In an age of chat rooms and text speak, why is punctuation still so important? In simple terms, although the words are vitally important to any text, the punctuation clarifies and gives meaning to the words. We identify new sentences by starting them with a capital (or upper case) letter and finish a sentence with a full stop.
When reading, do you really want to spend time unravelling the meaning from a sentence? I know I don’t and I also know that, if you are writing for the internet, a novel or poem, an editor will expect you to follow conventions in writing. If an editor is struggling to get past your first page, because you don’t use commas or one sentence lasts for half a page, then I don’t need to be psychic to see rejection in your future.
Buy a good guide to grammar and punctuation and use it if your not sure. Listed below are some helpful examples of punctuation rules. Remember there is nothing wrong in keeping it simple. Clear concise writing disappears into the background leaving your reader awestruck by the characters and plot of your novel.
Contractions are shortened forms of words, where one or more letters have been missed out. The apostrophe is always placed where the letter or letters are missing.
it’s = it is or it has
we’ll = we will or we shall
we’ve = we have
they’re = they are
they’ve = they have
can’t = can not
he’d = he would or he had
aren’t = are not
won’t = will not
haven’t = have not
hadn’t = had not
wasn’t = was not
don’t = do not
Colons and semicolons
Colons and semicolons connect sentences to increase the meaning. Colons separate general information from specific in a sentence. Semicolons link complete sentences that are related. Don’t be tempted into use either colons or semicolons just as an alternative to commas or full stops for effect.
Emma was afraid: The lights went out. (because)
Emma was afraid; the lights went out. (and)
The comma is probably the most used and abused punctuation mark. It should never be used as a pause in reading a sentence, but it often is. There is more than one way to use a comma; here are some for you the bracketed word is an alternative to using punctuation.
Using commas to separate a list of words in a sentence.
Emma can draw anything except horses, dogs and giraffes. (and/or)
Emma loves to paint houses, flowers and her pets. (and/or)
Using a comma to join two complete sentences it must be combined with certain linking words such as and, but, yet, or, and while.
Emma is going on holiday, and Laura is going with her. (and)
Emma is going on holiday, but she is going on her own. (but)
Emma wants to go on holiday, yet she hasn’t saved any money. (yet)
Emma need to save for her holiday, or she won’t be able to go. (or)
Emma wants to go to Spain, while Laura want to go to France. (while)
Using a comma to replace one or more than one word in a sentence. The example here shows first without the comma and then with. If the meaning is clear you don’t have to use this comma, just leave in the extra words.
Emma works hard at school and because she works hard she hope to get into university one day.
Emma works hard at school, and hopes to get into university one day.
The isolating comma’s job is different from the other commas. To simplify the role of an isolating comma it separates a weak clause or interruption in a sentence.
Emma is leaving home today, like many girls before her, to get married.
Life is, of course, different for everybody.
Bram Stoker, it would seem, created a monster when he wrote the novel Dracula.
The vampire, I would suggest, will live forever in popular culture.
The Full Stop
The full stop is a very simple punctuation mark. The full stop is used at the end of a complete sentence. A common mistake is linking two complete sentences with a comma. All sentences must have a subject, object and verb, they can not be connected with a comma only a connecting word such as and or while.
(subject) (verb) (object) (subject) (verb) (object)
Emma climbed the mountain. Laura is expected to do the same. (correct)
Emma climbed the mountain, Laura is expected to do the same. (wrong)
The Question Mark
A question mark is used at the end of a sentence that forms a complete question.
Did anyone see the match on Saturday?
Does anyone have some sugar?
Does anyone know is this road leads to the harbour?
If the question is a quote of reported speech then you must use a question mark inside the quotation marks:
‘Will you pass me the sugar?’ he asked.
‘Does this road lead to the harbour?’ inquired the bus driver.
‘Did you see the match on Saturday?’ I asked.
A question mark is not used in an indirect question as it is now a statement:
He asked if I could pass the sugar.
The bus driver inquired if this road leads to the harbour.
I asked if you saw the match on Saturday.
The Exclamation Mark
The exclamation marks should be used sparingly! Never use more than one!!!! Usually they are only used in speech, while the exclamation mark should be avoided in formal writing. They can be used in exclamations beginning with what or how.
What a lovely day!
How amazing you look!
Exclamation marks should not be used to end a statement.
It is a lovely day.
You look amazing.
This should cover any punctuation you will need. I have simplified as much as possible and I suggest you follow the less is best rule if you want your writing to flow. Remember punctuation is your friend and helps you say exactly what you mean.
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