Punctuation is an important tool. When you add a period or a comma to a sentence, you apply an artisan’s finish to your work, clarifying meaning, emphasizing a point, or regulating the flow of thought. Punctuation provides guidance to the flow and sound of your words.
For example, try reading the following out loud:
Why did you have to go after so many years together we’ve proved we can survive anything haven’t we
The use of punctuation can bring different meanings to your words and affect the sound and meter:
a) Why did you have to go? After so many years together, we’ve proved we can survive anything. Haven’t we?
b)Why did you have to go after so many years together? We’ve proved we can survive anything, haven’t we?
c)Why did you have to go after so many years? Together we’ve proved we can survive anything—haven’t we?
The punctuation marks we choose will guide the flow and in some cases the intensity of our words. We can’t write without them; we certainly would spoil our creative work if we used them incorrectly.
Here’s a cheat sheet of punctuation marks and their usage:
A period ends a sentence.
A comma, however, only creates a pause.
A semicolon slows the reader down; however, it isn’t strong enough to stop anyone.
A colon tells us the following: You’re about to read a list, be introduced to a fragment or a sentence, or be given a quotation to read.
A dash —maligned by purists but used frequently in journalism—creates a more abrupt break than the comma.
Quotation marks are “busy beavers.” They are used to record speech faithfully, signify book titles, and point attention to nicknames, among other things.
A hyphen is well-used in our language. It creates economy by joining modifiers that belong together.
Ellipses warn us . . . something is missing.
Parentheses (they look like this) are used to add needed information without harming sentence rhythm.
Do you really need an explanation of the question mark?
Of course not! Ditto for the exclamation mark!
Although there are styles and fads in punctuation, writers must deal with logical, consistent rules to give us clarity. Leave creative punctuation to the poets.