English Punctuation: An Introduction
• Periods/full stops show where a sentence ends. Notice that the English word ‘sentence’ refers to a typographic convention as well as to an object of grammatical study.
You should not use periods after heading in a report, letter, or paper.
You need not use periods in abbreviations or acronyms.
• Commas can act asseparators between part of a sentence.
Although suitable protective equipment was available, most of the employees were not wearing it.
• In this case, the marked off element is a concessive clause. Most adverbials may be marked off by commas, though commas are not strictly necessary in the case of prepositional phrases.
• The use of commas distinguishes a non-restrictive from arestrictive relative clause. Compare
The girls who will join the team next week are fine players for their age. = there are thers who will not join the team
The girls, who will join the team next week, are fine players for their age. = all the girls will join the team
• Pairs of commas mark off other asides, explanations, or additions which are not essential to the sentence.Holmes, having searched the room for clues, left by the back door.
• Commas are used in lists. Here, British and US punctuation are different.
A, B, and C (US)
A, B and C (UK)
Never allow a single comma to separate a subject and the verb with which it agrees.
*The paying audiences for ‘serious’ theatre in England
during the sixteenth century,were often unruly and
• Colons are used to introduce vertical and running-text lists. Notice that the last word before the colon is usually a noun—in fact, a superordinate—rather than a verb.
The ‘Pollo Rico’ has several positive characteristics: low price, location, hot food, and interesting people.
*The positive characteristics of the‘Pollo Rico’ are: low
price, location, hot food, and interesting people.
• Notice that the items in a list can be clauses rather than noun phrases:
The ‘Pollo Rico’ has several positive characteristics: the food is hot and cheap; the restaurant is
two minutes from the Rambla; the take-away service is quick; and the customers are diverse.
• Colons are also used as adrum-roll which leads the reader from one idea to its consequence or logical continuation. It often answers a question the reader must be asking him- or herself:
There’s one big problem with tennis on the radio: you can’t see it.
What comes after the colon is an illustration or an explanation of what comes before.
Colons may also be used to separate twosharply contrasting statements, eg
During Wimbledon, television is like someone with a reserved ticket: radio is the enthusiast who has queued all night to get in.
• Semicolons are the hall-mark of a writer who has begun to compose prose and ceased to transcribe speech. Semicolons have two uses. They separate clauses which could stand alone as independentsentences, yet are very closely related.
The large oak frame houses the gears; these parts have been painted black and are the oldest parts of the clock.
They are also used to separate items in lists that are either clauses or contain internal commas.
• Dashes are sometimes used singly to indicate an aside, explanation, or addition. They can also be used to add emphasis
James Bonddrinks whisky for status, pleasure—and for his toothache.
When used in pairs, dashes draw special attention to the phrase they surround. They emphasise, while parentheses (also called brackets or round brackets) de-emphasise.
Visitors may stay overnight—or for as long as they wish—in the hostelry run by the monks.
Visitors may stay overnight (the fee is quite...
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