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Punctuation matters. Period.

Posted by Noel Sanchez on September 26, 2008

Tuesday was National Punctuation Day, and I spent the day reflecting on the periods, commas, hyphens and apostrophes in my life.

Using punctuation correctly is one skill a person never finishes developing. Using proper punctuation consistently doesn’t conflict with my love of descriptive grammar, so I’m all for adding dots and curls to copy because it only makes writing clearer. Furthermore, I find punctuation interesting because it is meant to mimic the way we speak by adding pauses and giving written sentences intonation. You know to read a sentence differently when it ends in “?” than when it end in “!”

I can relate (in a weird way) with Ron Burgundy in “Anchorman,” who mistakenly says, “You stay classy, San Diego. I’m Ron Burgundy?” because of a misplaced question mark. I’ve never done anything that embarrassing, but it’s easy to get tripped up by bad punctuation.

And bad punctuation can cost you. Just how much? About 2 million Canadian dollars. Brushing up on the rules once a year may keep you from committing a costly blunder.

So, in honor of the holiday, I have made four punctuation resolutions:

I will not use an em dash to set off parenthetical material or unessential clauses. I will use commas.

Some editors, who are unsure about how to treat clauses like this one, set them off with em dashes.

I will capitalize the first word that comes after a colon if it starts a complete sentence.

I promise this: Colon mistakes will not be tolerated.

I will only use an ellipsis to show the deletion of words in a quote, not to indicate a pause. And I will use only three periods and a space on either side.

This example is … pretty self-explanatory.

I will look up words in the dictionary to see if they normally carry a hyphen because I realize that hyphen rules are really arbitrary; it’s impossible to memorize them all. I will be OK with that.

My hyphen misuses are well-known throughout the newsroom.


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