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How to Write Gud: Lesson 1: Basic Punctuation

This is the first in a series of (lengthy) lessons that are designed to accomplish the following:

1: Make you a better writer, (assuming you can write at all in the first place).

2: Help you learn how to write, (if you can’t write at all in the first place).

3: Deliver a wide range of comedic anecdotes, most of which will largely fall by the wayside, never to be seen again, (provided you only read the lesson once).

4: Entertain English nerds whose favorite pastime is reading amateurish writing blogs.

5: Give brief pieces of advice that would be helpful in everyday life.

6: Provide some sort of background into my own writing knowledge, if you ever consider having me tutor you in writing, (a long shot, no doubt).

If this series accomplishes any of these six goals for at least one person, I will consider it a success. And that person includes me.

How to Write Gud: Lesson 1: Basic Punctuation

Introduction to Punctuation

Language is an interesting thing. There are hundreds of languages in the world, including English, Spanish, German, and the lesser-known Gangsta-Pig-Latin, which for all intensive purposes shall simply be known as “the Dead Language of Pigs in Da Hood.” Each language has its own rules for grammar, which are taught and learned both instinctively, through emersion, and externally, through teaching and study. Punctuation, on the other hand, is only applicable when you move into the context of the written word. If I was to scream out loud, people would hear me, and wonder why I was screaming. If I wanted to scream in writing, though, I’d have to utilize elements of punctuation, such as CAPITAL LETTERS or the use of exclamation points!!!

Example: “Please don’t open the door. Dad, don’t open the door, I’m in here! Dad, close the door, I’M GOING TO THE BATHROOM!!”

As you can see, the punctuation changes when the son or daughter becomes panicked as the father opens the bathroom door, thinking it hilarious during his or her birthday party.

Without proper punctuation, you not only lose the ability to convey emotion, but also potentially lose the ability to convey any meaning at all. Either way; improPeR punctuat(ion) can b-e really [confusing]”?”

Common Punctuation Marks

There are trillions of elements of punctuation, but most of them are so rare that even finding them on the keyboard is a feat worthy of celebration. For instance, I’ve never seen the punctuation “ | ” used in any format other than a textbook, where the author thinks it an ingenious tool to separate parts of a title.

Example:

The Mitochondrion and You | Part 2: Size Matters

As this Lesson has no intention of being an encyclopedia on elements of punctuation, the most common punctuation marks will be explained in detail, while others will get an honorable mention if they so deserve it. Some will also be reserved for the next lesson in the series, “Advanced Punctuation.” (There is no set released date at this time, so try to keep your excitement level-headed.) This leads us to perhaps the most important punctuation mark, the period.

The Triple Threat

The period: “ . ” (The colon, quotation marks, and parentheses will get their own section in due time. There is a certain level of understanding that is assumed if you are reading this lesson. If someone happens to be reading this lesson to you, I would suggest additional hand motions, mixed with clicks of the tongue, raises of the eyebrows, and the occasional tap of the foot.)

Almost every sentence that is written ends in a period. As you can see, that sentence ended with a period, and this one will as well. And so will this one. And this one. And, yes, even this one. You see, a period marks the end of sentence so that the reader knows when one sentence ends and another begins. Each sentence contains either one thought or a series of thoughts, but no matter what, the sentence must end, and more often than not, the sentence ends with a period.

Example: “A lampshade is put on a lamp so that the user is not blinded when he triggers the electricity that flows to the light bulb.” (Period bolded for emphasis).

Before I move on to the period’s two best friends, I must address one other key role that the period provides, and that is one of abbreviation.

Example: “Mr. and Mrs. Plump have created the world’s largest T. which can hold much more than a T. aught to hold. For such reasons, it is debated whether it is a T. at all.”

Abbreviation can be used on any word. However, overuse may either cause confusion or imply laziness on the part of the writer. In some circumstances as the example above shows, an abbreviated word is more common than its drawn-out counterpart. A partial list of accepted types of abbreviations is included below:

- Titles e.g. Dr., Mr.

- Cooking Terms e.g. c., t.

- Sizes e.g. S., M., L.

- Measurement e.g. lb., Mi., Yd.

- Acronyms e.g. S.C.U.B.A., N.A.S.A.

The Exclamation Point: “ ! ”

Used to convey emphasis and emotion, the exclamation point is the first of the period’s best friends. When an exclamation point is used at the end of the sentence, the reader is signaled that the writer is trying to make a point or bring greater attention to the sentence at hand.

Example: “There were two planes flying next to each other in the show. Suddenly, one of the planes went out of control!”

As you can see, the writer in this example exclaims the second sentence, bringing attention to the change of events using the suitably named exclamation mark.

Within dialogue the exclamation mark is more frequently used. Sometimes it marks a subtle rising of the voice, and in other times it can signify an unruly scream or shout.

Example:

“I’ve never seen that person before,” said Brad.

“Are you sure?” said the impatient policeman. “I’m almost certain this is the guy. Look at his tattoos! Look at that tattered hair! Those are dead giveaways!”

“Gerald, I would know the thief when I saw him. This guy, well, he’s probably just a poor look-alike having yet another bad day.”

“You know, we can take him in, Brad. We have the power to do that. And, frankly, it’ll look a lot better on my part if we do.”

“Not when they found out you’ve put an innocent man in jail.”

“He’s not innocent! He was clearly J-walking!”

“We’re not trying to find a J-walker, we’re trying to find the guy that stole my mother’s diamond-encrusted nose ring!”

It may be tempting to include more than one exclamation point in cases when someone’s really tearing out their voice-box. However, this usually just comes off as tacky, and it’s best used sparingly. If extra emphasis is desired, you can CAPITALIZE the text as well using the exclamation point.

Example: “AUUUGGHH! GET THIS SPIDER OFF ME!!!”

Clearly spiders are worth at least a few extra exclamation points.

Lastly, in mathematics the exclamation point is used to signify a factorial. Factorials are even rarer in writing than the aforementioned “ | ”, so it’s not necessary to indulge further at this time.

The Question Mark: “ ? ”

The more inquisitive of period’s two friends, the question mark’s use is self-explanatory. Whenever there’s a question, or whenever a sentence ends in an inquisitive or question-like manner, replace the period with a question mark.

Example: “Why is snow cold? Why is fire hot? Is there a point to these questions other than to provide examples of questions to this example for a question mark?”

Like the exclamation mark, in some cases numerous question marks can be used simultaneously. This would be to show extreme confusion or consternation.

Example: “Say whaaaaaaat???”

Side Note: Capitalization at the Beginning of Sentences

Up to this point, I’ve described the punctuation marks used to end a sentence. However, it must also be noted the way to begin a sentence has its own punctuation, namely, capitalizing the first letter. For simple demonstration, I’ve underlined the first letter of each of these sentences, pointing out their capitalization. This capitalization makes it easier for the reader to discern between sentences, taking away any underlying confusion.

Side Note to the Side Note: Spacing at the Beginning of Sentences

It must also be noted that between the Triple Threat and the following capitalization of the first letter of the next sentence, two spaces are added to further solidify the understanding that they are indeed two separate sentences. The goal of punctuation is to make the intention of the writer absolutely clear, and these sentence dividers may be the most important of all elements of punctuation to uphold that clarity.

Non-Conclusive Punctuation Marks

The Comma: “ , ”

Ah, the comma. It’s so common, and used in so many different ways, that it’s easy to forget how many times it’s really used. The main use for the comma is to represent a pause in the sentence for the reader, signaling a change of ideas or perspective. For the sake of brevity, I’ll try to show by example its many roles in English grammar. (There may be some grammatical terms I use hereof. If you don’t understand them, or if I mistakenly use them incorrectly or create new grammatical terms from my own whim, just blindly accept whatever you see for the sake of cooperation. If you want more detailed or ‘correct’ explanations of grammatical rules or grammar in general, refer to the other lessons in this series. If the other lessons haven’t been created yet, buy a grammar book or rent one for free from your local library.)

Example 1: Separating Sentence Clauses: “Johnny went to the park, and Mary met him there shortly afterward.”

Both ‘Johnny went to the park’ and ‘Mary met him there shortly afterward’ could be sentences in their own right. By adding a comma with his friend ‘and,’ the two potential sentences combine to create one compound sentence. Other common friends of the comma are ‘but’, ‘however’, and ‘therefore’.

Example 2a: Adding Prepositional Phrases: “Upon receiving your application, I will shred it immediately.”

A prepositional phrase can be added to the beginning of any sentence using a comma. If the preposition is in the middle of a sentence, two commas are needed.

Example 2b: “Riding her bike, with helmet intact, Rachel sped down the hill.”

Not all prepositional phrases need a comma, and sometimes only experience and good discretion can tell when the comma is needed. If there’s confusion on the part of the writer whether he/she needs to add a comma or not, it may be best simply to rewrite the sentence:

Example 2c: “With her helmet fastened tightly, Rachel sped down the hill on her bike.”

Or to avoid the preposition altogether:

Example 2d: “Rachel put on her helmet tightly. She then sped down the hill on her bike.”

Example 3a: Separating Dialogue: “‘Pass me the milk,’ said Bill.”

Sometimes two or more commas are needed to distinguish between characters and what they’re saying.

Example 3b: “‘Well,’ replied Marty somberly, ‘At least he didn’t go down without a fight.’”

Example 4a: Making Lists: “I’ve got to go to the store and buy shoes, socks, and a new pair of tidy whities.”

Example 4b: “Ruth made her bed, took out the trash, and vacuumed the living room. With her chores finished, she could finally go outside and play basketball."

Whether it be items, tasks, or anything in-between, a comma is used to separate the ideas.

There are surely many more examples than this, but the main thing to remember is that the comma is used as a separator within sentences, dividing longer ideas up into smaller ones, adding pauses to create the desirable ebb and flow, ensuring fluidity in all thought processes. Really, truly, it is a very useful and necessary punctuation mark.

The Apostrophe: “ ’ ”

There are two main uses of the apostrophe: to show possession, and to indicate contractions. As we all like to own stuff and to abbreviate u’neccesar’ly, learning how to use the apostrophe correctly is very important.

Example: “Ronny’s car is out of gas. Good thing he has Mom’s credit card.”

More often than not, simply add an apostrophe with an “s” to single nouns. Occasionally, discretion is advised, such as in the following example.

Example: “This quiz’s questions are challenging. James’ answers were all correct. Jordan’s were not.”

For plural nouns, adding an apostrophe after the plural is most often proficient, as in the next example.

Example: “The dogs’ bones were buried deep in the ground. All of the cats’ remarks about this phenomenon were suitably nonplussed.”

Regarding contractions, the apostrophe is essentially taking the place of any character or any series of characters within a word that the author wishes to delete. This is most often the case for common place brevity, as in the following:

Example: “Don’t do that! It doesn’t make any sense! I mean, you can’t. Wait, can you? Wow! You did! If this isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, then you can call me a monkey’s uncle!”

As you can see, the most common contractions are those where the word “not” is replaced by the apostrophe. Of course, almost any letter (or number, as in dates), can be replaced with an apostrophe, which makes its versatility almost infinite. INFINITE! But, it’s best not to get carried away, unless you’re really trying to go for an exaggerated effect. Dialogue and dialects are a perfect medium to go wild.

Example: “Some’in’ gotta’ change, Bra’. We can’t jus’ wait for ‘em to take over. We gotta take action.”

The Quotation Mark: “ “” ”, “ ‘’ ”

The Quotation Mark is a tricky little bugger for being such a seemingly benign common element of punctuation. First, there are two types of quotation marks, the double “” and the single ‘’. They both do the same thing and are pretty much interchangeable, but the double “” is more commonly used. The theories for this double “” dominance are highly debated. Some say it’s a complex governmental brain-washing plot to transform the population into “Even Stevens” rather than “Odd Todds,” claiming that a nation which doesn’t double things when they aught to be doubled, is, well, odd, and that no other nation wants to be friends with a nation that inherently likes odd things. Yes. The other theory is that the single ‘’ may be confused with the aforementioned apostrophe ’, so it is avoided when unnecessary. I’ll let you make the decision of which theory sounds more plausible, (though I think we all know the latter is just a bit too simple for such a wide phenomenon).

In any case, the quotation mark is always composed of two separate pieces which enclose a piece of text to highlight it for a specific reason. Also, if you include quotes within quotes, you must vary between the two types, (again, to avoid confusion). The most common use for quotation marks is to represent dialogue in a conversation.

Example: “‘Yep,’ chuckled Albert, ‘that dog sure is crazy.’”

At this point you may be thinking, “Is that dog really crazy? Oh, and didn’t you already have an example of dialogue earlier? And how come the comma next to 'Yep' is inside the quotation? Are there rules for that?”

My answer for these questions would be listed chronologically as follows: probably, yes, because that’s how it works, and most definitely. For the latter, including other punctuation inside the quotation mark is common practice. Moving on ...

Example: “John wasn’t very ‘good’ at holding his breath.”

Sarcasm can be indicated by adding quotes around a word within proper context. The context here is underwater, where a flailing man is on the verge of drowning. Oh, but don’t worry! A dolphin saves him at the last moment. Actually, it was two dolphins. Well, more accurately, thirty-seven dolphins, but that’s not the point. The point is, John is safe and sound, though I don’t think he’ll go “treasure-hunting” again anytime soon.

Quotation marks are also commonly used when citing numerous types of titles, such as articles, chapters, songs, and poems. Really, almost any title other than that of a book, which alternately gets underlined, should receive quotes.

Example: “ ‘Bob Blortman Falls Further Behind in Race for Class Treasurer’ ”

Example:Odie the Dog: An Autobiography

Lastly, you may have noticed that I’ve been using quotation marks to represent my examples. This is more of a stylistic choice than anything, along with the choice of using the double variety.

A Brief Conclusion

Learn basic punctuation. The rules are in place, and you must follow them. It’s just how it is. You can’t go around creating your own punctuation, like the triple “,,,”, no matter how cool you might think it looks. ‘Cause then they’ll send you to writing jail. It’s like writing block, with guns. You even touch a pencil, BANG, better learn how to write with your other hand.

On that bright note, I hope you enjoyed this first lesson on basic punctuation. Look forward to the next lesson, which may or may not be about advanced punctuation, and may or may not be published within the next week, month, or possibly even year! But sometime. Definitely sometime.

Remember, with enough practice, you, too, can be a gud writer!

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