Wednesday, 8 August 2012

In praise of punctuation

In my day job as an editor I seem to spend a lot of time battling with commas - in particular, comma splices. (A comma splice is where two independent clauses are joined by a comma.) Now, a comma splice isn't always a mortal sin - at times, it is the only sensible choice: I came, I saw, I conquered - but it is generally considered grammatically incorrect.

I'm not suggesting that getting your commas right makes the difference between a brilliant and not-brilliant book - great writing shines through even the dodgiest punctuation - but why ignore this valuable tool for making your writing glow?

So, what are your options when it comes to joining independent clauses? Here's a run down:
Use a conjunction: He was gorgeous and I had to kiss him.
Use a semi colon: He was gorgeous; I kissed him.
Use a conjunction and a comma: He was gorgeous, but not very bright.
Use a full stop: He was gorgeous. He wasn't very bright. 
Use a colon (where the second clause explains the first): I couldn't fancy him: he was stupid.
Make one clause dependent on the other: If he weren't so dim, I might fancy him.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that the punctuation you choose affects your tone. Compare the breathless excitement of: He looked so gorgeous and I know it was stupid but I couldn't help myself and I just had to kiss him. with the more reasonable, more considered: He looked so hot. I know it was stupid, but I couldn't help myself. I just had to kiss him. to see for how much influence punctuation can have.

I hope this is helpful! If you have any punctuation question, ask away and I'll do my best to help.


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