Marks on Paper


We all know what this is: and this: 
But do you know what an Ellipsis is? And when to use it? What about the Hyphen?

Why should we care, you ask?

That seems like a good reason!

Apparently, there are 15:

: They all look familiar, right? But when was the last time we checked on the proper usage? Or do we all just pretend we remember what was taught to us in grammar school?

Exclamation Mark: used, sensibly enough, after an exclamatory word, phrase or sentence. Or perhaps after an ironical one. I use them a bit too much, I am trying to cut down on my addiction. In Spanish the mark is inverted and placed in front of the exclamation as well as the end. Guess I am not the only one addicted!

Comma: these are a bit more complex. They can be put in between short clauses of equal value with no commas already within them. Also used between two independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions, such as and, but, or, etc. It is needed after a dependant clause, particularly a long one, before of an independent clause. Don’t use a comma between two active verbs with the same subject. Commas can be used to set off the one being directly addressed, such as a name of the person as well as the title of said person. Commas are also used between two adjectives when they are modifying the same noun, as well as not changing the meaning.

    Her cat, Mount Diablo Base Line as Seen from highway 395 Just North of Bridgeport, knew how to give an admirable back rub with his well-tempered and discreet claws.*

  There are actually more rules and uses for the comma, but then I’d be writing a book instead of a post!

Ellipses: three dot ellipses are used for an omission of words within or at the beginning of a sentence. Particularly used during quotes for shortening the sentence. The four dot ellipses are used at the end of a  quote to show the omission of words. To punctuate the end of a sentence that deliberately trails off, three dots are appropriate. Another addiction of mine…

Questions: obviously, used after a direct question. I almost left this one out, it seemed so simple. Do you think I should have? Keep in mind that politely phrased requests don’t actually need a question mark:
Would you please muffle your little commotion and straighten  out your mugs.*

Period (full stop): used after abbreviations and numerals and, of course, after the finish of a sentence (but not a sentence within another sentence).

Semicolon: used for a more definitive break within a sentence than a simple comma provides.  IE, used in compound sentences of independent clauses not joined by connectives (and, or, but) especially when they already have commas within them. It also is used to highlight individual elements (Eastman, Rhode Island; New York, New York; Savannah, Georgia…) in a series.

Colon: I have been using this one right down the post, so I think it has a fairly obvious use. In my case I am using it to separate one clause from the next that illustrates it. It is also used to ‘stress the connection  between two clauses to form a single sentence.’* It can also be used in Biblical references or volume and page references in large works.

Hyphen: connecting compound words, unless  the compound adjective comes after the noun or the first word is an adverb using -ly.
the starry-eyed girl chased the rock star or his manner was well studied
The hyphen is also used to continue a word that can’t be finished before the end of the line it is on. It is also used to exemplify that a word is being spelled out.  There is also the cousin of the hyphen, the Dash. The dash is used to show a break in continuity or thought process, as well as to emphasis an appositive.

Quotation marks: used regularly by writers to show dialogue, as well as quotations from other people.  When quoting large passages of one hundred or more words, quotation marks are not need, simply indent and single space the entire passage.

Parentheses: used to enclose loosely related comments. Also used to mark off numbers or letters in a series. While punctuation such as commas or colons are used within the parentheses, periods are not generally used. Unless, of course, there is more than one sentence enclosed in the parentheses.

Brackets: used to insert explanatory  or editorial words into a quote.  They are also used to enclose editorial word sic to mark errors, particularly spelling. Brackets are most often used in play-writing to enclose stage directions.

Of course, these are “classic” rules. Some of the best writers have subverted these rules to make their own. Check out Jose Sarragamo for an excellent example. His stream of consciousness writing rejects most of writing’s rules!

*most of my information, and all of my quotes, came from The Well-Tempered Sentence, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon.







Filed under grammar

7 responses to “Marks on Paper

  1. Lynne Spigelmire Viti

    This list is so good that I’d like to use it, citing your blog of course, for my first year college expository writing classes!


  2. I wish I had a perfect grasp of the rules of punctuation.


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