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Back to Bloody Basics: punctuation

Using correct punctuation is mandatory when writing something. To give the reader the same mental images and the same feeling the writer feels while creating is essential.
A marvellous scene is such when everything sounds melodic and harmonious.

In the English language ‘ prosody’  is  defined either as the pattern of the rhythm and song used in poetry or the patterns of stress and intonation in the language.
This word comes from the ancient Greek ‘pros’ i.e. ‘towards’ and ‘òide’ i.e. ‘song’, alternatively translated as “song sung to music”.
Prosody is basically what gives true life to each word we pronounce.

Of course, it is not the only thing important in the ars oratoria, but it covers a considerable chunk of the overall complexity.

So, how do we harness prosody, such a vocal and audio element, into the written world?
How people and especially writers and poets can create harmonious sound within a text?
Well, that is obvious given the title of the article, isn’t it?

Through punctuation.


There are actually two schools of thought when it comes to the use of punctuation: a syntactic approach and, as you can guess, a prosodic one. In Hallyday's (1989) words "punctuation according to grammar, and punctuation according to phonology."

It can be argued that the differences show up when you choose how to read: in silence or aloud.

For our concerns, being interested in creating writing mostly, we will imagine our text as written-to-be-spoken.
Of course, a book isn't read aloud really often; on the contrary, most of the time both readers and writers will prefer to read in silence, without creating actual sound. Yet again, creative writing tries to recreate (or something creates anew) parts of the world where sounds are a quotidian reality; therefore, being able to give mental images with mental sounds is almost compulsory for authors.
One cannot let a book be as intriguing and exciting as a boring contract, can one?

To deliver through punctuation — and of course words — a message that carries not only syntactic and semiotic information but semantic as well as pragmatic ones.
That is the eventual goal.


How, you might think, does punctuation have so much importance and so much weight into the creation of stories?
The answer is straightforward, really.
Punctuation marks can change the whole meaning of a sentence, thus they can change the entire structure of our work and alter the meaning of the message we want to convey.
Willfully will be avoided the particular cases of the stream of consciousness, which most of the time play with syntax and canon structures, thanks to the geniality of the authors who succeed using the technique.

One can say:
“Most of the time, I worry about my books.”

or

“Most of the time I worry about my books.”


Of course, the former sentence has one particular meaning whilst the latter, being grammatically correct as well, has a completely different one.
Maybe the first one shows affection for books, meanwhile the second is a cry for help.
Killer books are rather a problem these days.


Now, without being too much of a stickler for rules, here’s a simple list on how to use properly the punctuation marks:


(.) Full stop.

  • A full stop is used to end a complete sentence. The next sentence always begins with a capital letter. You must space after the full stop, not before.

e.g. Clara felt tired. She fell asleep on the couch.

  • It is also used to abbreviate or in acronyms

e.g. Etcetera→ etc. Mr. (mostly AE) e.g. i.e.


(‚) Comma.

  • To separate items in the same list.

e.g. She’ll go by train around Germany, Belgium, and France.

  • To separate phrases in apposition from the rest of the sentence.

e.g. Dr Arwon‚ Clara’s father‚ said that he will collect the kids.

  • If a subordinate clause comes before the principal clause.

e.g. If you can, help him.


(;) Semicolon.

  • A semicolon separates clauses of conjunctive adverbs.

e.g. I shouldn't say it; however, I think it’s best for you to know it.

  • It is used to join two independent clauses or sentences related to one another.

e.g. Clara is a talented writer; she has published several books.


(:) Colon.

  • Colon is used for introducing a list of items. 

e.g. To write, you’ll need the following items: a pen, a piece of paper, coffee most times, and good ideas

  • Indicates that what follows explains what precedes it.

e.g. I have to break bad news: it appears I’ve got writer’s block.


(...) Ellipsis.

  • An ellipsis is used to show abrupt interruption. 

 e.g. ‘Whoever it is, I won't...’

  • An ellipsis can be used to indicate a trailing off in speech or thought.

e.g. We could eat pizza... or maybe burgers… just a drink?


(?) Question mark.

  • Question mark used at the end of any direct questions. 

 e.g. Who’s your publisher?

  • Question mark used at the end of a tag question. 

e.g. You will write, won't you?


(!) Exclamation mark.

  • Exclamation marks can be used to add an emphasis to the sentence. 

e.g. I just finished. I just finished!

  • Exclamation mark used to signal potent emotions such as

e.g. I am so happy! / Help!


( () )Parentheses.

  • Parentheses give additional, but non-essential information in a sentence.

  e.g. Bikes, helmets, and motorcycles (but not scooters) may be bought there.

  • Parentheses are used to include extra or additional information within a sentence.

 e.g. That restaurant (a friend of mine designed it) needs to repaint.


(-) Hyphen

  • A hyphen joins some compound words.

e.g. twenty-one.

  • A hyphen can separate, in some cases, the prefix from the second part of words.

e.g. T-shirt.


These uses are the proper ones for the punctuation marks taken into analysis.
There are plenty more marks that could be used, and should be used, however.

Using correct punctuation it’s mandatory when writing to assure the reader a better flow and to give him the same mental images and the same feeling the writer feels while writing.
A marvellous scene is such when the prosody is present, when reading aloud everything sounds melodic and harmonious.
Correct punctuation can give us those sensations and transmit us the right meanings without losing the genuine message that we want to convey to our readers.

However, stealing some words from some people “… good writers have used punctuation in ways that have made their messages clear to their readers. Writers have agreed to follow these practices because they have proven to be so effective. [Yet,] The rules of punctuation are not static; they have changed throughout the years, and will continue to change.”

- Moore, N. (2016). What’s the point? The role of punctuation in realising information structure in written English. Functional Linguistics, 3 (1). doi:10.1186/s40554-016-0029-x
- Gary, A. (1996): Foreword. Teachers, Discourses, and Authority in the Postmodern Composition Classroom. Xin Liu Gale. State U of New York.

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