How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 1)
Image courtesy of Mark Morgan (CC Flickr)
Ever felt punctuation is just a set of decorative symbols that can be done away with? Well, think again!
A poorly punctuated sentence can severely distort meaning, thereby confusing the reader. Here’s a good example:
- I had lunch with my parents, an architect and a Labrador.
- I had lunch with my parents, an architect, and a Labrador.
What these two sentences mean are entirely different, the change in meaning caused by the presence or absence of a comma after the word architect.
Sentence 1 means: I had lunch with 2 people, i.e. my parents. One of them is an architect, whereas the other is a breed of dog (Labrador).
Sentence 2 means: I had lunch with 3 people and an animal, i.e. my parents, an architect, and a dog.
Though many of us make an effort to use punctuation, we often restrict ourselves to just two – comma and full stop. It’s a shame that a dozen other punctuation marks that can make our writing cohesive remain largely ignored.
In this series, we’ll explore the entire set:
|full stop||comma||exclamation mark||question mark||hyphen||dash||apostrophe|
|quotation marks||colon||semi colon||slash||ellipsis||square bracket||round bracket|
|“ ”||:||;||/||…||[ ]||( )|
- Full stop
The most common use of a full stop is to signal the end of a statement; it is also used in indirect questions and abbreviations. Do keep in mind that there is no space between the last letter (in a word) and the full stop.
|to signal the end of a statement||I work as a teacher.|
|at the end of an indirect question||She asked me where I had been.|
|with abbreviated (shortened) forms||etc. | e.g. | Sept. | p.m.|
Generally speaking, commas indicate slight pauses or breaks in a sentence: they may separate items in a list, extra information, or clauses.
|to separate each item in a list||We bought flowers, fruit, pudding, and sweets.|
|to separate extra information that is not part of the main sentence||Graham’s brother, Phil, is very naughty.|
|to separate a clause||Tim, who lives in London these days, was at the party.|
Remember, efficient use of punctuation can make your writing a lot clearer.
|do away with (something)|
|Meaning||:||remove; get rid of|
|Example||:||We’re doing away with all the traditions this Christmas and not having a tree.|
|Meaning||:||to change a piece of information so that it is no longer accurate|
|Example||:||Newspaper articles sometimes distort the truth.|
|Meaning||:||used to mean that something is disappointing|
|Example||:||It’s a shame that they lost the match even after playing so well.|