Technical Tuesday- Cheat Sheet: Punctuation Marks and How to Use Them.

West Wing is on of my favorite TV shows. It's smart, and doesn't mind playing it smart. So of course there's a scene in an episode when the lovable professor president quizzes his team about how many punctuation marks there are in English language. He gives them the number and asks them to name them all. And of course, the brightest of the brightest can and do. We are going to cover all 14 of them here. (Oh, and Bartlett is wrong, and he is right. There are 14, just not the 14 mentioned. I'm going over it in the order it was done in the West Wing S1E06.)

So without further ado, I give you the list:

  1. Period:  .  Ah the glorious period, what shall we say about you? Also known as a full stop in British English, this type of punctuation appears at the end of a sentence.
  2. Coma:   ,   Oh,  I love the comma! Probably the most used punctuation mark used in the English language, commas are used to separate clauses, or whenever (if reading out loud) you want the narrator to pause or take a breath. It is very important to learn where a comma goes and why. A misplaced comma changes the entire meaning of a sentence. Let's eat grandma. or Let eat, grandma. Commas save lives!
  3. Colon: :   Two vertical dots can do so much: for instance, they are an acceptable way to join two sentences, if the second explains the first. There are two more uses: before the begining of a list in text, and before a direct quote. This is why plays are written with the character's name, colon, the lines the actor is to read. 
  4. Semi-colon: The whole purpose of a semicolon is to be stronger than a coma; formal writing uses it to join two independent clauses when they are too closely related to be two separate sentences. 
  5. Dash: -- This poor, neglected punctuation mark has fallen out of favor with the advent of keyboards. It appears longer than the hyphen, and when no dash is available a double hyphen is used to mark a dash. This is the mark of informal writing and is used to in place of where commas, semicolons, and colon would go--there are no spaces in front or behind the dash.
  6. Hyphen: - Shorter than a dash, it has a distinctly different use. They are used to add prefixes to words or to combine words together to make a compound word. As more compound words have become part of the standard lexicon, usage has become less common. None-the-less most of us still know a word or two where they are appropriate. If you are making up a term from two different words to get one idea, use it there. 
  7. Apostrophe: ' This little punctuation mark shows possession or eliminations (as in  contractions.) Rules are simple. If the noun is single (or plural but does not end in an s) add apostrophe s. 
  8.  Question Mark: ? What can we say about the question mark? How about the truth? It's only use to mark the end of a question. 
  9. Exclamation Point: ! This is used to mark shouting, excitement, or anger. Use sparingly, and if used this way, there is typically little need to explain the vocalization behind it. 
  10. Quotation Marks : " " Used at the beginning and the end of a direct quote, it is used to mark dialog in fiction and to quote word for word in non-fiction.
  11. Brackets and Parentheses: These were listed separately, but parentheses are a subgroup of brackets and are used in exactly the same way. 
  12. Braces-Used in printing, they look like this { } they mean either words on one side of the brace mean the same as the words on the other side, or the words in the middle of the braces are connected. 
  13. Bullet Points: Left of the list because this is from first season West Wing, bullet points have become increasingly common in the modern era due to the shift from printed word based reports to computer based slide show type presentations. In fact they have become so prevalent that they are widely used on local TV news. 
And there you have it, a short list of the punctuation marks used in the English language. Now go forth, and use them properly in you work.

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