Punctuation: Sentence Starters

Last week we looked at the paragraph indent and its function as a Punctuation Starters.  This week, we look at additional Starting Signals.  We’ll also delve into formatting documents.

Starting Signals

In addition to the clue of the paragraph indent, designed to announce a new topic within the presentation of a much larger subject, we have a simple little clue that helps our minds register something new or important.

Something New:  The capital letter signal starts each sentence.

Glance at this page.  In all the letters on the page, you will notice that capital letters stand out just a little, helping your mind read the signal that a new sentence starts at that point.

This signal is especially important with handwriting.  Our spacing around words is very uneven because all of us have individual handwriting styles.

The capital letter eases our eyes when reading long lines of text.

Something Important:  The Capital Letter Signal denotes Proper Nouns.

Capitalization occurs with proper nouns, which give the specific naming of persons, places, things, and ideas.

The capital letter helps clarify exactly who or what we are discussing:  the person of President Abraham Lincoln, the place of Wyoming, the Hubble Telescope as a thing, and the Theory of Relativity as an idea.  Submarines and pyramids, newspapers and pets, books and films, streets and cities and states, all can have specific names for a particular item in the general group of the common noun.

Image result for giza pyramid
The Giza Pyramid complex / Image from Wikipedia Commons, in public domain

For example, with proper nouns, we specify the Giza Pyramid rather than any pyramid in Egypt or Mexico.  We point to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  We arrive in Atlanta, Georgia.

Common nouns, which are general and apply widely, do not require capital letters.  Common nouns match across all people or places, things or ideas.  We say “my aunt” without being specific as to which one or “the hotel by the interstate” when many hotels are in that location.  In any communication, we constantly mix in common and proper nouns.

Example:  We called my maternal grandmother Granny, but her name was Clara Elizabeth Hicks.

In this example, the nouns are > we (pronouns are nouns), grandmother, Granny (our specific name for her), name, and Clara Elizabeth Hicks (her specific birth name).

Example:  In his heliocentric theory (common / idea), Copernicus (specific / person) stated that the Earth (specific / place) revolved around the Sun (specific / place).

Notice that every specifying word of the naming is capitalized.  In the “United States of America”, of is not a specifying word and is therefore not capitalized.

The word “I” when discussing our individual selves should be capitalized.  We are specifying ourselves.  We do not capitalize the other pronouns—“you” and “me” and “us” and “we”—unless they are the first word in a sentence.

Digression:  If a long phrase for an item can be reduced to using only the first letter of each word in the phrase, like scuba or NASA or laser, we call that an acronym.  SCUBA is actually a “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus”.

In an acronym, we take the important words in the proper noun and turn it into a word.  NASA is capitalized because it is a specific institution.  Only a specific company’s name for scuba gear or lasers would require capitalization of the entire acronym.

If we pronounce the letters of the acronym rather than turning them into a word, as in CDC or USA, we call that an initialism rather than an acronym.

Digression over.

Something Important:  Capitalization Signals the Titles of Works

The Titles of Works are actually the specific names of films, books, stories, music, albums, songs, paintings, newspapers, articles, blogs, websites, etc.  These works are considered artistic, individual creations, often grouped (songs on a CD/album, for instance).  Magazines and newspapers contain individual artistic works in the articles and opinion columns and features like the funnies page as well as business enterprise works (ads), all published by a single entity.

Titles of Works are proper nouns and use capitalization for all important words:  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Additional special marks of punctuation (like the italics used for the titles of these two books [which became films]) accompany Titles of Works to help distinguish them from regular proper nouns.  We will discuss these additional marks at a later time.

When the capital letters do not continue to the next significant word, then we know the title (and proper noun) is complete.

For a great online resource for capitalization exercises, try the YourDictionary website.  The link provides exercises and answers to those exercises.  Other resources abound for capitalization.  As always, I still prefer Warriner’s Grammar and Composition.


While not considered an “official” mark of punctuation, the spacing of text on the page is extremely important.  Two types of spacing occur constantly:  the spacing between words and sentences as well as the spacing between lines.

Spacing for Sentences

The rule for sentences is to space twice after the period.

Recently, controversy arose about the use of the two spaces between sentences.  However, the two spaces are winning once again.  When you text or send emails or post, you may have noticed that if you space twice at the end of a sentence, the period will automatically be inserted.  Computer programming is following the time-honored rule of the two-space.  Scientific studies have also shown that spacing twice helps the eyes while reading (just as capital letters help our eyes).

After words, one space is predominantly used.  However, in the paragraph opening this section, you will notice that I used two spaces after the colon.  The colon punctuation mark is a strong stop within a sentence, very close to the total stop of the period.  Thus, with colons and its cousin the semicolon, we follow the rule for spacing sentences.

Spacing between lines is much easier to determine.

In last week’s blog, I discussed the different spacing for indented paragraphs versus block style paragraphs.

Line spacing becomes significant only in works before publication.  The length of the document often determines the spacing.  If the document is short, single spacing is preferred.  If the document runs to multiple paragraphs and certainly to multiple pages, then the document length requires double spacing for indented paragraphs.

Documents with double-spaced indented paragraphs look cleaner and crisper.  We can read double-spacing much more easily read than the other types of spacing.  However, most published documents are single-spaced indented paragraphs.  The reason is that single spacing requires fewer pages.  In the world of publishing, with a multi-colored cover and paper and ink, pages cost money.  Since double-spaced documents are much easier to read, we may find future e-book publications returning to double spacing.

We rarely use triple spacing, primarily when we have a massive revision of a document.

Text alignment is similar to line spacing.

For unpublished documents, we have left alignment required for the majority of the text.  This creates a straight line down the left side of the text while the right side has a “ragged margin”.

We center the titles of the document and its chapters.

Headings are usually left-alignment with the text.

We use right alignment occasionally and only in special circumstances (for example, stating the name of the creator and an abbreviated name for the document in the header or the footer along with the page number).

Justification is used for publication.  Both left and right margins are straight lines on both sides of the text.  We should use justification very carefully.  The words will space out on the line, creating awkward breaks between words.

. ~ . ~ . ~ .

Starting Signals help communication.  The rules of indenting and capitalization and spacing ease the long blocks of text for our eyes.  The rules help our minds distinguish important words, serving like miniature highlighters on the page.

Next month, we will discuss Function 2:  Ending Signals.  We will focus on the three end marks.  We’ll also delve into a punctuation symbol that sends us to key information:  the asterisk.

Before that, however, from this blog alone you have realized the importance of understanding basic keyboarding.  So, our next two blogs for January will focus on properly understanding our keyboarding and on-screen assists for our writing.

Until next Monday!