In written English, punctuation is vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. For example, "woman, without her man, is nothing" and "woman: without her, man is nothing" have greatly different meanings, as do "eats shoots and leaves" and "eats, shoots and leaves". "King Charles walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off" is alarming; "King Charles walked and talked; half an hour after, his head was cut off", less so. (For English usage, see the articles on specific punctuation marks.)
The rules of punctuation vary with language, location, register and time and are constantly evolving. Certain aspects of punctuation are stylistic and are thus the author's (or editor's) choice. Tachygraphic language forms, such as those used in online chat and text messages, may have wildly different rules.
The earliest writing had no capitalization, no spaces and few punctuation marks. This worked as long as the subject matter was restricted to a limited range of topics (e.g., writing used for recording business transactions). Punctuation is historically an aid to reading aloud (vis George Bernard Shaw).
The oldest known document using punctuation is the Mesha Stele (9th century BC). This employs points between the words and horizontal strokes between the sense section as punctuation.
The Greeks were using punctuation marks consisting of vertically arranged dots - usually two (cf. the modern colon) or three - in around the 5th century BC. Greek playwrights such as Euripides and Aristophanes used symbols to distinguish the ends of phrases in written drama: this essentially helped the play's cast to know when to pause. In particular, they used three different symbols to divide speeches, known as commas (indicated by a centred dot), colons (indicated by a dot on the base line), and periods or full stops (indicated by a raised dot).
The Romans (circa 1st century BC) also adopted symbols to indicate pauses.
Punctuation developed dramatically when large numbers of copies of the Christian Bible started to be produced. These were designed to be read aloud and the copyists began to introduce a range of marks to aid the reader, including indentation, various punctuation marks and an early version of initial capitals. St Jerome and his colleagues, who produced the Vulgate translation of the Bible into Latin, developed an early system (circa 400 AD); this was considerably improved on by Alcuin. The marks included the virgule (forward slash) and dots in different locations; the dots were centred in the line, raised or in groups.
The use of punctuation was not standardised until after the invention of printing. Credit for introducing a standard system is generally given to Aldus Manutius and his grandson. They popularized the practice of ending sentences with the colon or full stop, invented the semicolon, made occasional use of parentheses and created the modern comma by lowering the virgule.
The standards and limitations of evolving technologies have exercised further pragmatic influences. For example, minimisation of punctuation in typewritten matter became economically desirable in the 1960s and 1970s for the many users of carbon-film ribbons, since a period or comma consumed the same length of expensive non-reusable ribbon as did a capital letter.
Other European languages use much the same punctuation as English. The similarity is so strong that the few variations may confuse a native English reader. Quotation marks are particularly variable across European languages. For example, in French and Russian, quotes would appear as: « Je suis fatigué. » (in French, each "double punctuation," as the guillemet, requires a non-breaking space; in Russian it does not).
Arabic and Persian languages—written from right to left—use a reversed question mark: ؟, and a reversed comma: ، . This is a modern innovation; pre-modern Arabic did not use punctuation. Hebrew, which is also written from right to left, uses the same character as in English (?). Spanish uses an inverted question mark at the beginning of a question as well as the normal question mark at the end.
Originally, Sanskrit had no punctuation. In the 1600s, Sanskrit and Marathi, both written in the Devanagari script, started using the vertical bar (|) to end a line of prose and double vertical bars (||) in verse.
Texts in Chinese, Japanese and Korean were left unpunctuated until the modern era. In unpunctuated texts, the grammatical structure of sentences in classical writing is inferred from context. Most punctuation marks in modern Chinese, Japanese and Korean have similar functions to their English counterparts; however, they often look different and have different customary rules.
An international patent application was filed, and published in 1992 under WO number WO9219458, for two new punctuation marks: the "question comma" and the "exclamation comma." The patent application entered into national phase exclusively with Canada, advertised as lapsing in Australia on 27 January 1994 and in Canada on 6 November 1995.
|The basic modern Latin alphabet|
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Punctuation is the name for marks used in writing. These marks help with understanding. There are many kinds of punctuation. Some of them can do many things. These are some common punctuation marks used in English:
The use of punctuation in English can change from place to place and from time to time.
The use of these marks is often decided by a group or organization and then written down as a style guide. A newspaper may have a style guide to make their stories use the same rules (called consistency).
Some people become angry about what they call "bad" punctuation. The rules are really up to the writer to decide, as long as the meaning is clear. However, if the rules are not followed, a writer's work may seem to be poorly written.
A period, known as a full stop in some countries, looks like this: .
A period is used to end a sentence. It shows when an idea is finished.
A period can show numbers that are smaller than one. With money, a period is used to show the amount of money less than one dollar.
A period is used to show that a word has been made shorter. A word that is made shorter with a period is called an abbreviation.
A comma looks like this: ,
A comma has many uses. Some of these are shown below:
A question mark looks like this: ?
Question marks are used when writing a question, to make an inquiry, or to ask something.
An exclamation mark looks like this: !
An exclamation mark is used write about a strong emotion, or to write the words a person shouted. It can be used to make a statement stronger or more forceful.
An exclamation mark can be used with a question mark, to make a question more forceful.
An apostrophe looks like this: '
An apostrophe has two main uses.
An apostrophe can be used to show that something belongs to something else.
If there is only one thing, the letter s is used after an apostrophe to show ownership.
Sometimes the letter s is not used after an apostrophe to show ownership. A word will end with just an apostrophe if there is more than one thing and the word already ends with an s.
An apostrophe can be used to put two small words together. Two small words that are put together with an apostrophe to make one word are called contractions. This is normal in writing about a person speaking. Spoken English often uses contractions because these words are easier to say.
Pronouns do not use an apostrophe to show that something belongs to something else. Among these are its, his, hers, theirs.
Plurals (words referring to more than one thing) do not need an apostrophe.
Quotation marks (also called quote marks or quotes for short) are used around the words that people have said, or direct speech. They are used in pairs.
In these cases, quotation marks go after the commas and periods, not before.
Quotation marks are also used in some other cases besides direct speech, for example around the name of a song. In these cases, the commas can come after the quote marks.
This is a colon: :
Colons can be used at the beginning of a list. "This is a list of animals: birds, cats, insects, pigs, and sheep.".
Colons can be used to replace a semicolon in between two parts of a sentence, but this is not common today.
Standard English usage is to have no spaces before, and one space after a colon.
A semicolon looks like this: ;
A semicolon is used to connect two sentences, in one sentence, where a comma could also be used.
An ellipsis is a mark that looks like this: ...
It is used to show where words have been missed out when writing what a person said. It can also be used to show that there is more to be said but the person stopped at that point.
A hyphen looks like this: -. Hyphens have many uses in writing:
|Good||Not so good|
|What was done was not good, not help-|
ful, nor was it very useful.
|What was done was not good, not hel-|
pful, nor was it very useful.
Eats, Shoots, and Leaves By Lynne Truss. Published By Profile Books, Ltd. in 2003