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National Punctuation Day

Making your Sentences Acrobatic with HCC's Writing Commons
by

Ariel Gunn

on 21 September 2011

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Transcript of National Punctuation Day

More than just a set of rules to follow, punctuation can help readers understand our meaning by controlling the pace and rhythm of the sentences as well as indicating relationships between ideas. It was a real bully circus. It was the splendidest sight that ever was when they all come riding in, two and two, a gentleman and lady, side by side, the men just in their drawers and undershirts, and no shoes nor stirrups, and resting their hands on their thighs easy and comfortable—there must a been twenty of them—and every lady with a lovely complexion, and perfectly beautiful, and looking just like a gang of real sure-enough queens, and dressed in clothes that cost millions of dollars, and just littered with diamonds.

—Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn With well-thought-out punctuation choices and a bit of practice, you too can make your sentences acrobatic! And sometimes, sentences must move slowly, deliberately, carefully. The rain sheeted down so loud it was hard to think and harder still to hear what anyone said, impossible to hear the show going on. Performers in skimpy costumes made shivery exits a few yards away, wrapping themselves in towels and bathrobes as they ran. David got a side view of several rows of people watching the show muffled in raincoats, reluctant even to bring out their hands to clap.

—Edward Hoagland, Cat Man: A Novel To make our point, sometimes sentences must rocket across the page or turn jubilant somersaults or soar triumphantly overhead. Separate with . ! ? The period, exclamation mark, and question mark provide the maximum amount of separation. We use them to indicate the end of an independent clause. Level of separation: high. Tip: An independent clause contains a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought. Where did Zee go? He ran away to join the circus. Now he performs phenomenal acts of contortion! Show some connection with ; : — While the semicolon, colon, and dash still show separation, they indicate a closer connection than the period, exclamation mark, and question mark. Level of Separation: medium. The semicolon separates independent clauses, but it indicates a closer relationship between the two sentences than a period.


The magician sawed the girl in half; she did not even blink. The Sensational Semicolon! The semicolon is also a kind of SUPER COMMA, separating items in a list that already have punctuation. The Magnificent Colon! The colon separates independent clauses, and its purpose is to create a sense of anticipation. Essentially it says “namely" or “here it comes, readers.”

She had a daring job to do: She needed to hula-hoop on top of a prancing horse. The Daring Dash! Like the colon and semicolon, the dash also indicates a medium level of separation. It can separate a series within a phrase or indicate an abrupt change: a break in thought or a shift in tone.


The Chipperfield family's talents—clowning, tight-rope walking, and flying on the trapeze—are known the world over.

Madame Chipperfield was stunned—her daughter was leaving the circus to become a horse pscyhologist! Tip: The em dash (—) is longer than the hyphen (-), which is used to join modifiers.

The Flying Wallendas was a thrilling, never-to-be-forgotten act. The Connecting Comma! Unlike the hard stop of the period and the soft stop of the semicolon, the comma provides the least amount of separation between elements. Its job is to separate non-independent clause elements from independent clauses.

After a half-hour intermission, the Flying Finellis will astound the audience with their death-defying leaps far above the ground.

Their daring stunts will be followed by the dancing elephants, which always make the children laugh. Tip: While an independent clause can stand alone, the dependent clause cannot.

When the acrobat was shot out of the canon. Stay tuned to the next act for more on this sometimes slippery punctuation mark ! There’s not one “right” way to write a sentence. Instead, we have an almost endless variety of options available to us. But what we choose should be determined by our purpose and meaning. Like a circus acrobat who can soar through the air, contort into impossible poses, and balance on the back of galloping horses, good writing can thrill readers. But in order to amaze our audience, our sentences must exhibit grace, agility, balance, and even bravery. Make Your Sentences Acrobatic with Effective Punctuation! (cc) photo by medhead on Flickr The Amazing Big Top of Awesome stopped in Magic, Idaho; Nowhere, Oklahoma; and Bravo, Alabama. Works Cited

Hoagland, Edward. Cat Man: A Novel. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 1955. Google Books. Web. 20 Sept. 2011.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishing, 1912. Google Books. Web. 20 Sept. 2011. The colon can also separate dependent elements from the independent clause.

Before she entered the ring, Melinda the Magnificent gathered her props: diamond tiara, riding crop, and hula hoop.
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