Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Punctuation - finally!

Punctuation This entry, too, is by request, because last year, a student asked me about punctuation. Well, it's really very simple! First, and most important, comes this: . It is called a full stop, because that's what it does. A full stop comes at the end of a sentence, to signal that the sentence has finished. A sentence must have a verb, but it can be as short as “I ate apples” or as long as 'The woman I met, the one who lives across town, and who is a doctor, told me that my hat had gone'. The second sentence brings me to the , The comma signals a pause. (Try reading your sentence aloud to yourself if you are unsure, and you will hear where a comma should go, if it is required.) Commas also separate clauses, as you can see above in the second sentence. There are two different types of clauses, those which can stand on their own (in the sentence above, “The woman I met .. told me that my hat had gone” , and those that can't stand alone, which are called subordinate clauses. ('the one who lives across town', 'and who is a doctor') Next, comes the apostrophe: ' This is perhaps the most abused punctuation mark inn the English language. It's used (as I did just there) to indicate that something has been omitted (in this case, the 'I' in “it is”, and apostrophes are also used to indicate possession – as in 'This is Leon's bag'. Apostrophes should NEVER be used in plurals, although this is an increasingly common error amongst native speakers. Brackets ( and ) are used like commas, to separate clauses and thoughts. They are also used in mathematics., but we won't cover that here! Which brings us the exclamation mark: ! (as used above) – for emphasis and to show shock and surprise. Example – 'Rachael won the song contest? I don't believe it!' in the sentence above, you will also have seen the question mark : ? It's very simple in speech to show that something is a question, just by intonation, but in writing a signal is needed. For example 'where did you buy your dress? It's lovely'. Speech marks, or as I was taught at school to call them, 'quotation marks', distinguish direct reported speech from indirect reported speech. Single inverted commas are usually used in British English, 'What is your name?' she inquired. but double inverted commas are also acceptable, and used in New Zealand and in American English. "What is your name?" she inquired. Inverted commas is another name for speech marks, and it is easy to see why! The colon: : is also a pause, a longer one and can be used to separate clauses, and the semi-colon is a shorter pause than a colon, but longer than a comma. The hyphen – is used to connect compound words such as 'bath-towel', and the dash, shorter than the hyphen, is used as a comma, in hand-writing. Well, that's all for now, but as always, readers with questions are invited to comment, or to email me. You will be most welcome!


  1. Hi Debbie,
    I found your post to be very interesting. Thank you so much, indeed.

  2. I am glad you liked it! It was by request, but too simple for you, really...