Grammar and Punctuation

Grammar and Punctuation, or should I say –

{Parsing and Punctuation

For the

commally challenged,;}]


The following is dedicated to the incredible editors in my life. To correct this, they will have to leave more than a few things wrong. This will drive them nuts.

e.e. cummings didn’t capitalize and yet became one of the most influential poets of the early twentieth century. Andy Rooney never met an apostrophe he didn’t like. I struggle with grammar and punctuation. It’s not my superpower.

Today, the number of online tools to assist with grammar is staggering. Grammarly, Grammar Girl, and Grammar Lion are just a few of the ones I’ve tried. And don’t forget, Word has a built-in editor. I just wrote an email to a friend. Outlook used some sort of artificial intelligence thingy to finish my sentences. I thought I knew what I wanted to say—apparently not.

First, all writing aids fight with one another. They get into vicious wars and soon begin lobbing semicolons at one another. If ever you see me using a semicolon, consider me missing in action. Each of these tools had a different seventh-grade teacher. To combat these devices, I now throw in a comma here and there just to be sure. A long time ago, I was taught to put two spaces at the end of a sentence. This was important to me because it made my homework assignments look longer. Now, I only use one space, and everything looks like one big rambling bit of nonsense.

Second, all these writing aids puree your words into a lime-green kale milkshake of bland correctness. I do use all these tools, however. I suffer through them. It slows down my thoughts. I get in more naps. I’d like to use more better grammar. It makes me sound smarter than I really am.

Which style guide do you use? For fiction, nonfiction, and everyday general writing, there are four widely accepted guides to format and content. The Associated Press Stylebook (AP Stylebook) is focused on writing for print media. I’m not going to write for the local news so that one’s out. The Chicago Manual of Style is the most popular. Did you know there’s a pared-down version of the Chicago Manual called Turabian Style? This guide is geared toward students writing research papers. My editors know this. They know a lot of stuff I never want to learn. Personally, having been to the windy city, I think the Chicago Manual is a bit overblown.

The Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook is used mainly in the academic world. I’ve no desire to write a research paper and have it peer-reviewed. This type of writing requires the creative use of passive voice. At this stage of my life, I’d rather eat a bug.

“The Elements of Style is an absolute writer’s companion and possibly the ultimate of style guides. Written in 1918, it was revised decades later by Charlotte’s Web author EB White. It’s short and to the point, with an emphasis on the clarity and simplicity of proper writing. The rules are hard and fast, but set out simply. Authors, journalists, and copywriters love the “Little Book.” If you want to improve your writing in general, or need to focus on brevity and conciseness, this might be the editorial style guide for you”.

I have the Elements of Style on my desk. It’s locked inside one of those firehouse call boxes. The glass remains unbroken.

Here’s a test. How many forms of punctuation are there? Use your noodler, not your Googler. Times up – how many did you guess? Martha got all fourteen. She’s smart. I don’t really know Martha. She’s never edited my writing. Obviously. Here they are, all fourteen in emphasizing clarity: period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphens, brackets, braces, parentheses, apostrophe, quotation mark, and ellipsis.

I’ve probably written 100,000 words in the last twelve months. I’ve never used brackets, ellipses, single quotes, or braces. I rarely use parentheses and have only used a semicolon twice. Both times incorrectly.

According to the Northern Illinois University School of Creative Writing. “Punctuation fills our writing with silent intonation. We pause, stop, emphasize, or question using a comma, a period, an exclamation point or a question mark. Correct punctuation adds clarity and precision to writing; it allows the writer to stop, pause, or give emphasis to certain parts of the sentence.”

Didn’t they just say the same thing twice? Apparently, repeating stuff fills in for our overused, redundant, and repetitive punctuation.

Again, using the Northern Illinois University School of Creative Writing, let us review these symbols of clarity and emphasis.

Apostrophe.The apostrophe is used to indicate possessive case(s), (hey, Grammarly just fixed NIU’s grammar), contractions, and omitted letters.

Personally, I think an apostrophe is just a comma getting its wings and flying away to escape bad grammar. Don’t you think and dont you think look similar, right? You really should avoid the apostrophe altogether.

Comma. “Most often commas are used to separate items in a series or to set off introductory phrases.”

I, use commas, often, randomly. Mostly, by accident.

 Colon.Use a colon after expressions, the following, or as follows. Do NOT use it after, for example, including, such as, or that is. Use a colon before a list, an explanation, or a definition that is preceded by a clause that can stand alone.”

The only thing I remember about the colon is to use it to begin a list of stuff. A list like the one about what I hate about using the colon.

Quotation Mark.Use quotation marks to indicate actual speech or dialogue and to set off direct quotations of text or speech from other sources.”

 Since I’m writing this, shouldn’t everything be in quotation marks?

Period, Question Mark, Exclamation Point. “The end of a complete sentence should be marked by a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point.”

Well? If it’s really the end, what more is there?

Dash, Hyphen. According to Grammarly, “A dash is a little horizontal line that floats in the middle of a line of text (not at the bottom; that’s an underscore). It’s longer than a hyphen and is commonly used to indicate a range or a pause. Dashes are used to separate groups of words, not to separate parts of words like a hyphen does.”

Nobody runs the 100-yard—it would be far-fetched.

Bracket, Brace. Brackets show changes within quoted material. Braces—sometimes known as curly brackets—are not typically used except in technical and mathematical writing.”

Let’s agree never to use these. {ok?]

Parentheses. “Parentheses are used to explain the statement or provide explanatory information in the sentence.”

This one’s interesting. If you’re writing to explain stuff, then does this definition mean you should use parentheses to explain what you’re explaining? I’m confused.

Semicolon. “Use a semicolon to join two related independent clauses in place of a comma and a coordinating conjunction.”

 The only purpose of the semicolon; is to ensure that anything you write will never get published.

Let the change tracking and comments begin. . .

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