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Principal Points - Illustrations - Capital Letters.
Lindley Murray and Goold Brown laid down cast-iron rules for punctuation,
but most of them have been broken long since and thrown into the junk-heap
of disuse. They were too rigid, too strict, went so much into minutiae,
that they were more or less impractical to apply to ordinary composition.
The manner of language, of style and of expression has considerably
changed since then, the old abstruse complex sentence with its hidden
meanings has been relegated to the shade, there is little of prolixity or
long-drawn-out phrases, ambiguity of expression is avoided and the aim is
toward terseness, brevity and clearness. Therefore, punctuation has been
greatly simplified, to such an extent indeed, that it is now as much a
matter of good taste and judgment as adherence to any fixed set of rules.
Nevertheless there are laws governing it which cannot be abrogated, their
principles must be rigidly and inviolably observed.
The chief end of punctuation is to mark the grammatical connection and
the dependence of the parts of a composition, but not the actual pauses
made in speaking. Very often the points used to denote the delivery of a
passage differ from those used when the passage is written. Nevertheless,
several of the punctuation marks serve to bring out the rhetorical force
The principal marks of punctuation are:
1. The Comma [,]
2. The Semicolon [;]
3. The Colon [:]
4. The Period [.]
5. The Interrogation [?]
6. The Exclamation [!]
7. The Dash [--]
8. The Parenthesis [()]
9. The Quotation [" "]
There are several other points or marks to indicate various relations,
but properly speaking such come under the heading of Printer's Marks,
some of which are treated elsewhere.
Of the above, the first four may be styled the grammatical points, and
the remaining five, the rhetorical points.
The Comma: The office of the Comma is to show the slightest separation
which calls for punctuation at all. It should be omitted whenever
possible. It is used to mark the least divisions of a sentence.
(1) A series of words or phrases has its parts separated by commas:--
"Lying, trickery, chicanery, perjury, were natural to him." "The brave,
daring, faithful soldier died facing the foe." If the series is in pairs,
commas separate the pairs: "Rich and poor, learned and unlearned, black
and white, Christian and Jew, Mohammedan and Buddhist must pass through
the same gate."
(2) A comma is used before a short quotation: "It was Patrick Henry who
said, 'Give me liberty or give me death.'"
(3) When the subject of the sentence is a clause or a long phrase, a comma
is used after such subject: "That he has no reverence for the God I
love, proves his insincerity." "Simulated piety, with a black coat and a
sanctimonious look, does not proclaim a Christian."
(4) An expression used parenthetically should be inclosed by commas: "The
old man, as a general rule, takes a morning walk."
(5) Words in apposition are set off by commas: "McKinley, the President,
(6) Relative clauses, if not restrictive, require commas: "The book,
which is the simplest, is often the most profound."
(7) In continued sentences each should be followed by a comma:
"Electricity lights our dwellings and streets, pulls cars, trains, drives
the engines of our mills and factories."
(8) When a verb is omitted a comma takes its place: "Lincoln was a great
statesman; Grant, a great soldier."
(9) The subject of address is followed by a comma: "John, you are a good
(10) In numeration, commas are used to express periods of three figures:
"Mountains 25,000 feet high; 1,000,000 dollars."
The Semicolon marks a slighter connection than the comma. It is
generally confined to separating the parts of compound sentences. It is
much used in contrasts:
(1) "Gladstone was great as a statesman; he was sublime as a man."
(2) The Semicolon is used between the parts of all compound sentences in
which the grammatical subject of the second part is different from that
of the first: "The power of England relies upon the wisdom of her
statesmen; the power of America upon the strength of her army and navy."
(4) The Semicolon is used before words and abbreviations which introduce
particulars or specifications following after, such as, namely, as,
e.g., vid., i.e., etc.: "He had three defects; namely, carelessness,
lack of concentration and obstinacy in his ideas." "An island is a
portion of land entirely surrounded by water; as Cuba." "The names of
cities should always commence with a capital letter; e.g., New York,
Paris." "The boy was proficient in one branch; viz., Mathematics."
"No man is perfect; i.e., free from all blemish."
The Colon except in conventional uses is practically obsolete.
(1) It is generally put at the end of a sentence introducing a long
quotation: "The cheers having subsided, Mr. Bryan spoke as follows:"
(2) It is placed before an explanation or illustration of the subject
under consideration: "This is the meaning of the term:"
(3) A direct quotation formally introduced is generally preceded by a
colon: "The great orator made this funny remark:"
(4) The colon is often used in the title of books when the secondary or
subtitle is in apposition to the leading one and when the conjunction
or is omitted: "Acoustics: the Science of Sound."
(5) It is used after the salutation in the beginning of letters: "Sir: My
dear Sir: Gentlemen: Dear Mr. Jones:" etc. In this connection a dash very
often follows the colon.
(6) It is sometimes used to introduce details of a group of things
already referred to in the mass: "The boy's excuses for being late were:
firstly, he did not know the time, secondly, he was sent on an errand,
thirdly, he tripped on a rock and fell by the wayside."
The Period is the simplest punctuation mark. It is simply used to mark
the end of a complete sentence that is neither interrogative nor
(1) After every sentence conveying a complete meaning: "Birds fly."
"Plants grow." "Man is mortal."
(2) In abbreviations: after every abbreviated word: Rt. Rev. T. C.
Alexander, D.D., L.L.D.
(3) A period is used on the title pages of books after the name of the
book, after the author's name, after the publisher's imprint: American
Trails. By Theodore Roosevelt. New York. Scribner Company.
The Mark of Interrogation is used to ask or suggest a question.
(1) Every question admitting of an answer, even when it is not expected,
should be followed by the mark of interrogation: "Who has not heard of
(2) When several questions have a common dependence they should be
followed by one mark of interrogation at the end of the series: "Where
now are the playthings and friends of my boyhood; the laughing boys; the
winsome girls; the fond neighbors whom I loved?"
(3) The mark is often used parenthetically to suggest doubt: "In 1893 (?)
Gladstone became converted to Home Rule for Ireland."
The Exclamation point should be sparingly used, particularly in prose.
Its chief use is to denote emotion of some kind.
(1) It is generally employed with interjections or clauses used as
interjections: "Alas! I am forsaken." "What a lovely landscape!"
(2) Expressions of strong emotion call for the exclamation: "Charge,
Chester, charge! On, Stanley, on!"
(3) When the emotion is very strong double exclamation points may be
used: "Assist him!! I would rather assist Satan!!"
The Dash is generally confined to cases where there is a sudden break
from the general run of the passage. Of all the punctuation marks it is
the most misused.
(1) It is employed to denote sudden change in the construction or
sentiment: "The Heroes of the Civil War,--how we cherish them." "He was a
fine fellow--in his own opinion."
(2) When a word or expression is repeated for oratorical effect, a dash
is used to introduce the repetition: "Shakespeare was the greatest of all
poets--Shakespeare, the intellectual ocean whose waves washed the
continents of all thought."
(3) The Dash is used to indicate a conclusion without expressing it: "He
is an excellent man but--"
(4) It is used to indicate what is not expected or what is not the
natural outcome of what has gone before: "He delved deep into the bowels
of the earth and found instead of the hidden treasure--a button."
(5) It is used to denote the omission of letters or figures: "J--n J--s"
for John Jones; 1908-9 for 1908 and 1909; Matthew VII:5-8 for Matthew
VII:5, 6, 7, and 8.
(6) When an ellipsis of the words, namely, that is, to wit, etc., takes
place, the dash is used to supply them: "He excelled in three branches--
arithmetic, algebra, and geometry."
(7) A dash is used to denote the omission of part of a word when it is
undesirable to write the full word: He is somewhat of a r----l (rascal).
This is especially the case in profane words.
(8) Between a citation and the authority for it there is generally a dash:
"All the world's a stage."--Shakespeare.
(9) When questions and answers are put in the same paragraph they should
be separated by dashes: "Are you a good boy? Yes, Sir.--Do you love study?
Marks of Parenthesis are used to separate expressions inserted in the
body of a sentence, which are illustrative of the meaning, but have no
essential connection with the sentence, and could be done without. They
should be used as little as possible for they show that something is
being brought into a sentence that does not belong to it.
(1) When the unity of a sentence is broken the words causing the break
should be enclosed in parenthesis: "We cannot believe a liar (and Jones
is one), even when he speaks the truth."
(2) In reports of speeches marks of parenthesis are used to denote
interpolations of approval or disapproval by the audience: "The masses
must not submit to the tyranny of the classes (hear, hear), we must show
the trust magnates (groans), that they cannot ride rough-shod over our
dearest rights (cheers);" "If the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown), will
not be our spokesman, we must select another. (A voice,--Get Robinson)."
When a parenthesis is inserted in the sentence where no comma is
required, no point should be used before either parenthesis. When
inserted at a place requiring a comma, if the parenthetical matter
relates to the whole sentence, a comma should be used before each
parenthesis; if it relates to a single word, or short clause, no stop
should come before it, but a comma should be put after the closing
The Quotation marks are used to show that the words enclosed by them
(1) A direct quotation should be enclosed within the quotation marks:
Abraham Lincoln said,--"I shall make this land too hot for the feet of
(2) When a quotation is embraced within another, the contained quotation
has only single marks: Franklin said, "Most men come to believe 'honesty
is the best policy.'"
(3) When a quotation consists of several paragraphs the quotation marks
should precede each paragraph.
(4) Titles of books, pictures and newspapers when formally given are
(5) Often the names of ships are quoted though there is no occasion for it.
The Apostrophe should come under the comma rather than under the
quotation marks or double comma. The word is Greek and signifies a turning
away from. The letter elided or turned away is generally an e. In poetry
and familiar dialogue the apostrophe marks the elision of a syllable, as
"I've for I have"; "Thou'rt for thou art"; "you'll for you will," etc.
Sometimes it is necessary to abbreviate a word by leaving out several
letters. In such case the apostrophe takes the place of the omitted letters
as "cont'd for continued." The apostrophe is used to denote the elision of
the century in dates, where the century is understood or to save the
repetition of a series of figures, as "The Spirit of '76"; "I served in the
army during the years 1895, '96, '97, '98 and '99." The principal use of
the apostrophe is to denote the possessive case. All nouns in the singular
number whether proper names or not, and all nouns in the plural ending with
any other letter than s, form the possessive by the addition of the
apostrophe and the letter s. The only exceptions to this rule are, that,
by poetical license the additional s may be elided in poetry for sake of
the metre, and in the scriptural phrases "For goodness' sake." "For
conscience' sake," "For Jesus' sake," etc. Custom has done away with the
s and these phrases are now idioms of the language. All plural nouns
ending in s form the possessive by the addition of the apostrophe only as
boys', horses'. The possessive case of the personal pronouns never take the
apostrophe, as ours, yours, hers, theirs.
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