P is for Punctuation

Punctuation. The thing that once forced me to go into a café and complain about the fact that they’d misused an apostrophe on their chalked menu. The thing that can change the meaning of an entire sentence. Without it, writing doesn’t flow, we don’t know where one thought ends and another starts.

I’ve often (quite unfairly I think. You know who you are.) been called a ‘grammar nazi’ in the past and when I’m editing/proofreading I always seem to be either removing commas (commas, not comma’s) or adding them. It’s quite a subjective thing and often depends on the style of the writer. One thing I’ve learnt from editing is that I have to get the feel of the writer and not try to rewrite it as if I’d written it myself.

The earliest form of writing, as in writing that didn’t use symbols, didn’t have capitals, vowels, punctuation or even spaces. Just writing this down makes my fingers twitch almost as much as seeing someone write ‘their where’ instead of ‘there were’. The bible changed punctuation, an early system was developed so that it was easier for it to be read aloud.

Punctuation is always evolving, certain things, like the Oxford comma, come in and out of fashion all the time and people have their personal favourites. At the moment I seem to use ellipses a lot… See? Did the feel the tension there? You don’t get that with a comma. Text messages and emails are transforming the use of punctuation too, people just don’t see it as necessary when texting, although, as I’ve mentioned before I have to have full punctuation in my texts, despite the fact that I went to school in the ‘70s and was never taught anything about punctuation and grammar. It seems that there is a whole generation of people who were never taught it but who feel passionately about it, alongside a whole generation who have been taught it but who don’t see the need for it.

I fully intended to write this post without ranting. I wanted it to be informative and non-judgemental and after all, we all break the rules. But I am physically incapable of writing this without having a little rant about its/it’s. Read this bit very carefully. Its is the possessive form of it. Can you put a his/her in its place? Good, then it’s right. It’s is a shortened version of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.

There. That wasn’t too ranty. I didn’t even mention the poor, lonely semi-colon and the fact that everyone seems to rudely jump straight from a comma to a colon. Or that fact that where and were are always mixed up. Or being and been. Or hyphens for dashes. Or the unnecessary apostrophes, or even the apostrophes that are missed out of possessives. Or or or…(Again, feel the tension)


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14 responses to “P is for Punctuation

  1. I went to school in the seventies too. I do get confused about punctuation at times. As in my mammys’ hat or my mammy’s hat. I always think the latter makes it look like my mammy is a hat. :p …don’t get me started on semi colons ; 😦

  2. Clare

    How many people can get to and too mixed up? I also had to I follow a girl that wrote about going to “collage” weekly.

  3. Another who went to school in the seventies and didn’t learn punctuation. What I do know, I’ve mostly taught myself while editing. And I still over-use commas.

    Rinelle Grey

  4. Smashing post. I’d love to respond eloquently, but I know I’ll get the punctuation all wrong! I do tend to use semi colons in abundance, but haven’t a clue what they’re for; a long…… pause maybe?

  5. *pats you on the shoulder* there their they’re

  6. My English teacher was a witch of the highest order, my bad grammar would make her scream with rage, which didn’t help much. It hasn’t improved over the years and since I started blogging, I’ve realised I’m rubbish at editing too:( Semi colons just scare me. On saying that I am a critic and can notice others’ mistakes.(is that correct?)
    ‘their where’ would drives me mad too. I couldn’t cope with the stress of editing.
    maggie at expat brazil

    • I think we’re all a bit like that. We might not know the correct way but we can recognise when something isn’t right.
      I’ve never edited anything really bad, just different styles.

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