Saturday, December 27, 2003

Punctuation (updated post)

"Eats Shoots & Leaves" - completely different meanings depending where, or if, there is a comma. It is a description of the diet of a panda, in case you are wondering. It's also the title of a book about punctuation, or lack of, in our society. A book my Dad was given for Christmas. I had a look at it while visiting the family, learnt some, and it reminded me that it does bug me a little when people get its/it's wrong or pick the wrong one of their/there/they're. Either a lot of people don't have the faintest how to punctuate English, or they just don't think about it when writing. People should care. I'm not perfect myself by any means, but it's good that someone's (with the apostrophe) taken up the cause enough to write a book on it. Made me think about writing a page with the basic rules on it for reference purposes for use by anyone. Couldn't be arsed, so instead:

  • "There is a blog on this site." (something IS)
  • "They're blogging right now." (short for "they are", apostrophe replaces missing letter)
  • "That's their blog." (shortened "that is", and the blog belongs to THEM, apostrophe again replaces missing 'i')
  • "it's time I blogged some more." (short for "it is")
  • "That page is it's blog" (blog is owned by "it")

Another one that bugs me is the where/were/we're combination. Again, if there's an apostrophe there (or should be), it replaces a letter that would have been there otherwise. So...

  • "Where are you?" (as in asking someone's location)
  • "Were you drunk earlier?" (as in third-person past tense of was, does it help to remember that 'was' doesn't have an 'h' so 'were' doesn't)
  • "We're definitely right." (short for 'we are')
  • "What will you wear tonight?" (ok, completely different but sounds the same as 'where' and including it for fun)
  • "There's lots of water flowing through that weir" (now I'm just getting silly, but it does pronounce like "we're")

The book also delved into hyphenation / dashes (not the same thing), bracketing, quoting (double or single?) and how to finish sentences, particularly those that consist solely of a quote.

Languages are forever evolving though, so give it 50yrs and this text might seem terribly formal and overly punctuated.

Did you get taught how to punctuate at school? Or were you taught during one of the dark ages for punctuation when the occasional full-stop and comma was enough?