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Punctuation and Sentence Structure
For many people, punctuation is a mystery. These writers fling commas onto the page intuitively like an abstract painter; semi-colons and dashes are handled like a hot potato--either they aren't picked up at all, or if they are, the writer throws them down almost anywhere. If you are a writer even something like this, take a deep breath and tell yourself, "I can learn to punctuate." I'm here to tell you it is easy. The first key to punctuation is simple: "punctuation is used to capture the human voice." If you look at this page, these words are black ink marks on a flat, two-dimensional surface. How do we infuse into writing the three-dimensional properties of the human voice with all its pauses and intonations?--with punctuation, of course!
Consider this analogy: You as a writer are like a musical composer. Your essay is like the sheet music, and your reader is like the violinist who will play the music at some later time. Punctuation, then, is like the musical notations which tell the violinist how fast to play the piece, when to pause, or when to hold a note for more than a single beat. The first step in punctuating correctly is to begin using it to capture your voice. Listen to how you would meaningfully "say" your writing, and use punctuation to signal that meaning. (John Trimble says to read your writing out loud in your "best radio voice" to hear how it sounds.) The second key to using punctuation correctly is to learn a little about sentence structure and these five functions that punctuation performs related to sentence structure. Punctuation helps you to DO the following things in your writing:
1) To connect sentences (also called INDEPENDENT CLAUSES).
The quick test to see if you need to use either of these methods (or if you have done them correctly) is to test each side of the semi-colon or the coordinate conjunction. If each side could be a sentence on its own, then you need the comma or the semi-colon.
2) To separate introductory
If you read these sentences aloud, you can hear the pause that comes at the end of the introductory element. The comma captures and signals this pause.
3) To separate interrupting
elements (also called non-essential elements)
Notice that each of these interrupting elements could be pulled out of the sentence and it would still make sense (e.g. When Hardy died, he left no will).
4) To separate items in a list. There are two ways:
More on using semi-colons--powerpoint
5) To point your reader's
attention to what you wish to highlight
The sense of these sentences is that the first half of the sentence sets up something which the second half of the sentence completes. Before the colon or dash, it must be a complete sentence, but afterwards it could be a fragment or a full sentence.
Video guide on editing using this guide on punctuation and sentence structure.
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