Is Punctuation Obligatory?
One of my neighbors is the editor of our homeowners’ association newsletter. When asked about her unusual style of writing, she indicated that a teacher had once told her that punctuation was optional. After picking myself off the floor, I became angry at this “unknown” teacher who obviously was teaching the wrong concepts to her class. Can we really believe that punctuation is optional?
I can think of three fundamental reasons why punctuation is an imperative way of writing. The first is because it allows the voice to pause or rest. Without a strategically placed pause, or a period at the end of a sentence, all sentences would be run ins and wouldn’t make any sense at all. In addition, a carefully placed punctuation mark allows the voice to emphasize a word or part of a sentence. Second, punctuation invites you to write in clear, easily understandable ways of presenting your thoughts and a perfectly good way to be read. It is an integral part of communicating. It should be accurate and used to convey the sense of thoughts. It helps provide all the information that is required to express an idea or a thought. Third, putting comas, semi colons or periods at specific places in the sentences allows the author to present numerous ways of saying things in a contiguous manner. The actions start from the beginning and the story unfolds with different words, actions and sentences. Without punctuation, it would be a complete garble and just a wide mess of words.
When people look at someone face to face, facial expressions, tone of voice and movements can communicate thoughts and the spoken words; however, when the sentence is part of a written paragraph and there is no voice intonation, it becomes crucial to understanding the text to read the sentence by following the punctuation that is being used. Punctuation creates clarity and sense to the sentence.
Punctuation is like a road sign for a reader; it shows you what the writer intended to say, what his thoughts were and where his story is going. Without the punctuation mark, you will fail to see or interpret incorrectly a lot of the information and perhaps miss totally what was originally conveyed.
If you were to read the following sentence: “Let’s go eat, people,” you would know the exact meaning of the sentence. But would you not read it differently if it were written: “let’s go eat people”? Look at the following sentence (commonly used as an example): “Woman, without her man, is nothing.” “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.” Do these sentences mean the same thing when the punctuation is changed?
I would hate to learn that our schools are advocating the dismissal of punctuation. While they skim on a lot of grammar that is necessary for the education of our children, let’s hope that they find it necessary to teach that punctuation is a vital and indispensable part of learning any language.