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Wild Punctuation

I have very strong feelings about punctuation. Full-stop. I have a strong suspicion that no one really knows how to use it, so they just pepper it in because it gives the sentence a bit of zest.

I used to have a running joke with a few friends of mine that I could NOT associate with people who didn’t share certain writing values.


There are two fonts that are a disgrace to all other fonts and should be deleted forever:Papyrus and Comic Sans. One of my editing clients sent me an ENTIRE 400-page manuscript in purple Comic Sans font. (You know who you are, and I will never forgive you.)

I won’t go into detail about ALL of my strong feelings around writing, because I said this was going to be about punctuation and I meant it. So here goes...

The Comma

The comma is a most overused type of punctuation. While editing, I spend a fair amount of time deleting commas and replacing them with semicolons, colons, em-dashes, or just empty space because the comma didn’t belong there in the first place.

My favorite comma is definitely the serial comma. They enhance the readability of a sentence almost as much as a well-placed set of bullet points. These commas keep the rest of the sentence from flooding into itself and clear up all sorts of confusion.

Correct Use Example:

When used properly, I love commas, semicolons exclamation points, ellipses, and em-dashes.

The Exclamation Point!!!

This one is definitely the second most over-used, especially in writing for children! So many writers I know think that exclamation points make things fun! Fun! Fun! FUN!!! ACTIVE! LOUD! BOLD!!!!!!!!!! But, as with anything, you can water down your message of fun or urgency through overuse! DO! NOT! DO! IT! (Use the *clap* emoji instead, please and thank you.)

Correct Use Example:

“I REALLY LOVE MATH!” she screamed from the top of the bell tower, hoping every student would hear and applaud her bravery. Of course, nobody did. Not even Geraldine.

The Period and Its Friend Ellipses

Recently, I’ve been seeing a HUGE increase in ellipses. Ellipses running wild! All over the page in excess...I can’t stand…it…anymore…help! Any punctuation becomes meaningless if you overuse it or use it incorrectly.

Correct Use Example:

“But I do…” he began.

“...enjoy a good set of ellipses,” she finished with a grin.

The same goes for periods. They appear all willy-nilly outside of quotation marks and parentheses (or INSIDE them, depending on the situation). I understand that the UK has its own rules, but I will NEVER accept or use them.


“This forest is wild,” she said. “Remember what Gramma always says, Keisha, ‘Keep to the path and no harm will come to you.’ ”

The Semicolon

I’m not even really sure how people use semicolons one because I NEVER see them unless they're part of a winky face. I think this is one of those pieces of punctuation that people avoid using because they can’t figure out what the hell it’s for. Maybe they’re afraid to use it like I was before I learned what it actually does:

  1. Separating two independent clauses (AKA sentences)

  2. Making complex serial comma lists more readable. (Hurray!!!)

Correct Use Example 1:

Semicolons are our friends; never forget the semicolon.

Correct Use Example 2:

Gesturing wildly, I knocked salt shakers, breakfast plates, and bacon off the table; swiped the dog mid-leap; and smacked my brother across the face.

The Em-Dash (and Other Dashes)

And finally, the em-dash. I have to be honest—the meaning of em-dashes evaded me for YEARS. I had no idea the difference between and en-dash, em-dash, or just a plain old hyphen. But now I can spot the differences in dash length from a mile away (metaphorically… as I am quite nearsighted).


This is an em-dash—I’ve really come to love and admire them.


I STILL have no idea what the hell an en-dash is. Maybe my next post should be called “What the Hell Is an En-Dash???”

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