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What is punctuation? Its origin and function

“Stop that!” cried the exclamation mark. “Why?” the question mark couldn’t help wondering. “Let’s try to separate these opposite, clashing things” comma suggested. “It’s over” period concluded.” This short story about the punctuation marks highlights their functions. However, though used correctly, the actual punctuation would not be crucial for getting the meaning of this text. Just look.

stopthat cried the exclamation mark why the question mark couldnt help wondering lets try to separate these opposite clashing things comma suggested its over period concluded While some components of meaning are blurred and could be mixed up, the general sense is still conceivable. However, let us look deeper into the goals of the punctuation usage to form our own opinion on the subject. In case you’ve got a close deadline and need a quick solution for your personal statement, it may be a reasonable choice to apply for the outside assistance. With our experienced personal statement editing services you may rest confident in your statement: it will be correct and consistent, and provided well in advance.

The first sight of the punctuation usage in writing dates back to the antique times. Then the librarian Aristophanes introduced the prototypes of the modern punctuation marks into the written texts. This brand-new life hack was taken up immediately by other penmen and writers, and thus the great history of the punctuation began in the Western world. But what were the reasons behind such a flashing overall popularity?

Punctuation has managed to solve the following problems:

  • To make the text readable. Introduction of the spaces, full stops, commas, semicolons etc. has greatly relieved the task of discerning the text. Compare this one:

Harryisacarpenterwellvisithisplacetomorrow – the text can be understood like Harry is a car. Penter well vis I this place to morrow. – while the initial sense goes as follows: Harry is a carpenter. We’ll visit his place tomorrow.

The punctuation serves as a visual border for the words, sentences, meaning elements. It plays a great part in the perception of the text.

  • The punctuation marks allow to emphasize some element in the text. It is especially effective when the punctuation mark is used not in its usual place:

Lisa is a teacher in the high school. Lisa is a teacher, in a high school. – here the place of work is emphasized on, and the reader is able to catch it immediately by stopping on the unusual comma.

  • The punctuation helps to put the desired accents in the text, whether by separating some elements, or, to the contrary, combining them:

The word “prescribe” shows an anticipated process: pre-scribe. – here by means of the inverted commas, colon and hyphen the inner construction of the word and its correlation with the sense is illustrated.

Marjorie has been in New York in September. On 11th. – Here the important accentuated information is separated by means of full stop and the capital letter in the beginning of the next sentence.

  • The punctuation serves to relay the syntax and grammar meaning. With the punctuation marks solely we can transform the interrogative sentence into narrative and vice versa:

Agreed? – Agreed!

The unification of the set of words belonging to different parts of speech, for instance, into the adjective is performed by means of hyphens:

This writer is well known in the specific circles. This well-known writer (though in specific circles) has agreed to visit the Art salon. 

  • The punctuation outlines the connection between the elements in the sentence, in particular between the clauses in the coordinate sentences:

I had many tasks: cleaning, watering plants, revising my thesis. – a colon serves to illustrate the beginning of the list and its basic word.

I had many tasks, cleaning, watering plants, revising my thesis. – a comma shows the cleaning, watering, revising do not belong to the same list of tasks, but are the assignments to be performed apart or simultaneously with the tasks.

Thus the punctuation was invented as the means of outlining and emphasizing the writer’s thoughts more precisely, and to assist the reader in understanding the writer’s plot.

The punctuation can be classified by different criteria. Let us examine the general ones to understand its properties better:

1. Phonological / grammatical punctuation. The punctuation may serve to outline and specify the grammar and syntax relationship of words inside the sentence – such usage is called the grammatical punctuation:

Believe me, that’s not a question of economics, but the politics.

Another type of punctuation is called phonological as it is destined to show the way the sentence would be pronounced and indicate the accents and stops correspondingly:

Believe me! That’s not a question of economics but, … the politics!

2. Closed / open punctuation. These types can be also called the strict / conventional relatively. The closed style of the punctuation prescribes the full adherence to the punctuation rules and usage of the punctuation marks after all elements that may require it:

Will you join us, Mrs. Ranger? We are planning a “fest”: barbecue, mojito, and dancing!

The open or conventional punctuation let you use the minimal quantity of the punctuation marks. It allows to skip the Oxford comma, the full stop upon the abbreviation, the brackets and quotation marks in certain cases. The complex marks may be replaced by the more common ones:

Will you join us Mrs Ranger? We are planning a fest. Barbecue, mojito and dancing!

3. British / American punctuation. While these types coincide much with the previous ones (British being the open and American - closed), they have other lines of differentiation that concern the way of quotation. In the British English, when using the double quotation (a quote inside another quote), you should use the singe inverted commas first, and the double ones for the inside quote. The punctuation marks of the end of the sentence are used outside the quotation, except for them belonging to the original phrase:

‘My dear fellow’, the old man said. ‘As Omar Khayyam once said, “One thing is certain and the rest is lies”’.

The American punctuation style puts the double inverted commas first and the single ones to mark the inside quotation. Besides, the punctuation marks are used inside the quotation itself without the reference to their original usage:

“My dear fellow,” the old man said. “As Omar Khayyam once said, ‘One thing is certain and the rest is lies.’”

The difference between two styles is not fundamental and doesn’t affect the general meaning of the text written. However the usage of one style instead of another may be not only an issue of preference but also an indication of the belonging to some social or occupational group. For instance, the lawyers all over the world tend to use the British punctuation model. If your punctuation doesn’t look a unified and consistent system, you can make use of our diversified editing services. Whether it is the proofreading and copyediting services in the USA or UK that you need, we shall execute your paper professionally and timely in the desirable mode.   

Thus the punctuation has originated as an auxiliary element to help both the writer and the reader to understand each other. There are different types of the punctuation determined by the way it can be used: the more conventional British style and stricter American one. Besides the punctuation may be used to outline the grammatical accents in the text, or the phonological and logical ones.

Punctuation marks and their function

The punctuation had been constantly developing throughout the centuries, since its introduction into writing. Some marks appeared to serve the needs of the writers, some vanished as the phenomena they illustrated, has no longer existed, some developed into the other punctuation marks and signs.

Today we have fourteen punctuation marks and numerous signs and symbols (such as spacing “_”, ampersand “&”, percent “%” etc.). Let us have a closer look at the marks and find out what function they perform in writing:

1. A full stop “.”. It is one of the oldest punctuation marks as it serves to outline the limits of the narrative sentence. I put the full stop here.

  • A full stop also marks the end of the abbreviation and abridgement:  Dr. Haley brought us some useful books, e.g. the “Grammar”.
  • It marks the capital letter being an initial: The lecturer is A. Morgan.
  • It serves to indicate the part of a number (decimal one). In this case it reads as “point”:

They received 98.99 share in the capital of the company. – “ninety-eight point ninety-nine”

  • It may be used to separate the numbers in the dates: 23.05.2017

​2. A comma “,”. A comma is considered a separating mark as its primary purpose is to separate some parts of a sentence. It detaches the parts of sentence (subjects, predicates, attributes etc.) that all belong to the same part of speech, come as a list and are interchangeable:

Cowboys, Indians, Mayans have shown the costumes, decorations, ritual objects at the festival.

  • An Oxford comma is a comma put before the and conjunction in the end of the list. Mostly it is used for the purpose of detaching the last item from the others: We’ve been greeted by the students, postgraduates, and professors. – an Oxford comma here separates professors from other greeters as having a higher status.
  • A comma may be used to separate the clauses in the independent sentences:

I left my work, arrived home by bus.

  • A comma emphasizes the dependent clause preceding the main clause:

The students use to sleep at the session, when this speaker is talking.

  • It is put after the introduction clause, and also after the direct address at someone or something:

Listen, Mary, it’s not my fault I didn’t succeed to receive the grant this year.

  • A comma serves to detach the auxiliary clarification or specification:

A yesterday newspaper, that was laying on the desk, was open on the ad’s page.

  • Another function of the comma is to separate the inner structure parts in the compound elements, such as dates, addresses etc.: On July 7th, 2016, I used to live in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • A comma serves to detach the quotation from another related sentence: “Nothing”, I snapped.
  • A comma separates the question from the statement, and also is put after the introducing constructions:

We shall use this rule, namely an Oxford comma, won’t we?

3. A question mark “?”. It is used to indicate a question in the direct questions or in the quoted speech:

“Shouldn’t there be a rose in the center of the sculpture?” Alicia ventured.

And what is the use of it?

  • A question mark in the brackets put inside the sentence means the writer would like to accentuate the dubious nature of the utterance or the fact within it:

Sculpture has first appeared (?) in the Ancient Greece, as he says.

  • Multiplied exclamation mark shows a high level of amazement or emotions of the writer:

Haven’t you prepared your lessons yet???

4. An exclamation mark “!”. It is used to express the unusual emotions that form an exclamation: I left my book here and it is gone! – the emotion of the anger and wonder.

  • Multiplied exclamation mark serves to express the high-pitched emotions or a passionate call:

Bring your id card to the conference. The members without the id-card won’t be allowed!

  • An exclamation mark in the brackets means the writer would like to attract a special attention to some fact or suggestion:

Our technology serves more than 50 million (!) people every day.

5. A quotation mark ‘””’. It is used to mark the cited speech. We have talked before about the single and double quotation marks when using double quoting: ‘”All women are despair”, as the poet said’, Leila cited.

  • A word or a phrase can be put into the quotation mark when it is not used in its primary meaning or the writer has doubts as to their reality:

Thus the newly introduced “indicators” didn’t show us a thing about the meteorological condition.

  • It outlines the name of the piece of Art, a book, a separate institution etc.:

We bought “The quotes” at the Randall’s shop, “The Library”.

6. A colon “:”. It is used to mark the encompassing main word and to start the list of its manifestations: I bought the following goods: chips, candy, milk.

  • It also separates the hours from minutes in the time writing: I left the gym at 13:45.

Have you got the colons in your essay? What function does it perform? For the correct use of the punctuation along with grammar and syntax, check the post from our blog that outlines the ways to perform a competent proofreading or your text http://essay-editor.net/blog/a-tricky-task--how-to-proofread-my-document-properly.

7. A semicolon “;”. Its function can be compared to that of the full stop, within the sentence. It is usually put if there are already many commas used, and also to mark the groups of the listed items:

The movie starred Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger; George Cameron as director.

  • It connects two clauses in the coordinate sentence, or two independent sentences, if their meaning is opposite or differs significantly:

Luckily, I wasn’t at home when the fire started; the neighbors called the fire brigade.

8. A hyphen “-”. This punctuation mark usually inspires a lot of question for its purpose and ways of usage. If you have no time to get deeper into the punctuation rules yourself but still need an impeccable and correctly presented text, our quality proofreading online service is there to help you!

  • A hyphen is used to unify the words and show their belonging to the larger constructions: Whether a conjunction- or disjunction-oriented connection, the sentence is still formed by the syntax base.
  • It also participates in formation of the compound words (including numbers): Roller-skating was his first “love-of-the-lifetime” that first struck him when he was thirty-one.

9. A dash “. A dash seems similar to the hyphen; however they differ by the length of the line.

  • It is used to emphasize some construction within the sentence (clarification, detachment etc.):

I left home at six o’clock – it was a nice lovely home. My writing – however incongruous it seemed – inspired me on further tries of the pen.

10. An apostrophe “’”. This punctuation mark serves to reduce the text by indicating a part of word was shortened and joined the other word: If I hadn’t seen this lake for myself, I’d never believe such colors could exist.

  • It indicates possessive relationship:

Jack’s backpack was full of stones, and Ellie’s was packed with blankets.

  • It also indicates the plural number of the words with the lowercase letters:

The review gave a full account of all the pro’s and con’s of this technology.

11. Ellipsis “…”. It is used to show that some part of the text is missing – whether it is the intention of the writer (e.g. to reduce the quotation), or the open-ended nature of the text:

How many amazing discoveries are still await for us in the “Amazing World Discoveries …”, is still ahead to reveal. We shall try, though ….

12. Brackets “[]”. Brackets, or square brackets, are used to introduce some clarification absent in the original text:

We have seen [him] getting onboard the plane this afternoon.

13. Braces “{}”. This punctuation mark is slowly vanishing from the regular writing as it appears mostly in the math’s formulae or computer programming. They are needed to show a lengthy part of the text belonging to the same part of the text and constituting one unit:

I draw the algorithm, “single{while r=o, do}item”.

14. Parentheses “()”. They are used when the writer intents to add some clarification, to details or specify his thought. A part of text in the parentheses may be slipped, and the sentence would still make sense:

Children were playing in the yard (and it was quite a muddy one) together, sometimes screaming with enjoyment should they spot a butterfly or a worm.

So we see the punctuation suggests a diversified system of the marks and symbols dedicated to mark some relations and connections within the text. The elaborated system of these marks illustrates their enormous meaning for the English writing throughout the centuries.

Starting to use punctuation might make a difficulty at first. However provided you have a theoretical and practical support, the task looks quite manageable. Still in case of some minor problems (and certainly if you experience some major ones) with your punctuation you may always consult our professional linguistic support online. Check some of the services that we provide along with useful tips on writing in English:

  1. Rewrite An Essay And Make The Best Of It!
  2. Online Proofread – Make A Wise Choice
  3. How To Edit Revise Of The Paper
  4. Dissertation Proofreading Service – Dealing With Doubts
  5. Proofreading Companies: Pros And Cons
  6. Save Your Patience With The Thesis Editing Service

Is punctuation necessary today?

Though, as we’ve found out, the punctuation plays a significant part in the grammatical writing, today the linguists emphasize on a considerable misuse and absence of the punctuation in the personal correspondence, that also getting on to the formal text. The widespread usage of smileys and other graphic elements (stickers, symbols etc.) is gradually overtaking the role of the punctuation and reducing the need in it. This process, however, isn’t an innovation in linguistics: there is a long list of the punctuation marks that are extinct now, while used to be widely implemented before.

However, though the punctuation goes aside and is close to extinct in the personal correspondence, such as chatting in the messenger, personal e-mails, sms and so on, it still preserves its importance in the business and scientific sphere. The inappropriate use of comma or semicolon and full stop, for instance, may lead to different meanings in the business contract.

The list of supplies if not matching to the conditions outlined, must be reviewed in this case; and eventually agreed by the parties. – check the sense transformation with other way of punctuation used:

The list of supplies if not matching to; the conditions outlined must be reviewed in this case and eventually. Agreed by the parties …

If you have doubts as to the proper placing of the punctuation marks in the important document, the assistance of the professional English editors online might be a right solution to your suffering. Just place an order and receive a professionally proofread and grammatical text.

Whether this process is benefitting the writing and written text due to simplification or it favors the literacy slowly waning out in the modern world? Let us examine the advantages the punctuation presents and its possible disadvantages. Punctuation brings the following positive features:

  • It allows the writer to explain him- or herself clear. It helps to outline, clarify and specify the elements of the meaning and grammar;
  • It makes the text grammatical and readable, thus making it closer to the reader and benefits understanding;
  • It allows to categorize the information and represent it in the “digestive” way;
  • It allows the writer to represent his own style and bring a specific rhythm into the text.

As to the negative features, the punctuation:

  • It takes space, which is unfavorable when the volume of the text is limited, e.g. by the browser or program requirements;
  • It requires a literary knowledge and skill;
  • It takes time to place properly and check your punctuation.

It is more difficult to control your punctuation when you realize the high importance of your paper and also when you’re in a hurry. Rushing to write your admission essay due tomorrow may leave aside all your knowledge and skills regarding the grammar and punctuation. Sometimes even the principle of the general consistency is missed out. The most recent comprehensive article on the way to write and check your admission essay is available on our website http://essay-editor.net/blog/admission-essay-editing-service--youve-been-accepted.

Thus currently we face the process of the punctuation slowly disappearing from the text. It is particularly true for the punctuation marks that can be replaced with other graphic elements. However some elements cannot be replaced in the near future and most probably will be preserved. These are spaces, capital letters, full stops, quotation marks, question marks, exclamation marks. The colons, semicolons, dashes, brackets, braces and parentheses seem to be the elements the least frequently used in the personal writing, and it is most likely that they will be extinct soon. As to the comma, apostrophe, hyphen, ellipsis are the marks that can be partly replaced with other graphic elements however their usage is crucial for the correct relaying of the sense, so most probably they will still be used in the near future.

Thus, the punctuation, though being an element frequently missed in the modern writing, is still required to properly outline your thoughts in writing. Knowing its requirements and regulations will not only position you as the literary person, but also will allow to compile a grammatical and readable text, with a touch of  your personality.

Getting into trouble with your punctuation is but a slightest possibility if you know the theory well. Find the information support in our articles dedicated to the mastering of the English language and the ways to write impeccably in English:

  1. Where Appropriate To Use Past Indefinite Tense
  2. The Best Thesis Rewriter For You
  3. Do We Need A Passive Voice?
  4. Find The Best Paper Editor Online
  5. How To Apply Gerund In Your Speech

When did you use a semicolon for the last time? And what about the dash and square brackets? Share your opinion on the punctuation and its importance (if any) in the modern English. Let’s get in touch and stay connected!