Punctuation Rules!

Like virgules? Have a thing for pilcrows? Live for umlauts, ampersands, and interrobangs? Well, you’re in luck, because tomorrow is National Punctuation Day!

Copyblogger does a great job outlining the six most common punctuation mistakes, the first of which is Apostrophe for Plurals. As the Oatmeal says, if it’s plural, DON’T use an apostrophe, but if it’s for a contraction, DO use an apostrophe (which Old Navy learned too late). Except for its, DO use an apostrophe to indicate possession. Why? Grammarphobia tells us.

But that didn’t stop the Birmingham city council from deciding to stop using apostrophes on its street signs in 2009 (St. Paul’s Square became St. Pauls Square). Some were up in arms about this (as evinced by the 200+ comments on The Telegraph article) and thought apostrophes in Birmingham place names should be retained, but Arnold Zwicky and Stan Carey didn’t think it was that big of a deal, while Michael Quinion at World Wide Words pointed out that “it has long been common to leave [apostrophes] out of placenames.”

The second most common punctuation mistake according to Copyblogger is The Comma Splice, “When the comma is used to separate independent clauses, there must be a conjunction connecting them. If the conjunction is not there, we have a comma splice.” Kim Brooks at Salon complained recently that her “college students don’t understand commas, far less how to write an essay,” while the OUP Blog asserted that teaching commas doesn’t necessarily equate teaching writing.

In another comma controversy, in June there was much uproar over the apparent deletion of the Oxford comma, which Stan Carey had some fun with. However, it turned out the beloved punctuation mark was alive and well, much to the relief of serial comma enthusiasts (and the ghosts of JFK and Stalin).

Next up we have Quotation Marks for Emphasis (sometimes called “scare quotes”). Copyblogger says, “Quotation marks are mainly used to quote speech, sentences or words,” and “can also be used to denote irony” (or as Cracked puts it, “Repeat something someone said in a high pitched girly voice”). And while quotation marks shouldn’t be used “to add emphasis to a word or sentence,” one still finds plenty of  “advertisements or promotional flyers carrying this error,” which The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks can attest to.

Another controversial punctuation topic is Punctuation Outside Quotation Marks. Some would argue that this is simply logical punctuation, while others would say that logical punctuation isn’t always so logical.

Don’t forget, punctuation can be fun too. These bands certainly thought so, as does the State Library in New South Wales, which uses an interrobang as their logo. Wired gave us 11 secret meanings behind text punctuations, including emoticons, which supposedly mean “you want to bring the conversation to life,” but use too many and “you look immature.” ASCII-based emoticons turned 29 this week, while emotional typographical symbols have been with us long before computers or texting, as per both Jennifer 8. (yes, numeral eight) Lee at The New York Times and Ben Zimmer at Language Log. Hiroette taught us the difference between Japanese and English emoticons, and Arnold Zwicky reminded us emoticons are not to be spoken.

Like punctuation terminology? Check out this list, this list, and this tag. You could join the Semicolon Appreciation Society, and while you’re at it, enter the Punctuation Paragraph Contest. Good luck! ( ^_^ )


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