Tag Archives: punctuation

Exclamation Marks

Westward Ho!

It is impossible to say this town’s name without sounding like you’re suggesting a galleon-based voyage towards it.

The key point with exclamation marks is to use them sparingly, otherwise they will lose their impact. There are three main uses:

1. Exclamation marks can be used to indicate an exclaimed sentence: ‘With a gorilla in a hot air balloon! A hot air balloon of all things!’

2. In speech they show that something is shouted or said loudly: ‘Get that gorilla back in its enclosure!’

3. They can also be used to indicate that a statement is intended to be humorous: ‘I couldn’t tell if it was him or the hippo that had made the mess!’

However, if the humour is evident without the exclamation mark, it is often more amusing and stylish to dead pan.

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?

With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?

The main issue that occurs is over-use. Please don’t use more than one at a time. If you feel that you need to give more emphasis to a sentence than others that already have one exclamation mark, it is likely that the original sentences didn’t require exclamation marks at all. I associate multiple exclamation marks with dodgy advertising; my spam folder is full of exclamation marks.

It is often better when meaning is conveyed through content. Do it with your words, not with your punctuation.

How do you feel about exclamation marks? Do you use them in your writing? Leave me a comment.

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Filed under Common Errors, Proofreading, Writing

Using Commas Like a Winner

I’m generally on board when it comes to Ernest Hemingway: I like the books; I like the beard; I like that he uses commas sparingly. Though I do think the last two are rather hard to pull off for anyone other than the great EH.  One does need to pause for breath now and again and, if you follow the rules, well placed commas can be an asset to your writing. Here’s how to use them:

1. To separate items in a list. 

For example, the terminator’s Christmas list: ‘Clothes, boots, motorcycle.’

2. To put a section of the sentence in parenthesis.

‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most famous catchphrase, the one from The Terminator, hopefully doesn’t apply to his political career.’

3. To indicate divisions between clauses in  a complex sentence. 

‘Arnie might, if given the funds and opportunity, make a sequel to Total Recall, focussing on his character’s declining short term memory: Partial Recall.’

4. To separate sections of a sentence to make it a smoother read. 

‘Released in 1990, Kindergarten Cop is an indisputable triumph of the genre.’

5. To introduce or end direct speech. 

‘Your clothes,’ he demanded, ‘give them to me, now!’

Generally, try reading your sentence out loud to see where the pauses naturally fall. Then decide, based on the guidelines, whether a comma would fit there. Essentially, a part of your sentence must be a complete clause. If it isn’t, you’ve used too many commas!

It is important to get them right: a misplaced comma can entirely change the meaning of a sentence. See seals.

In terms of Oxford commas (commas before ‘and’ in a list), the convention is not to use them in British English unless their omission could cause the meaning to be misinterpreted. See below.

In creative writing, like Ernest Hemingway’s, commas can be omitted for effect to create a faster pace, but make sure that the sense of the phrase is preserved.

It’s been said that when Joseph Conrad emerged from his study one midday after a morning of writing, his wife asked what he had done. He said,  ‘I took out a comma,’  She asked the same question that evening after several hours’ more work. He said, ‘I put back the comma.’ The moral is: commas matter.

If you would like any help putting yours in the right places, do get in touch!

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Filed under Proofreading

Semicolons Are Your Friends: A Quick Guide on How to Use Them

As a proofreader, I come upon semicolon issues in almost every piece of work I read. They are often seen as difficult and are frequently mis-used instead of commas or colons, or left out completely; some people are reluctant to use them for anything other than winking emoticons.  I remembering taking a while to grasp their uses when I was taught. But why do people struggle with them so? Perhaps they just aren’t taught well at school (stick that in your baccalaureate, Gove). What ever the reason, there are two simple rules that anyone can learn: 

1.  Semicolons are used to mark a break in a sentence, usually where both halves of the sentence could stand as sentences in their own right. You use a semicolon instead of a full stop to indicate that the points are closely linked.  This could mean that the second half explains or expands on the first, but semicolons should also be used when the two factors are directly contrasted. 

‘He loved the video of a kitten playing the piano on YouTube;  she preferred recordings of Glee-themed flash mobs.’

It would also be technically correct in this instance to use a full stop; the relationship between the two is more neatly expressed using a semicolon.

Another example: if I were to write out the lyrics to David Guetta’s ‘Titanium’, it would look like this: 

‘You shoot me down, but I won’t fall; I am titanium.’ 

You could use a full stop in between, but a semicolon nicely demonstrates the causality between the two assertions.

2. Semicolons can also be used to separate items in a list where they consist of more than one word. The list should be introduced with a colon and the items separated by semicolons.

‘He enjoyed a variety of other videos: the panda falling out of a hammock; squirrels spinning like whirligigs on bird-feeders or washing lines; that dog that does the lambada; and anything featuring Benedict Cumberbatch on a day off.’  

That’s it; there are just two uses. You can do it!

Have a go at punctuating these: 

‘All passengers have been informed that they must not carry sharp objects that random spot-checks can be expected that longer than usual delays are possible’

‘She couldn’t dance in her favourite ballroom it was being renovated’

Let me know how you get on in the comments! 

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Filed under Proofreading, Writing Advice