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Learn to Write English Clearly and Correctly

Set 4 - Lesson 15  ( There is no answer key for this page. )


Lesson 15 - Punctuation Introduction: What is it?  Why use it?

What time is it            Get out of that mud            This time tomorrow I'll be in Phoenix

Do you know what these sentences mean?  Read them out loud.  If you spoke these words to another person, would that person know what you meant?  Would the person know which words were a question, which were a command and which were just a statement of fact?  The answers to all these questions would probably be Yes, even though there were no punctuation marks used.  How can that be?  Weren't we all taught in school how important correct punctuation is when we write? 

  • Punctuation is nothing more than marks or symbols used with written language to give the reader additional information about the intent or meaning of the written words.

  • OR, Punctuation is intended to tell the reader how the written words should be read aloud,

  • OR, Punctuation is a set of symbols used to direct and control the meaning of written language.

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Each of these statements is partly true, but none of the statements is the whole truth.  Which came first, the words or the punctuation?  Likewise, which came first, the rise and fall of the voice, the inflexions, the pauses in our speech - or the punctuation marks on paper which symbolize these variations?  Of course,  the speech came first.  Let's look at an example.

This is a dog              This is a dog              This is a dog

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These sentences all look the same, right?  What if they were written like this?

This is a dog.             This is a dog?              This is a dog!

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Would this make a difference in how you read the sentences?  Would this make a difference in their meanings?  Of course it would.  Now, get someone to read the second set of sentences to you, the set with the end punctuation.  Close your eyes as you listen.  How can you tell which sentence is a simple statement, which is a question and which one is an exclamation?  By the tone and inflexion of the voice, right?  This is the primary purpose of punctuation - to show on paper how words would be spoken aloud, which in turn helps us to figure out the intent and meaning of the written words.

Punctuation does have other uses, however, because much writing is never meant to be read aloud.  Punctuation is used to organize the structure of  written words, to separate parts of a sentence such as conversations, direct quotes and lists.  As with all other aspects of English, punctuation has its rules and exceptions.  There are even situations in which the correct answer could be, "It depends on what you mean."

The various types of punctuation - Periods, Question Marks, Exclamation Points, Commas, Colons, Semi-colons and Quotation Marks - will be covered in the following lessons.  Relax and enjoy them.  It won't be as bad as you think.

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