Hopefully NOT! But, people might think you have if you forget a simple comma. ‘Have you eaten, Granny?’ Sounds a lot better. Don’t you agree? Or maybe you did eat Granny *laughs* ~ joking, naturally.
Language is what makes us human. As the philosopher, Bertrand Russell, remarked one day: ‘No matter how eloquently a dog may bark, he cannot tell you that his parents were poor but honest. Only language can do that.’
Language is also power, and how we use it defines us. Think of Winston Churchill: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’
And since the way we use language tells the world so much about us, it’s worth getting it right. Especially important as a writer. I’m a perfectionist. I edit and re-edit a zillion times, before sending my manuscript off to my publishers. There are NO typos in my books. Go on, check for yourselves: The Adventures of Eric Seagull ‘Storyteller’ 3-book-series
I’m a punctuation perfectionist. (That doesn’t mean to say I always get it right, but I always aim to).
As a child, I would often read (yes) read the Oxford Dictionary. So many words…I found fascinating. My eldest daughter often says, ‘why use that word when something simple will do?’ BECAUSE MY LOVELY DAD DID IT ALL THE TIME! When she asks, ‘what does that mean’ (and she’s nearly 42). Cough! Get a grip. Why use simple words…when a more complicated word slips so easily off the tongue… sighs! My lovely dad taught me so much. And like a sponge, I soaked it up.
Words have always fascinated me. So many meanings. When I lived at home with my parents, my dad liked nothing more than to stay up until 2am playing scrabble. I often won. He challenged most of my words. ‘Fair play’ he would nod, before heading off to bed.
I believe that people with better English skills are healthier and live longer lives because they (we) can understand and communicate better with doctors, nurses, and carers. And, alarmingly, good english is under threat. I blame most (not all) of this on mobile phone text messages! What kind of language is that? I write a text message in full, and with (ahem) commas!
And it is not only children. Three-quarters of adults now use emojis to communicate with one another. If a small digital image – designed by someone else and generated for you (reader) – can express how you feel, who needs words? I DO!
Punctuation is essential to clear communication. Without punctuation, no one knows what’s going on. It is crucial…but the rules are changing. Spelling is important today in a way that it wasn’t when Shakespeare was a boy. My main character in my 3-book-series could do with a few English lessons. But then, he isn’t human, is he? No. He’s a Brixham seagull, for heaven’s sake. But, a clever one. Reporter for the Brixham Times newspaper, indeed. You can take a peep at my books, just click the link: Amazon Book Page
Grammar isn’t set in stone. Once upon a time, to split an infinitive was wrong, wrong, wrong. Since the coming of Star Trek in 1966, promising ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’, we’ve all been at it. So to speak!
Well, not all of us! A few!
The rules may change, but it is important to know then, nonetheless.
IN TEXTS and tweets and even emails, some people seem to think any punctuation unnecessary. WRONG! It may take you marginally less time to write, but it will almost certainly take the intended recipient marginally longer to absorb. That is why, for example, (smiles now) (i.e) or even (e.g) – in the age of the telegram, when you paid for each word used, senders were ready to pay to include the word STOP if it helped make their message more comprehensible. I remember when my dad received a telegram on Christmas Eve (when I was young and only 21) informing him his mother, my Gran, had passed away.
In a nutshell, in contemporary written English full stops are used: (take a breath)
- To mark the end of a sentence that is a complete statement: You are reading my book. Thank you. (one hopes)
- To mark the end of a group of words that don’t form a conventional sentence, so as to emphasise a statement: You are reading my book. My book. Wow. Thank you.
- In some abbreviations, for example, Jan., if a full stop comes at the end of a sentence, you don’t need to add another full stop.
THIS won’t take long; it’s important, believe me.
Read that last sentence out loud and you should see exactly what the semi-colon is doing. It’s providing a pause that is longer and more significant than a comma, and less abrupt and intrusive than a full stop.
For those who relish nuance in their punctuation it’s the go-to punctuation mark. I love the semi-colon; for my money, it’s undervalued and underused. Many haven’t a clue when to use it, of course. Smiles broadly.
It should be used between two main causes that balance each other – or contradict each other – but are too closely linked to be written as separate sentences: I love my dog; she loves me. Yes, she does.
You must use a semi-colon when a comma is replacing a full stop in a quotation, or a quotation is linking two separate sentences: ‘I’m so sorry to have to tell you this,’ he said; ‘your cat as croaked.’
‘Would you like her cremated?’ his assistant inquired; ‘we have a special offer this month.’
With me thus far? Lips are getting dry. Nips out to put the kettle on.
I’m back in the, er, room.
Semi-colons come in handy, too, with lists, when a comma alone is not up to the job.
THINK of it as a pair of binoculars place vertically on the table. The binoculars (bins, ahem) will remind you of the colon’s core purpose. It is there to help you look ahead. I LOVE A COLON.
The colon does not separate or stop (like the comma, semi-colon, or full stop): it introduces what lies ahead: it takes you forward.
You can use the colon for three principal tasks:
- To introduce a list: Five people walk into a bar: an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, a bishop, and an actress.’ No, it’s not a dirty joke I’m about to tell you all…though I know a man who would.
- To introduce direct speech: “The barman asks: ‘Is this some kind of joke?”’
- To introduce an explanation or summary of the first part of the sentence or to take it further in some way: “There are two problems with this joke: it is teetering on the edge of political incorrectness and it isn’t funny.’
ACCORDING to every public opinion survey, the misplaced apostrophe – are the two linguistic horrors that distress most of us the most. Probably authors.
LOOK around you as you walk down any street and they hit you in the face like a series of Smokin’ Joe Frazier’s left hooks. They’re unbearable – and everywhere. Incredibly, not everyone feels the same way.
My cuppa tea’s gettin’ cold – slurps! Translated – My cup of tea is cold.
Thanks for dropping by today.
My books Caz Greenham, Children’s Author
Found any typos in my post?