Learning to Use Punctuation

In my composition classes, I often spend time going over punctuation concerns, since students often suffer from confusion, especially when it comes to commas.  I have used fun ideas from the Internet and from Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots & Leaves (2003).  I’ve even toyed with the idea of having students buy Truss’s book, but it seems like too much (in terms of cost and length), especially since we try to focus on writing, not punctuation or grammar.

A solution to this has recently come to my attention.  A compact and delightful volume called Punctuation..? (2012) by User Design would address all necessary punctuation issues for my students without creating a lot of extra reading or taking away from the class’s focus on composition.

Punctuation..?  addresses each punctuation mark in one or two pages, accompanied by fun pictures that help to illustrate the point.  The examples are clear, easy to understand, and fun.  All punctuation marks are explained in 35 pages.

I could see myself having students buy this book and then going over one or two marks per class period.  I especially saw the section on semi-colons helpful, for I usually advise my students not to use them at all.  They have a hard time grasping when and how to employ them, and because beginning composition students don’t usually write with sentences that are complicated enough to demand a semi-colon, we avoid them.

I do find myself often explaining dashes, both em dashes and en dashes, and Punctuation..? explains the use of these as well.  Each part is short, sweet, and to the point.  The book includes a short explanation of each punctuation mark and some examples that demonstrate how to use it.  Each page also has accompanying pictures, which made me smile and added to the charm of this book.

I even learned some new punctuation marks!  As a former editor, I thought I had a pretty good handle on language, grammar, and punctuation.  However, from this book I learned about guillemets and an interpunct.  I have seen them before, but I have never had occasion to use them.  Admittedly, some of the uses in the book are different than American use, because it is published by a company in the United Kingdom.  However, I enjoyed it and I can see its usefulness in a classroom.

If you’d like to know more about this book, please visit http://www.userdesignillustrationandtypesetting.com/books.

48 thoughts on “Learning to Use Punctuation

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    1. Thanks! Em dashes are the longer dashes (the supposed length of the letter “m”) and en dashes are a bit longer than hyphens and usually are used between numbers (the length of the letter “n”). I can’t get them to copy over from Word, or I would so you could actually see them!

  1. Would you recommend either of these books for me? I’m looking to improve my usage but I’m American and both of these are British usage. Are there significant differences?

    1. Yes, I would recommend them both! I would say the biggest difference in American versus British punctuation is the placement of it outside of quotation marks, as Hugh pointed out. You will still learn a lot from these books about punctuation. Enjoy!

  2. One thing I know about English punctuation as contrasted with ours is that they put commas and periods outside the quotation marks; we put them inside. (Did I use the semi-colon properly??!!

    1. When did English punctuation start placing commas, periods, etc. outside quotation marks? I’ve always placed them inside. That’s how I was taught at a young age and has always made more sense that way.

      Looks like a good book Emily!

      1. I’m not sure about that! I am more of an expert on American punctuation, but it would make an interesting research project! I’ve heard arguments that placing it outside actually makes more sense, but I prefer it inside as well.

  3. 08 Apr 2013 – Punctuation
      (for Emily January)

    Punctuation? HA!
    That’s why I write
    in broken English!
    Everyone I know
    still calls it “Poetry!”


  4. I think that punctuation is one of the most complicated things to grasp and it sounds like this book is a real winner. I find myself using lots of commas and then when I go back and re-read I end up moving them about and adding semi colon’s so it’s definitely something I could benefit from! Thank you.

    1. I love your process of using lots of commas and then replacing them with semicolons. You sound like my students, no offense! It is a confusing thing to use commas correctly! There are many strict “rules” about it, but the rules tend to use language that is difficult to understand. It is one big conundrum for many of us!

  5. I love this one! As a grader of essays, punctuation was always the scourge of my existence. I knew I should be worried more about content, but those darned misplaced commas, or lack thereof, got in the way of my enjoyment of the piece. I plan to find this book, even though professionally I don’t really need to know anymore, just because I want to read it. Who knows? I might even pass it on to the younger lady who took my place at school. Thanks for another good “read.”

    1. You are most welcome. I hope it works for you! And I like that even though you don’t need it professionally (or to make money) that you are still interested. That’s a good way to live. And yes, em dashes and en dashes are NOT hyphens. They are longer, with the em dash being longer than the en dash.

  6. I was just telling my husband that I have forgotten punctuation rules. Ugh! Perfect timing to find out about a quick and easy book. Thank you.

  7. I’m so glad you did this post. I love punctuation and hate seeing it used incorrectly but so many people haven’t been taught it properly. I was taught about it but my husband wasn’t, even though we are both from the UK – different places, different teaching methods! But even I’m a bit rusty on it now so that book will be interesting. Thanks again.

  8. What an interesting book! I am tempted to buy it myself. Most of the time I think I have a good handle on the punctuation but sometimes I do feel a bit unsure. It would be nice to erase the doubt!

  9. I surely could benefit from that book. I use semicolons like they are going out of style (and probably improperly). I had not known that about the British/American punctuation before/after quotation marks difference. I assumed one way was in error but was never sure which one. Thanks, Emily, for this post.

    1. So it turns out that neither way is technically “in error.” 🙂 I guess it just depends on the context, and the older I get, the more that rule seems to apply to everything. Thanks for the comment. I love how you describe your use of semicolons, because, in fact, they ARE going out of style!

  10. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I once had a teacher tell me not to use the semicolon until I learned how to use it correctly. 10 years later I still haven’t figured it out.

    1. It is so bad of us teachers to say that and then leave a student hanging and they never learn! I think it is taught in more depth in upper level English classes, like editing, but if you aren’t majoring in it, then you don’t get that information. What a disservice! 🙂

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