TOEIC | Business English | Punctuation, An Art. Part 3 Previous   Up   Next   

Punctuation, An Art. Part 3

4. Members of a true series are separated by commas, or conjunctions, or both.

1, The Indian, the sailor, the hunter, only these know the power of the hands, feet, teeth, eyes, and ears. - Emerson,

2. Newton \vas a great man without either telegraph, or gas, or steam-coach, or rubber shoes, or lucifer-matches, or ether for his pain. - Emerson.

Perhaps you have been taught to omit that comma before and. Then (saving your presence) you have been taught wrong. "Eyes and ears" do not make one in a series where hands, feet, and teeth are given separately.

You will find that all the best authorities to-day insist on that comma before and or or between the last two members of a series.

There seems to be one exception. Firms of three or more members usually omit it from their names. Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company - so it runs, though there ought to be a comma after Scott. These firm-names have long appeared in legal documents without the comma. Meanwhile the method of punctuation has changed, but the firms are conservative.

This chapter on punctuation has a good deal of elementary matter in it, but on this point I wish it might come to the attention of the members of firms.

The tendency is to drop all commas from firm-names, when it should be to add that last comma. Many Chicago people think that Carson Pirie is one man.

5. When a series forms a subject, observe that the end of the subject is not pointed.

Beauty, truth, and goodness are never out of date.

6. Certain brief phrases that look like series are not such. Little old man, fine fat hen, nice young lady, foolish young fellow, big red-squirrel - these are not to be broken into by commas. Don't be fussy.

7. For the use of commas as marks of parenthesis, see § 30.

8. Vocatives are to be set off by commas, unless the exclamation is used.

Say, John, where are they? Well, my lord.

The words Yes and No should invariably be followed by some punctuation. Yes, sir is often pronounced Yessir, and it is pedantic to separate the two words completely in pronunciation. But the comma must never be left out.

The expletive words Well and Why must be followed by punctuation.

Badly written papers are filled with Well Johns and Why Johns and No Johns. These are the things which, repeated year after year by careless and ever more careless students, drive the teacher of English mad. What man of business cares to get a letter in which he is addressed as Now Mr. Smith, Well Mr. Smith, You see Mr. Smith, I think Mr. Smith?

9. A regular relative clause needs no comma; it shows which person or thing is meant; it identifies.

1. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.

2. The man who hesitates is lost.

An extra relative clause needs two commas; it refers to some person or thing already identified, usually identified by its name.

1. My Lord of Herford here, whom you call King, is a foul traitor. 2. My father, who is now very old, uses no spectacles.

In these last two sentences it is easy to see what happens if the commas are omitted. My Lord of Herford whom you call king is contrasted with some other Lord of Herford; there are two lords. And My father who is very old seems to imply that I have another father who isn't so old.

Occasionally it is hard to decide whether a relative clause is extra or regular. But for one such case there are ten thousand that the careless, careless writer just does no thinking about.

Corresponding to the extra relative-pronoun clause is the extra relative-adverb clause. It requires a comma. Do not fail to fix that fact firmly in your mind.

1. I expect to be in New York soon, where I shall stay a week.

2. We soon came to the river, where we staid an hour to rest.

10. Chicago, Illinois. Note that comma between city and state.

§ 29. Questions And Exclamations

1. End your questions with a question mark. Why do I spoil good white paper by such a simple command? Why don't I put it in small type in an appendix, where it will slumber undisturbed? Because, gentle writer, you know very well that you forget that question mark half the time, and put a period in its place. This is partly because you are mortal, like the rest of us, and to be mortal is to forget. But is it not sometimes because your question is too long?

It is often effective to put a question mark in the midst of a sentence, before a small letter. When human nature gets into a questioning mood, it asks a string of questions without waiting for an answer.

Is it not so? isn't human nature like that? Shall we not recognize the fact? make allowance for it? punctuate accordingly?

2. Use the exclamation point judiciously! That is a vague rule,, but it is as good as any. What is the effect you wish to produce by an exclamation? You want surprise and emphasis. That means a sparing use of the point, for readers don't care for a string of explosions. But if you consider a thing so striking that it rouses an exclamation, the reader wants the sign. Notice the difference between the following:

Ah, I see you. Ah! I see you!

The first may go with a sliding inflection, as of sly discovery. The second has two strong falling inflections.

§30. Dash, Curves, Brackets

As a general rule, avoid using the dash with any other mark of punctuation. It is not needed after the colon, and rarely if ever needed after the comma. We are speaking of the body of the text, not of such places as the head of this section, where period and dash set off a formal topic.

Make your dashes long enough to be distinguished from hyphens. If your type-writing machine has only one character for both marks, use two hyphens for a dash.

1. Don't use the dash instead of the period, as if you had unutterable emotions. Latterly it has become the fashion with certain advertisers and form-letter houses to eschew the period and substitute the dash. By this means they cover up un-grammatical constructions. By this means they hysterically call attention to their goods. Ah, these inexpressible goods - so wonderful - so worthy of explosive admiration - and choked voices - oh! -

2. A dash is often better than a colon to introduce a short, informal list.

3. A violent parenthesis goes between dashes; a strong parenthesis between curves; a weak parenthesis between commas.

And whether a parenthesis is to be violent, strong, or weak depends on your purpose. Worry less about the intrinsic logic of the situation, and more about the effect you wish to produce on the reader.

1. These three qualifications - accuracy, rapidity, and modesty - are essentials in a good stenographer.

2. These three qualifications (accuracy, rapidity, and modesty) are essentials in a good stenographer.

3. These three qualifications, accuracy, rapidity, and modesty, are essentials in a good stenographer.

The first of these parentheses throws the qualifications into high relief. The second is strong, but so to speak confidential. The third is merely incidental.

4. Brackets usually indicate something that has no part at all in the text as such. It is often an insertion by an editor to correct a statement or a word that is being quoted.

Most of the inspirational [Inspirational - what a word!] literature, form letters and the like, sent out by sales managers to their men in the field seems to be devoted to keeping alive and hot the enthusiasm of the man for his house and his own record.


  • Previous: Punctuation, An Art. Part 2
  • Table of Contents
  • Next: Chapter VII. Important Mechanical Matters
  • Previous   Up   Next   

    About  |   Accent  |   TOEFL®  |   TOEIC®  |   IELTS  |   GMAT  |   GRE®  |   Online Degrees  |   Buy Now  |   Partners