Certain signs, called points,
are used in sentences to mark off their different parts, and to show the
relation of each part to the organic whole.
(i) Putting in the right points is called punctuation,
from the Latin punctum,
a point. From the same word come punctual
These points are the full
and the comma.
The full stop
(.) or period
marks the close of a sentence.
(:) introduces (i) a new statement that may be regarded as an
or (ii) it introduces a catalogue of things; or (iii)
it introduces a formal speech.
(The word colon
is Greek, and means limb
(i) “Study to acquire a habit of
accurate expression: no study is more important.”
(ii) “Then follow excellent parables
about fame: as that she gathereth strength in going; that she goeth upon the
ground, and yet hideth her head in the clouds; that in the day-time she sitteth
in a watch-tower, and flieth most by night.”—Bacon.
(iii) “Mr Wilson rose and said: ‘Sir, I
am sorry,’ etc.”
is employed when, for reasons of sound or sense, two or more simple sentences
are thrown into one.
(Semicolon is Greek, and means half a
(i) “In the youth of a state, arms do flourish; in the middle age of
a state, learning; and then both of them together for a time; in the
declining age of a state, mechanical arts and merchandise.”—Bacon.
(ii) Learn from the birds what foods the
Learn from the beast the physic of the field;
Thy arts of building from the bee receive;
Learn of the mole to plough, the worm to weave.”—Pope.
is used (i) to introduce an amplification or explanation; and (ii) two dashes
are often employed in place of the old parenthesis.
(i) “During the march a storm of rain,
thunder, and lightning came on—a storm such as is only seen in tropical
(ii) “Ribbons, buckles, buttons, pieces of gold-lace—any trifles he had
worn—were stored as priceless treasures.”
is used to indicate a strong
pause, either of sense or of
(i) It is true that the comma is the weakest of all our stops; but there
are many pauses which we ought to make in reading a sentence aloud that are
not nearly strong enough to warrant a comma.
(ii) It is better to understop rather
than to overstop. For example, the last part of the last sentence in the
paragraph above might have been printed thus: “there are many pauses, which
we ought to make, in reading a sentence aloud, that are not nearly strong
enough to warrant a comma.” This is the old-fashioned style; but such
sprinkling of commas is not at all necessary.
(iii) Two things are all that are required to teach us the use of a
observation of the custom of good writers; and (b)
careful consideration of the sense and build of our own sentences.
(iv) The following are a few special uses of the comma:—
(a) It may be used in place of and:—
“We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
(b) After an address: “John, come here.”
(c) After certain introductory adverbs, as however, at length, at last,
etc. “He came, however, in time to catch the train.”
The point of interrogation
(?) is placed at the end of a question.
The point of admiration
(!) is employed to mark a statement which calls for surprise or wonder; but it
is now seldom used.