Punctuation : New Eyes for Old Codes

Monster Monday :: Using Punctuation

Grammar Monster asks this Essential Question: How do the primary punctuation codes function in 5 different purposes?

This means “Squared-off Turn Ahead.” What it doesn’t say is “slow down; tricky turn to maneuver through.”

1: Starters

2: Enders

3: Links that Separate

4: Short-Cutters

5: Special Marks

Here’s a new way to look at Punctuation.

All the punctuation marks basically perform 5 functions.  And all the punctuation rules fit into those five functions.  Figure out what the mark is doing and the reason it needs to be done, and punctuation will never be a mystery again.

Here’s another new way to look at Punctuation.

Every line of text that you read is like a road.  As you read, you drive along that road.

Now, roads have stop signs and driving signs that warn about curves ahead, detour signs and traffic lights, cross walk warnings and road indicators.

The job of punctuation is just like the job of road signs.  They help us understand what’s coming up and how what we’ve read is linked to what we’re reading and what we will read.  They are meant to help us.

We only have 14 “official” marks of punctuation although we use additional elements as communication road signs.

Usually, these 14 marks of punctuation are discussed in this manner:

3 End Marks:

the period > . the question mark > ? the exclamation mark > !

3 Within Marks: 

comma > ,            the semicolon > ;         the colon > :

8 Additional Marks:
  • the hyphen > – and the dash >  — .  Note the difference in length.  The dash is formed on a computer by using two hyphens without a space between them.  To get the two hyphens to convert into the joined dash, you must not space between the opening and closing hyphens and its preceding and following words.
  • Parentheses > ( ) , brackets > [ ] , and braces > { }. All of these function similarly.   The single parenthesis is sometimes used, but only rarely does someone use a single bracket or brace.  The braces are often used in mathematical equations.
  • Apostrophe or single quotation mark > ’ and double quotation marks > ” . I have recently heard the apostrophe/single quotation mark called a suspended comma or an upside-down comma (the latter term I do not understand because it is not upside-down).
  • The slash > / has taken on a new function since the advent of personal computing in the 1980’s.

If you look at a computer keyboard, you will see many other symbols.  The wavy line or tilde > ~ sometimes will replace the hyphen or the colon.  Used as a tilde, the line occurs over the letter n in Spanish and other foreign languages.  In mathematics, the tilde means “approximately”.

After originally being used only in accounting, @ has transformed its use for email addresses.

The ampersand & remains in constant use, but it is not supposed to be used in formal communication.

The arrows < > and the asterisk * and the computation symbols $ % + = all have purposes but are not usually considered in the realm of formal communication.  The # symbol is not a hashtag only but also the number sign.

In addition to marks, we have other signals:  indenting, capitalization, spacing, and so on.  While they are not “marks”, they still serve as signals and deserve mention.

All punctuation signals fit into these five categories, also known as functions.  When we know a mark’s function (its purpose), we understand the reason it is used.  Knowing this, we will never consider punctuation a mystery.

Important Vocabulary

Students will need to know the following words before reading the lessons associated with Function I.

  1. Category (noun / definition 2)
  2. Common (adjective / def. 3a and 4a)
  3. Default (noun / def. 5b)
  4. Distinguish (transitive verb / def. 1 and 2b)
  5. Function (noun / def. 2)
  6. Indent (transitive verb / def. 4)
  7. Scholarly (adjective, including the two synonyms)
  8. Significant (adjective /def. 2a)
  9. Specific (adjective / def. 1 and 3)
  10. Specify (transitive verb / def. 1)

While I always prefer a printed dictionary, with Merriam-Webster’s college dictionary as my choice, I have keyed the definitions for the above terms to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

Function I:  Starters

What are the 4 Starting Signals?

  •           Paragraph Indent
  •           Starting Sentences
  •           Proper Nouns
  •           Titles of Works
The Paragraph Indent

An indented paragraph lets us know the next sentences work together on a common topic.  That, by the way, is the definition of a paragraph:  a gr

Image result for image paragraph symbol
paragraph symbol: backward P with an extra line

oup of sentences focused on a common topic, usually grouped together into a longer form on a common theme.

If we don’t indent, then we use something called block paragraph style.  This blog is written in block paragraph style.  We use block style ONLY used for business letters and blogs.  (You can call this blog a business letter since I am writing to communicate information to you.)

Block style is the ONLY time that you will have an additional line between paragraphs in a document.  In scholarly writing, especially in essays, we will NOT have an additional blank line  between paragraphs.

Essays and personal letters, even when they are emails, should use the paragraph indent, but it’s a little hard to get the computer coding to accept an indent for the first line of the paragraph if you are not in a word processing software (MS Word, for example).

A special punctuation symbol for a paragraph indent is a backwards capital P with an extra line through it. (image above)

We indent paragraphs at the ruler mark of 1/2 inch (at maximum).  Virtually all computer software programs set that 1/2 inch as a default, which means it’s already set.  If you are writing, the 1/2 is the width of your index finger (not the length).

How do we know when a new paragraph needs to start?  This is the crucial question.

Paragraph breaks create transitions for the readers.  Compositions (essays) requires paragraphing to show the writer’s developing thought process as it builds to the point of the theme.  While students’ early compositions may not develop a “point”, the whole purpose of compositions for students in high school and college–and in the workplace when presenting analyses and reports or persuading a client to purchase a product or service–is to build a convincing presentation.

Presentations of any sort are not convincing if they are chaotic.

Paragraph breaks create a visual organization.  If you are working through my information without a grammar handbook and workbook, try this resource at ThoughtCo for greater explanation.

If you wish to purchase an excellent handbook, the Warriner’s English Warriner's English Grammar and Composition, 4th Course: Warriner, John E.Grammar and Composition (selecting from the 1980s editions and earlier) will provide the necessary examples and exercises to develop your skills.  This link takes you to my preferred edition, at Abe Books.

If you’re staying with the internet (which will be inadequate, no matter what you do–you can lose hours looking for good resources), then you can try these resources on paragraph breaks at education.com and from ThoughtCo.  The ThoughtCo resource takes an old document (from 1913) and rewrites it without the paragraph breaks.  That’s a good example exercise for fiction and non-fiction.

Using Reality to Learn

My preferred resource to practice paragraph breaks is presidential inauguration speeches.  You can find them all, from our first to our current, at Bartleby, a wonderful online resource for all sorts of documents.

The best speech in recent years–one that shows the development of a long composition, using sound clues to help the audience keep focused as well as to help them understand the speaker’s movement through new points–was the first inaugural speech of George W. Bush.  No matter which politicial affiliation you espouse, this is an extremely well-written example of the long composition/speech.  Compare it to other speeches in the last 20 years, and you will understand the reason that it serves as a great example for new writers.

Winston Churchill

Of course, the best giver and writer of speeches was Winston Churchill’s war speeches.  One of his best is the famous “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”.

Coming Up

Next week we look at the other Starters of Function I in Puncutation Coding.  Join us on January 14.