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The Purpose of Punctuation

Punctuation marks

Are language traffic signs.

They tell you when to start and stop

Or how to read the lines.

Punctuation is used, in printing and writing, to imitate speech. When we speak we use voice inflections, stops, pauses, and even body language to indicate our meaning. For example, when we ask a question our voice rises at the end of a sentence. This inflective rise is a vocal question mark. When we make a statement our voice drops at the end of the sentence. This inflective drop is a vocal period. When we verbally list items we pause after each item. This verbal pause is a vocal comma.

The invention of the printing press was the catalyst for the development of punctuation signs. Johann Gutenberg (1397-1468) is credited with the invention of the printing press in 1436 or 1437. Over the next two hundred years printers experimented with many signs and symbols; but, it wasn't until the late 1600's and into the 1700's that standardized punctuation emerged with its requisite signs and rules.

The English language is constantly evolving. During the 20th century alone we observed this evolution in many ways: subtle spelling changes (colour, color), new words (movies, motel), technological terms (megabyte, internet), scientific terms (quark, neutrino), and colloquialisms (keen, rad).

Punctuation is also evolving. The hard and fast rules of the past are becoming more elastic. Not all text books agree on the uses of every punctuation mark. In my opinion this is a good thing. Language should shift and change with the needs of the times. For example, in 1962 the interrobang was introduced as "a twentieth century punctuation mark". This new mark is discussed in Lesson 14 of The Basic Cozy Punctuation Course.

The purpose of punctuation is to facilitate reading and writing by indicating the necessary pauses. The aim of punctuation is to clarify meaning and prevent misunderstanding.

The best way to check your punctuation is to read your writing aloud. Wherever you pause, you need a punctuation mark.

Punctuation Course

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