Clear Writing Requires The Use Of Correct Punctuation Marks.

Punctuation is an extensive subject which will be discussed in several blogs.  Today’s blog covers end marks and the comma.

To some extent, punctuation has the same use in writing that the use of gestures, pauses, and vocal inflections have in speaking, i.e., for emphasis or to reveal the precise relationship of thoughts.  But the use of punctuation goes beyond what is necessary for emphatic writing.

The use of correct punctuation makes writing more understandable, and aids in the smooth flow and clear presentation of information.  Without punctuation all writing would be a jumble of words.  The correct use of punctuation will mark you as a superior writer.

End Marks.

The most common use of punctuation is to use a period at the end of a sentence.  If the sentence is for emphasis, use an exclamation mark.  If it is a question, use a question mark.

Comma.

Several punctuation issues revolve around the correct use of the comma. Without the proper use of a comma sentence parts would collide, making the sentence difficult to read.  Use of a comma is required in a wide range of writing situations.

Use a comma in the following instances:

–  to set off (enclose or punctuate on both sides) a parenthetic statement (aka an interrupter);

–  between items in a series, unless and or or is used throughout;

–  between main clauses joined by a conjunction (and, but, or);

– to separate parts of a sentence which might confusingly be read together.  Rewrite the sentence if necessary.

Confusing and unclear – Despite replanting America’s forests are not limitless.

Made clear by punctuation – Despite replanting, America’s forests are not limitless.

–  to set off non-restrictive (non-essential) modifiers;  do not set off restrictive modifiers.

Restrictive – Students who work the hardest get the best results. [The who clause points out what particular students get best results.  If the clause were set off by commas, the sentence would mean that all students work the hardest.]

Non-restrictive – Shale oil, which used to be prohibitively expensive to recover, is now being recovered in greater quantities due to technological advances.  [The term shale oil specifies what kind of oil is being discussed.  The which clause adds extra information.  This information is not essential to the main thought that increased amounts of shale oil are being recovered.  If the clause was deleted the main thought would still remain.]

A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence is usually set off.

Non-restrictive – After sleeping all morning, Thomas was too embarrassed to go to work.;  Pressing the accelerator to the floor, Paul overcame the other racers.

Restrictive – Books dealing with automobile racing are in great demand.

Sometimes the wording of a sentence permits a clause to be either restrictive or non-restrictive.  When that happens, the writer may decide which of two meanings should be used.

Correct:  The speaker who spoke last week is also speaking again this week.

[The who clause is restrictive because it identifies the man who spoke].

Also correct:

The speaker, who spoke last week, is the same one speaking this week.  [The who clause is non-restrictive because the reader is supposed to know who the speaker is].

Certain clauses where adverbs such as while, after, though, since, if, as, and because are used, will also require a comma when used in a non-restrictive sense.

Non-restrictive while clause:

My brother-in-law has the best of all possible worlds, while I have to scrape out a living.  Restrictive:  Even so, he lets me use his house while he is away.

Non-restrictive after clause:

The meeting reached a vote at midnight, after all members had declared there was was an emergency.  Restrictive:  One member tried to reopen the meeting after it was adjourned.

Non-restrictive though clause:

The city has tried to fill all potholes, though there is no money for repairs.  (Though and although clauses are always non-restrictive).

Non-restrictive since clause:

He may be away, since his house has been dark for two weeks.  Restrictive:  His house looks better since it was painted.

Non-restrictive if clause:

Mr. Reynolds was there first, if you don’t mind.  Restrictive:  He will be upset if you get out of line.

Non-restrictive as clause:

The Raptors are now the best team in this league, as you said they would be.  Restrictive:  Bob watched the team eagerly as the season drew to a close.

Non-restrictive because clause:

Your back porch should be stained, because you need to preserve the redwood.  Restrictive:  I did not stain the porch because I wanted to improve its looks.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Filed under clear writing, Writing Improvement

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