The importance of punctuation


By Sue Curtis



I was in the grocery store the other day and saw a woman wearing an unusual t-shirt. It read, “punctuation is important. ‘Let’s eat grandma.’ ‘Let’s eat, Grandma.’” This made me laugh out loud and I hope the shopper realized I was enjoying her shirt and not totally crazy.

Punctuation is important. Think about how you would punctuate the following words: we’re going to cut and paste kids. It has to read “We’re going to cut and paste, kids” because you’re talking to them, not cutting them up. Those commas are really vital!

I know I have a bad habit of overusing commas. Especially when I want to denote a pause, I’ll throw one in the sentence. Often, I have to go back and erase (or delete) a half dozen commas. But I’d rather have too many commas than leave one out that causes confusion.

Here’s another one for the support of a well-placed comma. Most of the time travelers worry about their luggage. If you don’t put a comma after “most of the time” to denote a phrase, then it seems that you are modifying “travelers” to mean those who travel most of the time. These aren’t the only people who worry about their luggage – we all do!

Periods are important, as well. I read the following paragraph one day and was puzzled. It said: “Thank you! Your donation just helped someone. Get a job.” I was mildly amused, since I’m semi-retired and so technically I already have a job. Then another email came racing in, which read, “Oops, sorry, that last message was supposed to say, “Thank you! Your donation just helped someone get a job.” A poorly placed period could cause trouble, I’d say.

I read one on the internet the other day that talked about how forgetting a comma can cause misunderstandings in the personal ads. The writer said he saw an ad that read “interests include: cooking dogs, shopping, reading, movies.” He believed that the person placing the ad had intended to say her interests included cooking and dogs, not cooking dogs.

The Oxford comma is the one that is used at the end of a series of things listed in a sentence. (Can you believe there’s a name for it?) Anyway, it helps define a list, such as “bring me a cup, saucer, and spoon.” Experts say that you can leave out that last comma as it’s optional. However, this can result in some confusion, especially when things are in pairs. For example, one young student answered the question of naming important people in her life by writing, “I love my parents, Taylor Swift and Kermit the Frog.” Without that Oxford comma, one is led to believe her parents are two singers, one of whom is a Muppet.

Have you ever read a letter or email from someone who likes to use exclamation points often? I get the sense the person is bouncing on their seat as he or she writes! At any rate, enjoy your day and your punctuation marks.

Email me at suecurtis9@gmail.com.

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By Sue Curtis

Sue is a retired public servant who volunteers at the Hospice store (For All Seasons) in Troy and teaches part-time at Urbana University. She keeps busy taking care of husband, house, and pets. She and her husband have an adult son who lives in Troy.

Sue is a retired public servant who volunteers at the Hospice store (For All Seasons) in Troy and teaches part-time at Urbana University. She keeps busy taking care of husband, house, and pets. She and her husband have an adult son who lives in Troy.