Proofreader David Hayes explains punctuationPunctuation helps to make sense of all the words and to knock them into shape. It puts manners on them so to speak. All dictionary meanings emphasise the separation and clarity functions that punctuation symbols or marks bring to sentences.

A little digression may illustrate the point regarding mutual relationships. Where would Jack be without Jill, bread without butter, fish without chips, an engine without fuel, roads without traffic lights, royalty without a palace, a match without a referee (some may say a lot better off ), a cathedral without a spire, a performance without an audience, a present without wrapping paper, chocolates without a box, a bride without the groom (see match / referee above), soccer without Barcelona, an All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final without Kilkenny, Easter without eggs, an England exit from a major soccer tournament without a penalty shoot-out, Christmas without Santa, Orlando without its theme parks, the North Pole without polar bears, the South Pole without penguins, the Olympic Games without the flame, Blarney Castle without the (kissing)stone, Woodstock Gardens without the Araucaria araucana, the Blasket Islands without the Sleeping Giant, the Antrim coast without the Giant’s Causeway, Gar(i)nish Island without the Happy Valley, Powerscourt Gardens without the roses, Santorini without its sunset and donkeys, the Louvre without Lisa, Nice without its promenade, Athens without its Acropolis, Verona without Romeo and Juliet, Romeo without Juliet and vice versa, Venice without the gondolas, London without Big Ben,The Tower of London without the Crown Jewels and the ravens, San Francisco without its hills & trams, the 17-Mile Drive without Pebble Beach and finally – one that we can all agree on or on which we can all agree – life without Sky Sports? Answers on a post-card please.

and finally-one that we can all agree on or on which we can all agree-life without Sky Sports? Answers on a post-card please.

Which brings us back to the crucial role of punctuation vis-a-vis diction. Words on their own do not form a sentence as every sentence needs a full stop to rein it in, to keep it from running wild on the page, to enhance meaning and to keep its structure intact.

A sentence starts with a capital letter and finishes with a full stop. It must have a subject and a predicate. The subject is the (pro)noun that causes the action in the sentence and the predicate relates to that (pro)noun’s action(s).The verb is part of the predicate.


I ate my dinner I ate my dinner
Liz read the book Liz read the book
Cian found twenty euro Cian found twenty euro






As a general rule, a sentence needn’t be any longer than one and a half lines. While there’s nothing wrong with a short sentence, longer sentences can add interest and suspense to the story. The renowned, Scottish sportswriter, Hugh McIlvanney, had 72 words in one sentence in a recent article. Magical stuff! Incidentally, there is a 26-word, alphabetical order sentence out there in the print world.

A sentence can also contain other punctuation marks for meaning and effect.

Principal Punctuation Marks

Full Stop . at end of a sentence
Comma , lists & pauses
Question Mark ? at end of a  sentence with a question
Exclamation Mark ! after a sudden outburst
Colon : lists and follow-up explanations
Semicolon ; lists & turning two sentences into one
Brackets ( ) provide additional relevant information
Apostrophe showing  ownership & omitting letters
Inverted Commas or Speech Commas or Quotation Marks ‘‘ ” quoting Direct Speech
Dash _ provide additional relevant information
Hyphen turning two words into one
Slash / indicating choices
Ellipsis omitting words
Ditto indicating repetition



















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