Punctuation Marks… Punctuation involves the various marks — comma, period, question mark, and brackets. Punctuation marks are used to show grammatical relationship, length of pause, inflexion of the voice and to bring external matter into the basic text. They play a prominent role in information sharing because of their strong semantic import. Thus the difference in meaning between the sentences below is possible because of the addition of a mere comma in the second sentence:
- slow men at work (Lazy men are working)
- slow, men at work (Drive slowly men are working)
Before we discuss the basic rules of punctuation, it should be noted that punctuation is a combination of taste and common sense of the writer. It could be manipulated by the writer for style and elegant variation. Yet, there are underlying principles the writer must observe in order to enhance information sharing. Let us consider some of these basic rules one after the other. See Qualities of Good Writing
THE COMMA (,)
The comma is used in the following situations.
- To set off an appositive element e.g Eze, the younger brother, died yesterday.
- To show interpolated, explanatory, parenthetical expressions. For example: He was, I think, a criminal.
- To introduce direct quotations e.g “I don’t like his looks”, she remarked.
- To indicate the omission of a predicate. E.g John left yesterday; his friend, two days ago.
- To show the vocative mood. e.g Give me that cup, John.
- To mark off absolute phrases e.g The course outline having been covered, we called off classes.
- To enhance clarity and avoid ambiguity. Thus sentences (1) and (il) below have the following semantic possibilities based on the position of the comma:
- While they were eating the teacher a man whom they hated Immediately visited
- As a way of enhancing unity in the country the Federal Military Governor has directed the Attorney – General to release political detainees.
- a. While they were eating the teacher, a man whom they hated Immediately visited.
- While they were eating, the teacher, a man whom they hated Immediately Visited.
- a. As a way of enhancing unity, within recent months the Military Governor has directed the Attorney-General to release political detainees.
- As a way of enhancing unity within recent months, the Military Administrator has directed the Attorney-General to release political detainees.
- To separate the words, phrases and clauses in serial relationship. Eg. a. He is humble, hardworking, dependable. E.g b. He died leaving behind everything we had cherished; family, friends, country.
THE SEMICOLON (;)
The semicolon is used in the following ways:
- To separate elements containing commas, e.g Typical industries relying heavily on chemical engineering include those producing chemicals, polymers, metals, drugs, glass, food, gasoline, rocket fuels, paper, soap, and cement; those producing energy from nuclear fuel; and those processing materials by methods Involving chemical reactions.
- To separate compound sentences: What camp taste responds to is “instant character” ; and, conversely, what it Is not stirred by Is the sense of the development of character.
- To join sentences without any conjunction: Hugo come late to the party; this irritated Joan.
Following from the above uses of the semicolon, Perrin in his Writer’s Guide and Index defines it as sign used to mark a degree of separation between sentence elements considerably greater than that marked by a comma, nearly as great as that marked by a period.
THE COLON (:)
According to Meyers, the colon indicates a relationship or sense rather than of grammar between the constructions that precede and follow it.
The colon is used in the following ways:
- To introduce a list, illustration or example, e.g.
- The levels of Linguistic analysis are: phonetics, syntax, semantics and morphology
- There is only one thing that can be perfectly attained: death
- The girl is a big rogue: she stole the box.
- To introduce a long quotation as in academic-papers, reports etc.
THE PERIOD (.)
The period is used in the following ways:
- The end a declarative sentence and an indirect question, eg. My name is Johnson.
- When about three periods occur at a stretch, we have ellipses. Ellipses is used to mark where something has been omitted, e.g: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom ….”
- Period is also placed after abbreviations and initials: e.g. Sr. J. C Mwokoma
QUESTION MARK (?):
The common uses of the question mark are
- To end punctuation for a question: what is your name?
- To mark off a question quoted directly: The title of the article is “Are we going to sing one man’s praises eternally?”
- To show a doubtful or conjectural date: General Abacha (1924? – 1998): Nigerian Head of State.
Note, that a period, not a question mark, is used for an indirect and a covert order expressed as a question for the sake of courtesy:
- Mama wanted to know where you got the box.
- Will you please give me another box.
EXCLAMATION MARK (!)
This is used after:
- An imperative sentences: Stand up!
- Expressions that show suprise: That’s wonderful!
- emotional expressions: what a shame I
THE HYPHEN (-)
- Hyphen is used to indicate the place of division carrying the end of the word to the beginning of the next line. The writer who must use the hyphen should divide words at syllable boundaries. However, if the syllable represents only a grammatical ending as in going, the hyphen should not be used. Also, single-syllable words are not divided by the hyphen. Whenever confusion arises, consult your dictionary.
- It is also used to show compound words and to reduce the problem of ambiguity in construction. For example, the semantic variation in the following expressions in achieved by the hyphen between the two adjectives in (i) and that between the second adjective and the head noun in (ii): a slow-moving bus (a bus moves slowly) (ii) a slow moving- bus (a moving bus that is show).
THE DASH (-)
The dash has often been defined as an alternative punctuation for appositives when commas must be used for some other purposes. It is used to mark an appositive embedded sentence that provide example or definition of the noun phrase in the outer sentence. E.g A good sportsman – or at all events a good footballer sees winning and loosing as part of the game.
We have writtin about some of the punctuation marks in English Language. We will be be discussing the remaining punctuation markes in our next article.