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This tip shows you how important it is to use punctuation marks correctly. The four main punctuation marks are periods (.), question marks (?), exclamation marks (!) and commas (,). Commas are tricky but oh, so very important. Before we venture into the tricky world of commas, check out these main rules.
- Use a period at the end of a declarative sentence (telling sentence). Andi rushed out to the barn to see the new foals.
- Use a period at the end of an imperative sentence (a command). Do your chores without complaining or whining.
- Use a question mark at the end of an interrogative sentence (question). How many kittens are in Bella’s new litter?
- Use an exclamation point at the end of an exclamatory sentence (strong feeling). There’s a blizzard just outside our doorway! I saw an accident and heard the crash! Also use an exclamation point after an interjection. Yikes! A tarantula just skittered under the door. Oops! I spilled the milk. Note Do not overuse exclamation marks. At first, it makes readers breathless. Then they end up not meaning much because the reader sees them so often.
Now, the commas. Hang on!
- Use a comma to set separate three or more items in a series. Our flag is red, white, and blue.
- Use a comma to set off names in direct address. Andi, are you coming?
- Use a comma between two sentences that form a compound sentence with a conjunction like and, but, or, for, and nor. Andi loves horses, but Rosa prefers cats.
- Use a comma to set off introductory words like yes, no, well, or now. Well, I’m not sure I know the answer to that question.
- Use a comma in dialogue (inside the quotation marks). “This is my best day ever,” Andi said.
- Use a comma to avoid reader confusion.
Number 6 shows you how important that little comma is. I wrote it once without a teensy comma, and once with a teensy comma. Notice the sentences mean two totally different things!
“God can take care of the giant mom.”
“God can take care of the giant, mom.”
I came across this sort of comma omission in a story I am editing (not any of yours. This is an outside job). I had to read it twice before figuring out that a comma was definitely needed to avoid confusing the reader (or making him laugh). In the first sentence, the reader thinks we’re talking about a “giant mom.” In the second sentence, the boy is talking to his mom about how God can take care of a giant (i.e. referring to David and Goliath).
Next time . . . My favorite Writing Skill: Beginnings. How do you hook your reader from the very first page? Come back next week for Writing Tip #3 beginning hooks >>