Introduction to Punctuation

What you’ll learn to do: analyze the use of punctuation marks

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There are a few more important pieces of punctuation we should learn about in order to be more effective in our writing. These little marks can often be the cause of heartache and headaches. Errors in punctuation can often have unintended meanings. For example, consider the difference the comma makes in the following sentences:

  • Let’s eat, Grandpa.
  • Let’s eat Grandpa.

The comma in the first sentence indicates that you are addressing Grandpa and telling him that you would like to eat. The lack of a comma in the second sentence makes this sentence sound like you are considering cannibalism. That little punctuation mark makes a big difference in what you are trying to say and can lead to some interesting misunderstandings if not used correctly.

However, punctuation doesn’t exist simply to cause problems; in fact, it was created to help communication. These marks were invented to guide readers through passages—to let them know how and where words relate to one another. When you learn the rules of punctuation, you equip yourself with an extensive toolset, so you can better craft language to communicate the exact message you want.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this module, different style guides have slightly different rules for grammar. This is especially true when it comes to punctuation. This section will cover the MLA rules for punctuation, but we’ll also make note of rules from other styles when they’re significantly different.