Punctuation

In all languages, punctuation is derived from unique cultural and language conventions. In early Greek and Roman times, orators earned celebrity status. Citizens crowded meeting placed to hear Cicero and his counterparts speak the written word; orators ruled the rhetoric of the day. Why? Because punctuation marks didn't exist: early writing consisted of letters written in lines running from left to right, then right to left, then left to right again, without any spacing or punctuation.

IMAGINETRYINGTOREADTHAT
YAWTAHTGNIPYTYRTTEYRETTEBRO
ONAWORDPROCESSOR

Well, most people couldn't, so orators stepped in, practiced, practiced, practiced, then delivered speeches that deciphered and translated the written word, adding voice fluctuations to emphasize and articulate meaning.

Stemming from those first voice fluctuations, a hierarchy of punctuation has developed, and continues to develop, allowing us to "read" the fluctuations previously the exclusive property of orators. From the almighty paragraph break, signifying a change in idea, to the lowly no-punctuation-at-all, signifying the never-ending thought, punctuation aids our understanding of meaning. Punctuation has given us the power to read and think and write–and make our own meaning.

According to Edith Fine and Judith Josephson, authors of the book Nitty-Gritty Grammar, a Not-So-Serious Guide to Clear Communication, an easy way to look at punctuation is to think of the most commonly used punctuation marks as traffic signals.

How to Use Punctuation Marks--GRAD

Come to a full stop, no sliding through.
stop sign
.
Periods = Stop Sign
stop sign
?
Question Mark = Stop Sign
stop sign
!
Exclamation Points = Stop Sign
Slow down, look left and right, then continue.
Traffic Signal with the yellow light flashing
,
Commas = Flashing Yellow Light
Stop briefly; forge ahead.
Traffic Signal with the red light flashing
;
Semicolons = Flashing Red Light
Listen up: What follows explains or adds information.
Yield Sign
:
Colons = Arrow or Road Sign
Take a quick detour–then proceed.
Detour Sign
( )
Parentheses = Detour
Detour Sign
-
Dashes = Detour

full-text pdf

For more information on pre-writing, download the full-text PDF document and go to:

  • Introduction to Punctuation.....................page 38
  • Common Punctuation Marks...............................page 38
  • Periods............................page 39
  • Question Marks................page 40
  • Exclamation Marks..........page 41
  • Commas..........................page 41
  • Semicolons.....................page 46
  • Colons.............................page 47
  • Parentheses, Hyphens and Dashes.............................page 48
  • Ellipses............................page 51
  • Quotation Marks...............................page 51
  • Apostrophes.....................page 52
  • Brackets and Slashes.......page 53

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