Punctuation matters: The easy three

It’s the most basic of elements when it comes to constructing sentences and yet sometimes it feels as though the lessons we were taught in the classroom disappear the minute we graduate. Punctuation, it matters.

No doubt you would have seen the Punctuation saves livest-shirts (pictured left) or posters about how a comma can save your grandmother’s life. But the comma, though small in size, is actually a complicated thing to master so let’s start with three of the easiest punctuation marks and why you should be getting them right.

Full stop (also known as a ‘period’)

Possibly the easiest puncutation mark to master is the full stop, or period. It’s an end mark, which means you will find it at the end of a sentence. The full stop shows the end of a complete thought. It can also prevent a run-on* sentence, such as:

  • I like diamonds.

But that’s not all. A full stop can also be used following a command, e.g.,

  • Please put the toilet seat down.

After most abbreviations if you are writing using United States conventionsz e.g.,

  • Mr., Prof. Snr.

For those following United Kingdom conventions (tha’s you, Australia), the guide to help writers and editors decide whether to use a full stop in an abbreviation is if the last letter of the abbreviation is different from the last letter of the whole word then a full stop is used, e.g.,

  • Mr, Snr (abbreviations of Mister and Senior)
  • Prof. (abbreviation of Professor)

Question mark

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but enquiring minds gave rise to the question mark. Like the full stop the question mark is an end mark, the difference being that when a sentence ends with ‘curiosity’ it ends with a question mark.

Use it after a question (funny that), e.g.,

  • Do you understand what I am saying so far?

It is also used inside quotation marks if it is part of the quotation and outside of the quotation marks where it is not part of the question, see below:

  • “Will you be coming to the party?” he asks.
  • Did Nelson Mandela once say ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’?

Exclamation mark

Say it with strong feeling, say it with an exclamation mark.

The exclamation mark, sometimes called an exclamation point, is the punctuation mark usually used after an interjection or exclamation to show strong feelings or elevated volume (like yelling or shouting). Just like a full stop or a question mark, the exclamation mark is also an end mark. (The common theme in today’s post.)

In writing, especially if you write for newspapers and/or magazines, there are not often times when an exclamation mark is required to get the message across. But that’s not to say it is never used. Exclamation marks can emphasise astonishment and exclamatory sentences (e.g., Wow! That’s huge!), but overuse (e.g., Like oh my God!!!) can lead to eye-rolling indifference.

Consider this, if the moon landing, September 11 and the end of World War II didn’t warrant exclamation marks in the newspapers that printed those headlines, then what would?

Feel free to leave your comments below.

*A run-on sentence is a sentence in which two or more independent clauses (that is, complete sentences) are joined without appropriate punctuation or a conjunction.

If you are looking for an editor who knows a full stop from an exclamation mark, and a lot of other important stuff, head on over to Pencil First Writing and Editing and make an enquiry about my services.


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