Sunday 2 December 2012

Three Common Punctuation Problems

I am a writer. I like to write. I do not like to ponder over punctuation, but as a writer I must.

Here are some of the problem punctuations that usually get my head swimming.

Writers often get the colon and semicolon confused, but they are very different. And then throw in the em dash, and it all gets mind boggling.

co·lon 1  (k
n. pl. co·lons
a. A punctuation mark ( : ) used after a word introducing a quotation, an explanation, an example, or a series and often after the salutation of a business letter. http://www.thefreedictionary.com

sem·i·co·lon  (s
A mark of punctuation ( ; ) used to connect independent clauses and indicating a closer relationship between the clauses than a period does.

Example of colon and semicolon use from my book, Sir Princess Petra.

“The choices are: to capture a crocodile and make his skin into a royal leather chair; to hush that howling, nasty dragon, Snarls, in the Forest of Doom; or to eat a roomful of raw onions.”

em·dash or em dash  (
A symbol ( ) used in writing and printing to indicate a break in thought or sentence structure, to introduce a phrase added for emphasis, definition, or explanation, or to separate two clauses.

(The em dash is made by hitting your dash key three times, then backspacing to make it a solid line. When writing in 'Blogger', I have to use a 'striketrough'.

Example of the em-dash from my book, Sir Princess Petra’s Talent.

Petra wiped away a tear--a tear of happiness and pride.

Or in this sentence where the king is reading from the royal rule book and looks up from his reading to emphasize something.

“Then, the hereby said princes--meaning you--will return to the kingdom with a proper princess certificate.”

For some reason, these three punctuation rules seem confusing. And I know they are not set in stone as I have seen sentences in other books, and they were dealt with differently.

When I'm not sure about these rules, this is when I question my editor for their proper use. The editor has greater insights into the punctuation dilema than I do.

And sometimes after I've pounded my head against the wall over some rule or other, my editor's answer is--it's just a matter of style.

Go figure.

copyright, Diane Mae Robinson, 2012


  1. Go figure, indeed. I love the em-dash. Ever since I learned how to use it correctly I found I should have been using it more than I had. Maybe this is because there is always more than two thoughts in my head, all fighting for attention.

    It seems the use of the parenthesis is moving over for the em-dash, which is fine by me. I think the em-dash looks cool--yep, that em-dash.

    What about comma versus semi-colon? And what the heck is a dangling-modifier?

    Who's idea was it to have so many rules that the Chicago manual is nearly two inches thick, with thin paper?

    Thanks Diane. You helped take some fog off the Punctuation Center of my brain. Never heard of the Punctuation Center? It is in the left-side of the brain.

    This is why writers have such a difficult time remembering all these rules. The rules are stored in the left side and our creativity is in the right.

    When we are in our right minds we cannot get to the left side without stopping, if only for a nano-second, which is long enough for a Pulitzer-Prize-Winning-Idea to leap out of the right side into the oblivion of the left--or out the ear.

  2. Hi Sue. Thanks for commenting. I love the em-dash too. Commas, semi-colon, dangling modifiers and dangling participle will all be in a later lesson. Stay tuned.

    I agree with the right brain, left brain thinking. When I am writing a story, my creative brain is turned on with no regards
    to the Chicago Manual. That comes later, in the editing stage. Then the punctuation and sentence structure gets a firm grip while in the technical brain mode.

    The Chicago Manual is also a good book to have close to your front door---you know, in case of intruders.

  3. Not a fan of Chicago or just its most famous book? It has a pretty blue cover and it has a lovely font. What's not to like? Unless, and this must be it, you have a beautiful front door and like to greet your guests in style.

    I'm glad you are going to explain the dangling modifier, participle, and something or other--who can remember all of this stuff unless an English major? That's why I keep the Chicago Manual of Style right by my desk. Problem is, I must write in bed for a few weeks. Nothing worse than trying to use a regular size keyboard balanced on your legs while typing.

    I will be here when you are dangling.

  4. Yes, I will have a dangling post soon. All those dang dangling things when using proper English.

    I have a love/hate relationship with the Chicago Manual of Style.
    Yes, I have to use it often, but it's heavy and it makes my brain hurt.

    So sorry you're laid up for awhile. Maybe you can balance that regular size keyboard on the Chicago Manual.

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