Do you make these writing mistakes with punctuation? In most older British and American education systems, grammar and punctuation were taught as a separate subject (not just one lesson during an English period). This means that if – like me – you grew up in a British colony (where older forms of the British education was taught), or was educated before this current generation, you would’ve spent hours at school learning grammar and punctuation.
Sadly, this form of education is no longer stressed in schools. This is why so-called educated people are graduating from secondary (high) schools with a less-than perfect understanding of punctuation. Living now in England, I’ve witnessed this phenomenon with my own kids. It’s no surprise therefore, that writers don’t quite understand punctuation. This is true for both native and non-native English speakers.
This article is no way meant to be all-inclusive. It’s our attempt to address some of the more pressing problems writers have with punctuation. It’s meant to be basic and is focused only on helping you with the mundane and every-day-use punctuation questions you may have.
Writing Mistakes: Punctuation: 1
The loud exclamation mark
Put your hand up if you think applying a generous supply of exclamation points gets your point across better than if you merely used a full stop (period).
If your hand is above your head, you’re not alone. This is the most misused punctuation mark there is.
When to use exclamation marks
Exclamation marks are only meant to be used when you want to show that someone is shouting (strong feeling of surprise or pain), with exclamations (like the name suggests), with commands and to show sound effects.
Regardless of which of the above the exclamation mark is used for, it should never, ever be written thus!!!. The mark is only one. Once is always enough. Any more, and your work looks very unprofessional.
Examples of shouting or strong feelings (exclamations)
Statement: Her dog was huge.
Exclamation: What a huge dog!
Statement: It’s my parents’ anniversary today.
Exclamation: Happy anniversary, Mum and Dad!
Do you see the difference between the statements and the exclamations above?
Examples of commands
Statement: I don’t want you to go out tonight.
Command: Don’t you dare go out tonight!
Statement: Please take the bags out of the car for me.
Command: Bring the bags here!
Obviously, if you’re using sound effect in your writing, you’re allowed to use exclamation points. Otherwise, if you don’t need to shout or exclaim or command – exclamation points shouldn’t be used. The car went, Bam! is a good way to describe a noise. However, if you’re going to say that the car was very loud – a good, old full-stop (period) will do.
The sad full stop and his cousin the ellipses
There’s a reason I’ve put these two together. The illustration I’ll use will help you remember which is which and the difference between the two.
In most modern writing we’re told to use more full stops. I agree with this but only to a point. I prefer using full stops instead of semi-colons or commas, especially for online writing. A full stop can make your work read clearly and sound snappy. However, this advantage only holds true if the sentence is complete.
The ‘sad’ full stop is mostly about ending things. The trick is to read your sentence (within the capital letter at the start and the full stop at the end) to see if it can stand on its own. If it can, then it’s a complete sentence. If it doesn’t, it’s not. It can be as simple as that.
Examples of when to use full stops (periods):
If I go out early in the morning.
The above is not a complete sentence because it cannot stand on its own.
If I went out early in the morning, I could catch the first bus into town.
The above is a complete sentence and deserves a full stop. However, let’s look at how I can add a little more to the sentence to see what difference this would have.
If I went out early in the morning, I could catch the first bus into town, but I don’t want to leave the comfort of my warm bed because winter has finally set in.
This sentence has become way too long. For online writing, I should see how best I can cut this (at least) into two separate sentences. I would prefer to write it this way:
If I went out early in the morning, I could catch the first bus into town. However, I don’t want to leave the comfort of my warm bed because winter has finally set in.
…And now for ellipses…
While full stops signify the end, his cousin the ellipsis shows the following: to be continued, the passage of time, trailing off.
An ellipsis has only 3 dots (…). When an ellipsis is used just before a full stop, it can be written like this (….). You don’t need any more than that. As with more than one exclamation mark, more than 3 dots for an ellipsis indicates a misunderstanding of this punctuation mark.
- Don’t ever use ellipses instead of full stops.
- Don’t use ellipses if you’re merely looking for a punctuation mark, but are unsure about which one to use. I’ve seen many writers do this and it can lead to misunderstanding and confusion.
Brackets or parentheses
I love brackets because they make my writing read like normal speech – and I enjoy this. However, I use brackets sparingly (you’ll have noticed this if you’ve read any of my work in the past).
Brackets can be used in several ways, but I’ll highlight a few of the places you may be more likely to use them when writing for the Internet.
When to use brackets
Use brackets around numbers when you have to write items in a list.
Some punctuation marks are very difficult to get right. Instead, some writers just stick them in wherever they like. This makes the writer (1) look unprofessional (2) turn off his readers, and (3) lose clients.
Use brackets to include questions or ‘qualifications’ within the text.
I had a great time during my visit to America last year. I had the most fun at a rodeo I saw in Texas (or was it Alabama?).
Use brackets to interject an ‘aside’ or an interruption within the sentence.
My dad thinks I pay off my credit cards each month (he obviously has no idea) because I never allow him to see all the shopping I do.
Note: if the sentence within the brackets is complete and is independent of the statement around it, the full stop goes before the closing bracket. If the phrase within the brackets is not a complete sentence and it depends on the other parts of the sentence to make sense, the full stop goes after the closing bracket.
Stay tuned for the other works in this series. We’ll be doing some more work with punctuation in our next article.
Anne Lyken-Garner is a published author, a freelance writer and editor. She has 4 blogs and writes about writing at A Blogger’s Books.