Punctuation Marks in English: Clarity in Expression

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Challenges Of Learning Punctuation

One of the most important and difficult things to teach to students learning English as a second language is punctuation. Punctuation Marks are a set of symbols with specific rules for the usage of each one.

Before proceeding further, let us understand why punctuation is required in a language. The complete meaning of a sentence depends on the punctuation that is used in a sentence. I would like to share a small story that we were told while being taught punctuation. The story goes:

Once the Czar of Russia condemned a man to death. The Czar sent an order to the jailer ‘Pardon Impossible. To be executed.’ The Czarina, who had a soft corner for the prisoner, changed the place of the full stop from after the word impossible to before it and the order stood as ‘Pardon. Impossible to be executed.’ And the prisoner was saved from execution. This small story explains the importance of punctuation very well.

Punctuation helps put spoken words into writing. Punctuation helps bring the right kind of expression into writing for which voice intonation, volume, tone, pauses are used while speaking. Let us look at another example: ‘Don’t Stop.’ means carry on, you are not required to stop. Rewriting the same words as ‘Don’t. Stop’ means stop what ever is being done with immediate effect. Definitely both sentences would be spoken in a different manner.

These days we tend to ignore punctuation. Appropriate use of punctuation shows that a person has good knowledge of grammar. A person likes to pay attention to what is being written and what is meant from the same. It helps create clarity of meaning.

Different Examples

Here are some of the most common punctuation marks along with their usage:

Period/ Full Stop (.): It is used to depict

• Completion of a sentence;

e.g. The activists have been arrested.

• In abbreviations;

e.g. Dear Ms. Muffet, ……

Comma (,): It is used as the shortest pause that is made while speaking. It can be used at many places in a sentence, but the most common usage of the comma is :

• To separate a list of words in a sentence;

e.g. Reena, Sheena, Diven and Saksham are going to a movie.

Semi Colon (;): Represents a pause of greater importance and length than a comma. It is used to separate closely related independent clauses;

e.g. He was a tall, gallant warrior; we all loved him.

Colon (:): A colon also represents a pause, more complete than a semi colon, but less a full stop. It is generally used before a list or an explanation.

e.g. The teacher said: “ Reading is important if you want to learn a language.”

Question Mark (?): A question mark is the sign of the interrogative and is used after direct questions;

e.g. Would you like to have a cup of tea?

Exclamation Mark (!): The exclamation mark is used after sentences used to express emotion or a wish, and interjections;

e.g. O Father! In heaven ….

Inverted Commas/ Quotation Marks (“ ”): These are used to depict quoted or spoken language. They are used when the words are repeated as they were said.

e.g. The Principal said: “All teachers are required to be present for the staff meeting.”

Reference: High School English Grammar & Composition

– Wren & Martin