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Punctuation Marks - Should Writers Bother With Them

By Expert Author: David Parker

Are punctuation marks as cliche as an old hat? Do we really need them any more? Don't they just clutter up the page needlessly?
(If you're wondering what a punctuation mark actually is, you've probably come to this page by mistake!)
Here's a super-short summary of punctuation marks:
· The full stop: a.k.a. the period. It's there to stop a sentence. Period.
· The comma: that little dot with a tail that sits on the line at the bottom of letters, just after words. They're not much to look at - but their misplacements have caused a lot of misunderstanding over the years (from horrible to hilarious).
Commas are commonly confused with the semi-colon, but I've noticed them increasingly used instead of full stops too, which shows a lack of basic grammatical knowledge by the writer. The main reason they are so often misused, I believe, is that they take the place of pauses in our speech, and speech habits can vary; not just between one language group and another, but even between person to person.
· The colon and semi-colon aren't much better. The problem for these little guys is that there may be more than one punctuation mark that would do the job, so which one should be used?
· Question marks should be unquestionably obvious; but it's nonetheless surprising how many other places people use them.
· The exclamation mark is the most over-used and over-rated.
· The hyphen seems to be falling out of favour. While you could do without them in the previous paragraph and still gain the meaning I intended, you may run into problems when joining two words together if one or more is a verb. Take the words 'run' and 'down' for example. They could form a request to move in a certain direction; or, joined with a hyphen, (run-down), they become an adjective depicting a dilapidated condition. To add confusion, some hyphenated words have become such a part of our language that we just put them together as one word now, such as 'lifelike'.
One of my favourite examples is 'Man eating tiger seen near motorway.' You don't need me to tell you which words need the hyphen do you?
· The dash - on the other hand - continues to be very popular. (As defined by my copy of 'Good Grammar' by Collins, 'a hyphen joins two or more words together, while a dash keeps them apart'). Those dashes are great for separating thoughts within sentences, but this can also be done using commas (and possibly brackets). Beware of the classic mistake of using different methods of separation for the one word or phrase you are separating.
· Quotation (speech) marks are used for actual speech (of course), as well as quoting portions of other writing, or emphasising a word or phrase. The main problems writers have with speech marks are where to use them in relation to other punctuation marks, and which ones to use (single or double). Their primary misuse is to put them around indirect speech, which doesn't need them at all.
· Apostrophes, which look like a comma but are placed near the top of letters instead of at the bottom, are also commonly confused. They only have two purposes you need to remember: they either take the place of a letter, or they show possession.
· Brackets (parentheses). These marks, always used in pairs, conveniently separate words or phrases within a sentence while keeping them in context. The enclosed words are usually bracketed for added clarification or information.
Did I say this would be short? I did, and it is.


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