Traffic Control: punctuation pointers

Cartoon about grammar

“You can’t do with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, I would simply not be understood.”            Kurt Vonnegut


When you write, you are speaking to your readers. Help them hear you shout, whisper, pause, role your eyes, furrow your brow. How? With the right punctuation!

A woman, without her man, is nothing.   vs.   A woman – without her – man is nothing.

Let’s eat grandpa!      vs.      Let’s eat, grandpa!

Think of your punctuation as traffic signals, helping readers navigate your paragraphs.

There are 30 main punctuation marks, but you can have great impact with these top 10.  (TIP: If you’re not sure which to use, read your writing aloud and let your own ears tell you.)

Period. Red light. Stop.
Comma, flashing yellow light or yield sign, slow down, pause.
;  Semi-colon; flashing red light; stop then move on quickly.
:  Colon: Construction sign: watch out for what comes next: list, quotation, explanation.
?  Question mark? Fork in the road? Bewilderment? Wonder? Inquiry?
  Dash Warning arrow – dashes shout – dramatic pause before strong emphasis.
Parentheses) (Detour sign) (Parentheses whisper about some extra bit of info.)
“ Quotation marks”road flares,” “marking special area or dialogue.”
!  Exclamation! Siren! Special emphasis!
… Elipses… Pothole… something’s missing… incomplete… needs to be filled in…

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