Posts Tagged punctuation

The importance of punctuation

Have a read:

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours? Gloria

Now read this one – same words, different punctuation:

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria

Completely different meanings.

So make sure you proofread and check your punctuation carefully – you don’t want to accidentally say something you didn’t intend!

Photo Credit: Planning for Fun via Graeme Douglas

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The 3 major things to check when you proofread

So you’re reading slowly and deliberately, but what do you need to look out for?

Correct grammar is one of the 3 main things you should look out for.

Actually, a lot of things but they can be put into 3 main categories:

  1. Spelling
  2. Grammar
  3. Punctuation

1. Spelling

This category is rather straightforward and includes those accidental typos that come from typing (or writing) too fast. Here a spellcheck function, such as MS Word’s, can be useful – but you need to be careful. Sometimes words that are spelt correctly get nice red squiggly lines underneath them and sometimes words that are spelt incorrectly don’t. It is always much better to check with an actual dictionary such as

Picking up typos and spelling mistakes can be the hardest mistakes to spot because we see what we expect to see. So you should check all the letters in a word carefully. In a future post we’ll look a one easy way to find spelling mistakes and typos in your essay.

2. Grammar

Or more specifically, in this case, syntax. In short, syntax is set the rules that govern the order of the words in a sentence. We are not going to go into these here but if you read through what you’ve written slowly and deliberately you’ll know if it sounds right.

Sometimes it is obvious your syntax is not quite right, however sometimes it is more subtle.

For example, take the first sentence of the paragraph above: “Or more specifically, in this case, syntax.” It could also be written, “Or in this case, more specifically, syntax.” Neither are wrong. The first one (and the one I used) is the best order because the fact that I am talking about a specific part of grammar is the more important piece of information conveyed in that sentence. This is to do with how the placement of words or phrases affect how much they stand out in a reader’s mind. What’s at the start or end is more memorable.

If you can’t tell between two possible word-orders, say them both out loud in the context of your essay. Choose the one that sounds like it says what you were intending to say.

It sounds hard but with practice and general reading you’ll be able to spot errors in your essay’s syntax.

3. Punctuation

To check you have punctuated properly you must read out loud. It also helps to exaggerate your pauses.

Read your sentences evenly, allow a normal pause at a comma, longer pause at a semi-colon or em-dash, and the longest pause at a full-stop, exclamation mark or question mark.

Do you finish a sentence gasping for breath? Add some punctuation or break it up into two (or more) sentences.

Does your sentence actually say what you meant it to say? Change where the punctuation is so it does say what what you want it to!

Next week I’ll look at how powerful punctuation is and how it can completely alter the meaning of a sentence.

Photo Credit: munificent_sasquatch via Flickr

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