P … is for Punctuation

P[1] is for punctuation. There are few things in writing as scary as punctuation, except perhaps grammar, but fortunately we’ve reached the letter ‘P’. Breathe sigh of relief.

There are two ways for me to deal with this deep and detailed topic: the easy way, or the hard way. I’ve always been known as someone who avoids the ‘easy option’ if possible, but today my dear reader, you’ll be delighted to know I’m going for the easy option.

What is the hard way to explain punctuation?

It’s quite straightforward. I could write about; sentence structure, punctuation outside a sentence, punctuation within a sentence, punctuation within words … are you getting the idea? What I’m saying in my own inimitable fashion is, that I could spend the next couple of months building a book on the subject. I can’t afford the time, because later this evening I’ll be preparing my post on ‘Q’, for tomorrow.

Is punctuation such a deep subject?

Yes. It may be something we all like to believe we have a good grasp of, but sadly, most of us have a mere working knowledge. I include myself here, because I am continually watching out for glitches in my own writing. Only recently I found an excellent book on the subject, which I will detail at the end of this post. Don’t dare go straight to the end!

What is the easy way to explain punctuation?

By using a metaphor. I didn’t get this idea from a book; I just find metaphor is sometimes the easiest way to explain something. If you’re still with me, let’s move on.

You don’t have to be a driver to do this exercise, because even a regular passenger in a vehicle can do it. You’re excited now aren’t you – yes, I can feel your eyes speeding up as you read the words. Stop!

For the sake of the narrative, we’ll say you are using a car. Imagine you’re going on a journey, as long, or as short as you like. You get into the car and set off from the driveway, or kerbside. You notice a sign regarding the speed limit. Almost immediately after it, there is a sign referring to a pedestrian crossing, which is followed by another sign; about a local school. In less than 50 metres, there is a sign about a road junction up ahead.

I think that should do it for the metaphor. Yes, we’re relating road signs to punctuation symbols.

I’m not going to bore you with long and short examples, because I believe I’ve accomplished my aim. To put the whole exercise succinctly, if we consider writing as a journey, the punctuation is the road signs, which occasionally act as guide, safeguard, or warning. It may be an article, poem, short story, or novel, but it is a literary journey for both writer and importantly reader.

If both the writer and the reader have a basic knowledge of the signs, they will both enjoy the journey.

As promised, because you’ve been so patient and attentive, here is that link I mentioned earlier.

‘Perfect Punctuation’

I thank you for reading, and leave you now as we go on our respective journeys, but please come back tomorrow when I’ll be dealing with ‘Q’.

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14 comments on “P … is for Punctuation

  1. Learning proper punctuation is a journey. I tried to explain one comma rule to my boyfriend last night, and failed miserably. I’m sure he was thinking, “I’ll do the cooking. You write the blog post.” (He’s a chef.)
    Play off the Page

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    • Thank you for dropping by Mary. I can imagine your boyfriend’s eyes glazing over as he’s already thinking about ingredients of a different sort.

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    • Hi Jamie. I like that one. I did consider using a similar example, but there were so many to choose from so I decided to avoid that particular method of demonstrating the point. Thanks to you, we now have an example. LOL

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  2. Poor punctuation really makes my hackles rise. Often, very good writers fail because they just can’t be bothered to learn the basic rules. In my mind, why should a reader bother to read a story, if the writer can’t be bothered to communicate properly with the correct punctuation? A well-placed comma, colon, semi-colon or full-stop help to make reading pleasurable instead of hard work. Though, like you say, it’s a learning experience for us all, and I had to spend a long time coming to grips with the rules surrounding dialogue. A nightmare. Anyway, now I’ll get off my high horse, and bid you farewell!

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    • Thank you for riding by on your high horse Sal; it was nice to hear your views. I agree with you, which is why it annoys me so much to find issues with my own punctuation. I’ll get over your way on my patrol tomorrow. I seem to remember a good story there on my last visit. I hope all is going well with you.

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  3. I used to understand the rules. Sometimes I think they have been changed. Or, there are different punctuation opinions. This is why I LOVE editors!

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  4. Ohmigoodness. I am completely distracted by your comment on my blog post and punctuation marks are not what I am thinking about at all! 🙂

    Back in my recliner in my living room with my laptop across my knees on my handy DIY desk…. the metaphor is a good one. My daughter, Emma, told her cousin how her wedding announcement bothered her because of a punctuation error. I wanted to remind Emma she was in violation of a family manners error.

    Naturally in writing this comment, I am quite conscious I am making punctuation errors all over the place.

    Thank you, again, for visiting and commenting over at the Bold Writer from A to Z!

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  5. Punctuation.
    Punctuation!
    Punctuation?
    Punctuation …
    In love those little magical marks that transform the meaning of our written words.

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    • LOL. I use a grammar and punctuation programme now, and I still find myself checking what I’ve ended up with. It is incredible how a simple piece of punctuation can totally transform a single sentence, or even a word as you’ve demonstrated – clever clogs!

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  6. Thanks for the excellent discussion of punctuation! It drives me crazy when commas are omitted.
    I don’t want to have bad manners, but could you explain to me why you chose a semicolon here instead of a colon: “There are two ways for me to deal with this deep and detailed topic; the easy way, or the hard way.” ?
    I would have put a colon, since the words after that were a list. And I wouldn’t have used the comma between ‘easy way or hard way’ because there are only two items in the list.
    I’m probably all wrong, but these were rules I thought I knew from long ago. I know I don’t always use perfect punctuation (especially in poetry), but I try!
    Thanks!
    Donna Smith
    The A-to-Z Challenge
    Mainely Write

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    • Hi Donna and thank you for the visit, observation and comment. I’ve amended the semi-colon to a colon. Perhaps I’ve just spent too long in front of the screen.
      I left the comma in place, because although there may only be two items on the list, they are within the sentence, but the items are in contrast to each other, so the comma provides a natural reading break. I hope that goes some way to solving the issue for you.
      I did try to reach your blog, but without success. I’ll try the link again later.

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  7. Good analogy, Tom. Punctuation quirks drive people crazy…or not. Maybe it’s better if they don’t even notice the errors. There’s less worry (see Julie’s wedding invitation note above). Alas, I know the majority of the rules and many of the quirks, hence I write about them…hopefully with a bit of humor.

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