Whether writing an essay or a personal statement for college admissions consideration, a cover letter when applying for a job, or perhaps a letter or email of a less formal, more personal nature…precision of expression is crucial. After all, you won’t be looking over your reader’s shoulder and imploring “Oh, you know what I meant, right?”  Punctuation should aid you, not hinder you (and correct modifier placement avoids embarrassing verbal glitches).

Today we’ll look at the value of effective punctuation; next time we’ll tackle modifier placement.


“Punctuation Matters “

   (noun)        (NOUN)

(Presentation: Instances and, perhaps, explanations of punctuation usage.)

“Punctuation Matters”

 (noun)         (VERB)

(Persuasive essay: Punctuation as vital to conveying intended meaning effectively.)

Both concepts are correct grammatically, but each conveys an entirely different meaning from the other.  For our purposes here, we are utilizing the second of the two titles – because without punctuation, intended meanings often lose their way and either confuse or amuse the reader.

Let’s borrow some wonderful examples from Curtis Newbold’s canny The Visual Communication:

Let’s eat Grandpa!

          vs.                                                                                 Commas matter.

Let’s eat, Grandpa!                                                               

Eat your dinner

          vs.                                                                                 Apostrophes matter.

Eat. You’re dinner!    


Twenty five-dollar bills 

vs.                                                                               Hyphens matter.

Twenty-five dollar bills

I want to thank my parents, Maggie and God.

vs.                                                                   Oxford commas matter.

I want to thank my parents, Maggie, and God.

I’m sorry I love you!

vs.                                                                               Semicolons matter

I’m sorry; I love you!

Care to watch a man eating chicken?

vs.                                                                               Hyphens matter.

Care to watch a man-eating chicken?

Oh, he’s my “friend.”

vs.                                                                           Quotation marks matter.

Oh, he’s my friend.

Hot-water bottle.

vs.                                                                               Hyphens matter.

Hot water bottle.

I find inspiration in cooking my family and my dog.

vs.                                                                               Commas matter.

I find inspiration in cooking, my family, and my dog.

A woman without her man is nothing.

vs.                                                                               Colons and commas matter.   

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

As cute as these examples are, when it comes to serious matters, apply the same concepts you see here.  You won’t necessarily catch these slip-ups when writing a first draft.  However, if you proofread aloud as you edit and revise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the enhanced quality of your writing.