate one list item from the next. The final two items in the list are usually separated by “and” or “or”, which should be preceded by a comma. Amongst editors, this final comma in a list is known as the “Oxford Comma”.

A SERIES OF INDEPENDENT CLAUSES (SENTENCES)

EXAMPLES

  • I met Harry, we went for a swim together, and afterward, Harry went home.
  • I like your son, I might even love him, but he is not a very good soccer player.

A SERIES OF NOUNS

EXAMPLES

  • For dinner, I had soup, fish, chicken, dessert, and coffee.
  • This afternoon I went to Oxford Circus, Picadilly, Hamstead, and Gatwick Airport.

A SERIES OF ADJECTIVES

A list of adjectives usually requires commas. However, if an adjective is modifying another adjective you do not separate them with a comma (sentence 3).

EXAMPLES

  • She was young, beautiful, kind, and intelligent.
  • The house we visited was dark, dreary, and run-down.
  • She was wearing a bright red shirt.

Interjections

EXAMPLES
  • Yes, I will stay a little longer, thank you.
  • No, he isn’t like other boys.
  • Wait, I didn’t mean to scare you.

THE EXCLAMATION MARK

The exclamation mark is used to express exasperation, astonishment, or surprise, or to emphasize a comment or short, sharp phrase. In professional or everyday writing, exclamation marks are used sparingly if at all.

EXAMPLES

  • Help! Help!
  • That’s unbelievable!
  • Get out!
  • Look out!

You can also use exclamation marks to mark a phrase as humorous, ironic or sarcastic.

EXAMPLES

  • What a lovely day! (when it obviously is not a lovely day)
  • That was clever! (when someone has done something stupid)

THE QUESTION MARK

Use the question mark at the end of all direct questions.

EXAMPLES

  • What is your name?
  • Do you speak Italian?
  • You’re Spanish, aren’t you?

Do not use a question mark for reported questions

EXAMPLES

  • He asked me what my name was.
  • She asked if I was Spanish.
  • Ask them where they are going.
THE COLON

The colon expands on the sentence that precedes it, often introducing a list that demonstrates or elaborates whatever was previously stated.

EXAMPLES

  • There are many reasons for poor written communication: lack of planning, poor grammar, misuse of punctuation marks, and insufficient vocabulary.
  • He collected a strange assortment of items: bird’s eggs, stamps, bottle tops, string, and buttons.
  • Peter had an eclectic taste in music: latin, jazz, country and western, pop, blues, and classical.
  • He had just one fault: an enormous ego.

The colon is also used to divide the hour from the minutes in writing time in English.

EXAMPLES

  • 4:15 = “four fifteen”
  • 6:45 = “six forty-five”
THE SEMICOLON

The semicolon is somewhere between a full stop and a comma. Semicolons can be used in English to join phrases and sentences that are thematically linked without having to use a conjunction (example 1 below). Semicolons can also be used instead of commas to separate the items in a list when the items themselves already contain commas (example 2 below).

EXAMPLES

  • I like your brother; he’s a good friend.
  • Many great leaders, Churchill, leader of Britain during the Second World War; Alexander, the great Emperor and general; and Napolean, the brilliant French general, had strong characters, which were useful when their countries were at war but which did not serve them well in times of peace.
QUOTATION MARKS

Use quotation marks to cite something someone said exactly. When rephrasing what someone told you, no quotation marks are needed.

EXAMPLES

  • “I’m going to the store now,” she said.
  • Harry told me, “Don’t forget your soccer jersey.”
  • Harry told me not to forget my soccer jersey.
THE APOSTROPHE

The apostrophe probably causes more grief than all of the other punctuation marks put together! The problem nearly always seems to stem from not understanding that the apostrophe has two very different (and very important) uses in English: possession and contractions.

THE APOSTROPHE IN CONTRACTIONS

The most common use of apostrophes in English is for contractions, where a noun or pronoun and a verb combine. Remember that the apostrophe is often replacing a letter that has been dropped. It is placed where the missing letter would be in that case.

TypeWithout contractionsContractions
Using “not”is not, has not, had not, did not, would not, can notisn’t, hasn’t, hadn’t, didn’t, wouldn’t, can’t
Using “is”she is, there is, he is, it is, Mary is, Jim is, Germany is, who isshe’s, there’s, he’s, it’s, Mary’s, Jim’s, Germany’s, who’s
Using “am”I amI’m
Using “will”I will, you will, she will, we will, they willI’ll, you’ll, she’ll, we’ll, they’ll
Using “would”I would, you would, he would, we would, they wouldI’d, you’d, he’d, we’d, they’d
Using “have”I have, you have, we have, they haveI’ve, you’ve, we’ve, they’ve
Using “are”you are, they are, we areyou’re, they’re, we’re

People, even native English speakers, often mistake its and it’syou’re and yourwho’s and whose, and they’retheir and there. See below for the difference.

EXAMPLES

  • It’s a nice day outside. (contraction)
  • The cat is dirty. Its fur is matted. (possession)
  • You’re not supposed to be here. (contraction)
  • This is your book. (possession)
  • Who’s at the door? (contraction)
  • Whose shoes are these? (possession)
  • They’re not here yet. (contraction)
  • Their car is red. (possession)
  • His car is over there. (location)

The possessive  apostrophe 

In most cases, you simply need to add ‘s to a noun to show possession

EXAMPLES

  • a ship’s captain
  • a doctor’s patient
  • a car’s engine
  • Ibrahim’s coat
  • Mirianna’s book
HYPHENS AND DASHES

A hyphen joins two or more words together while a dash separates words into parenthetical statements. The two are sometimes confused because they look so similar, but their usage is different. Hyphens are not separated by spaces, while a dash has a space on either side.

EXAMPLES

  • co-operate
  • bell-like
  • anti-nuclear
  • post-colonial
  • great-grandmother
  • son-in-law

DASHES

Dashes can be used to add parenthetical statements or comments in much the same way as you would use brackets. In formal writing, you should use the bracket rather than the dash as a dash is considered less formal. Dashes can be used to create emphasis in a sentence.

EXAMPLES

  • You may think she is a liar – she isn’t.
  • She might come to the party – you never know.
BRACKETS AND PARENTHESES

The difference between a ‘bracket’ and a ‘parentheses’ can be a bit confusing. Generally, ‘parentheses’ refers to round brackets ( ) and ‘brackets’ to square brackets [ ]. However, we are more and more used to hearing these referred to simply as ’round brackets’ or ‘square brackets’.

Usually, we use square brackets – [ ] – for special purposes such as in technical manuals. Round brackets – ( ) – are used in a similar way to commas when we want to add a further explanation, an afterthought, or comment that is to do with our main line of thought but distinct from it. Many grammarians feel that the parentheses can, in fact, be replaced by commas in nearly all cases.

EXAMPLES

  • The government’s education report (April 2005) shows that the level of literacy is rising in nearly all areas.
  • I visited Kathmandu (which was full of tourists) on my way to the Himalayas for a trekking expedition.
  • You can eat almost anything while traveling in Asia if you are careful to observe simple rules (avoiding unboiled or unbottled water is one of the main rules to be aware of.)

Punctuation marks play a profound role in email writing as well. Improve your email writing with these top 5 tips.

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Keshav