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The Function of Periods

Written by tutor Colette J.

Writing any phrase or paragraph is opening your own interpretation of a subject and expressing it to someone who is presently in front of you, or reading the paragraph in a book or document. By utilizing all the tools that have been given to us, whether nouns, articles, adverbs of location or time, and varieties of tenses of verbs, we describe our views to others who will receive them as such, until the time when they either accept it as truth, or, upon review, come to a decision on their own points of view. Until that time, whatever is projected by the word will be the picture that the recipient will form in his/her mind and this is strictly from the words contained in that sentence which express an idea or an opinion.

Because the word chosen is so important and so crucial to the vision wanted to convey, it is important to structure the sentences in a way that is clearly defined, when it begins and when it ends and especially what it contains in the middle. If the picture you have in your mind is what you are trying to convey to a recipient, then the message has to be clear with no ambiguities. The American language, made up of so many other languages, gives us different tools to ensure that the message we are sending is received in a structured manner. This manner is by using punctuation. When we make complete sentences, we finish our thoughts with a period. When we describe a noun or a person, we can encircle the adjectives with commas. When we want to list objects or ideas, we preview them with a colon. When we continue a train of thought in multiple sentences, we separate those sentences with semi colons.

In order to allow the voice to pause and a breath to be taken at some point during the recitation of our ideas, we use the period to pause. This pause needs to finish the sentence and, therefore, our sentence needs to be complete. It demands to stand alone, make sense by itself and not leave a question at the end of it because certain elements have been left out of the sentence. A complete sentence will have an article, a subject which is most of the time a noun, a verb, several adverbs which compliment the verb with either location, time, or other words that modify the verb, a few adjectives and a final word that will complete the meaning of the sentence.

Instead of saying: “He left,” perhaps we can add either a time or place, such as “he left at 5:00 last night” or “he left before it started to snow.” With the last two sentences, we have no questions to ask as we are told exactly what we need to know in a very short sentence which is to the point. Within a sentence, we can use other punctuation marks to put emphasis on a particular part of our sentence, to enhance an action or strengthen a noun, but the end of our idea must be the ending period. We do not end paragraphs with semi-colons or even a comma. The end of a sentence is always punctuated by a period to not only allow the voice to pause, but to put an end to the idea we have been formulating.

As we continue reciting what we are trying to convey, the usage of punctuation becomes almost more important that the context of the sentence. When reading out loud a paragraph or even a story, putting the proper intonation at the proper punctuation mark is key to ensuring that the sentence will be understood by the recipient. Not pausing for a comma, or allowing the voice to project downward, or not marking semi colons, can confuse the recipient as the message becomes ambiguous and certainly unclear. The punctuation marks perform adjacent duties to the meaning of the sentence, allowing the interjection of certain words, the addition to others that may not be necessary to the meaning of the sentence, but which add color and interest to the theme of the sentence. But, always at the end, we will find the period which signals that the sentence is finished, the particular thought is over for the time being and the voice can stop. The next paragraph may pick up on additional information on the subject of the entire story, but the period allowed the recipient to know and understand that the sentence was received for interpretation and was composed of all the words necessary for the comprehension of the idea.

Formulating a sentence is a question of choice of words; however, the proper usage of grammar and punctuation is critical to not only the good expression of the American language, but is a key signal to the receiver of what the intended sentence means to convey. Several people believe that punctuation is a matter of choice but those who think in such a way do not convey the proper message to those listening or reading them. The appropriate usage of grammar and punctuation is a lovingly way to express emotions, words of wisdom, using proper intonations, reflections of thoughts, the portrait of ideas and pursuit of common goals. By using the proper punctuation, we are sharing with others the picture we want to depict and transfer to our audience. By putting our punctuation marks where they belong, we are therefore showing a better picture and transferring our ideas in a better communication, a wise organized sense of self and a clear transfer of message.

Which sentence would you rather receive?
I keep busy.
I keep busy with German lessons.
I keep busy with German lessons, gym classes with names like “healthy back,” gardening, grocery shopping and cooking.

I am sure that you know a lot more about the person by reading the last sentence than the first. The person described what types of activities they carry out every day, and we learned so much more because of the words used, the commas that encircles each of the list of activities and, finally the period which ended the sentence. Based on this thought, we can gather a lot of information about the person, namely that they are studying German, they want to remain healthy by going to the gym, they like gardening, whether for flowers or vegetables, they like to shop, even though this time it is just to the grocery store and that they cook, thereby probably indicating a love of baking food. We gathered all these expressions because the author choose the words carefully, expressed an emotion regarding the person and conveyed an idea of what the person did during the day. While the sentence was not very long, it was very expressive and contained key information that could be of interest to the recipient. All those expressions were contained in a sentence, between two periods.

The final story of the period is that it allows you to put into words an idea, a feeling or an expression, begin it with a subject and end the thought with a period. There is a lot of adventure in between those two punctuation marks, and it’s up to us to structure our sentences to deliver the best message possible to the recipient by choosing our punctuation marks appropriately.

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