Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A Punctual Death

Today I will attempt to reveal the deadliest WIP-Killers this world has ever known. Why, the very idea of describing them puts my life at risk. This may as well be my last post, so for that reason I want to thank you all for the love. Please, read this with haste and when you're finished unplug your computer and burn it!

Failure to obey will result in your swift and painful demise.



The first of the deadly Marks of Death. The comma rules over Fire. 

It is used very frequently and used incorrectly almost as frequently. There are, in fact, four distinct uses of the comma:
  • A listing comma is used as a kind of substitute for the word 'and' or sometimes for the word 'or' in a list when three or more words, phrases or even complete sentences are joined by the word 'and' or 'or'. [The colours in the Union Jack flag are red, white and blue.]
  • A joining comma is only slightly different from a listing comma and is used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence, when it must be used by one of the connecting words 'and', 'or', 'nor', 'but', 'while', 'so' and 'yet'. [I could tell you the truth, but I will not.]
  • The gapping comma is used to show that one or more words have been left out when the missing words would simply repeat the words already used in the same sentence. [Some English writers use punctuation correctly; others, not.]
  • The bracketing comma always comes as a pair and is used to mark off a weak interruption of a sentence - that is, an interruption which does not disturb the smooth flow of the sentence and could be removed and still leave the sentence complete and making good sense. [This web site, I would suggest, contains much useful information and advice.]
Note 1: One bracketing comma will suffice if the weak interruption comes at the beginning or the end of the sentence. [Although often wet, Britain has lots of sunshine. as opposed to Britain, although often wet, has lots of sunshine.]

Note 2: The main purpose of punctuation is to aid understanding; a subsidiary purpose is to aid flow. Use joining commas and pairing commas where this aids understanding and/or flow. As a general rule, the longer the sentence or the more complex the sentence, the greater the need for commas.

Note 3: When in doubt over where to use a comma, try reading the sentence out loud and, generally speaking, commas should be used where you pause for clarification or breath.

Note 4: There is some controversy over use of something called the serial or Oxford comma which is the last comma in this example: The colours in the Union Jack flag are red, white, and blue. Generally the serial comma is not used in Britain where it is regarded as unnecessary, but it is commonly used in the United States where it is thought helpful. My preference is to use a listing comma before 'and' or 'or' only when it is necessary to make the meaning clear.


The Colon is the second of the deadly marks, and rules over Ice.

The colon has two uses:
  • to indicate that what follows it is an explanation or elaboration of what precedes it (the rule being that the more general statement is followed by a more specific one) [There is one challenge above all others: the alleviation of poverty.]
  • to introduce a list [There are four nations in the United Kindom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.]
Note: A colon is never preceded by a white space, but it is always followed by a white space, and it is never followed by a hyphen or a dash.


If the comma is the most powerful, then this is the most deadliest mark of them all. Countless writers have lost their WIPS to this foe; silent and vicious, this beast rules over Darkness. 

The semicolon has two major uses:
  • to join two complete sentences into a single written sentence when the two sentences are too closely related to be separately by a full stop and there is no connecting word which would require a comma such as 'and' or 'but' [It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.]
  • to join two complete sentences into a single written sentence where the second sentence begins with a conjunctive adverb such as 'however', 'nevertheless', 'accordingly', 'consequently', or 'instead' [I wanted to make my speech short; however, there was so much to cover.]
Note: In these uses, the semicolon is stronger than a comma but less final than a full stop.
There is a minor use of the semicolon:
  • to separate items in a list when one or more of those items contains a comma [The speakers included: Tony Blair, the Prime Minister; Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education & Skills.]


The deadly Mark of Water; always underestimated, yet few have lived to speak of its horrors. 

It is the most misused punctuation mark in the English language by far, but this should not be the case since there are only two major uses of the apostrophe:
  • to indicate a contraction which is a form of word in which one or more letters are omitted [it's instead of it is or aren't instead of are not]
  • to indicate possession [Roger's web site]
Note 1: The first use of the apostrophe should usually be avoided in formal writing.

Note 2: The second use of the apostrophe involves placing the apostrophe at the end of the word when the word is plural and ends in 's' [workers' rights].

Note 3: There are three very, very common misuses of the apostrophe.
  • The most frequent misuse is in writing plural forms, especially in signs and notices, but it is totally wrong to write pizza's or CD's or even in English English1990's (this is the usage in American English).
  • The second misuse, which is almost as common, is it's instead of its to indicate possession [It's wrong to hit its head].
  • The final misuse involves confusion between 'who's' which is an abbreviation of 'who is' [the man who's coming to visit] and 'whose' which shows possession [the man whose house is over there].


The fifth Mark of Death. Hyphen rules the Earth. 

It has two main uses:
  • in writing compound words that would be ambiguous, hard to read or excessively long [no-smoking sign and black-cab driver]
  • to indicate that a long word has been broken off at the end of a line (however, this should be avoided if possible)
A minor use of the hyphen is:
  • to avoid what is called letter collision {de-ice or shell-like]


Dash rules the Wind and has only one major use:
  • to use in pairs to separate a strong interruption from the rest of the sentence (a strong interruption, as opposed to a weak interruption, is one which forcefully disrupts the flow of the sentence and, as such, it usually contains a verb rather simply being a phrase) [All nations desire econmic growth - some even achieve it - but it is easier said than done.]
Note: Only one dash is used if the strong interruption comes at the beginning or the end of the sentence. [We earnestly desire peace for all nations of the world - and we will work hard for it.]
There are several minor uses of the dash:
  • to add emphasis or drama [He said that he would go - and he did.]
  • to indicate a range of numbers [900-1000]
  • to link two connected words [the Sydney-Melbourne train]


The seventh Mark of Death rules the element of Ore. 

Brackets have one major use:
  • to use in pairs to set off a strong or weak interruption, as with a pair of dashes or a pair of bracketed commas [I knew she loved me (I was not wrong) which is why I proposed.]
Note: Round brackets are normally used instead of dashes or bracketed commas where the interruption is something of an aside from, or a supplement to, the main sentence.
There is a minor use of brackets:
  • to enclose an acronym after the acronym has been spelt out [European Union (EU)]


Ah yes, the proud and prudent Ellipsis. While his brothers kill with vim and vigor, he ravages WIPS with sheer cunning and brain. Master of Light, he is sometimes called the suspension or omission marks, and has three uses:
  • to show that some material has been omitted from a direct quotation [One of Churchill's most famous speeches declaimed: "We shall fight them on the beaches ... We shall never surrender".]
  • to indicate suspense [The winner is ...]
  • to show that a sentence has been left unfinished because it has simply trailed off [Watch this space ...]
Note: Technically there should be three dots in an ellipsis, but there could be two at the beginning of a piece and four at the end.  


Anonymous said...

Great. Now I'm dead. When will I learn...(...);

Thanks, though!

Michael Offutt said...

Oh my. I'm so dead. I love your pictures by the way. That death's head in the cowl is frightening.

Tracey Neithercott said...

Great list! For some reason putting an apostrophe in cases like the 90's or I got all C's, etc. drives me nuts.

Is there another mark of death? (I'm clearly not knowledgeable about death. Shame on me.) Because if so it should be the exclamation point. Useful in blog comments and tweets to say, "look I'm excited" or "my comment without an exclamation point would look mean, and I'm being friendly." But it should be used with care and caution in writing.

T.D. McFrost said...

Deb - AHAHAHA. You crazy gal, you! Thanks for stopping by. :D

Michael - I have the most awesomest pictures ever, don't I? LOL.

Tracy - Hey Queen bee.

It took me a while to come up with this list. I thought of the most hazardous marks a writer could ever face, and though the exclamation point was deadly, it wasn't as fearsome as the rest. If you want, I'll add it in.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

That picture is stunning ... and chilling. I have committed one of the eight sins. I am dead. Wait. Make that undead. I write fantasy after all! LOL. Great post, Roland

Kelley Vitollo said...

Ellipsis are my downfall. I like them way too much and KNOW I use them way too much.


Great list :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the grammar lesson. Sometimes I forget these things. I worry that I overuse commas.

Angela Ackerman said...

Okay, you achieved the impossible--you made grammar INTERESTING!

I always knew Death must be behind punctuation. *shakes fist at Death*

Angela @ The Bookshelf muse

Kelly Hashway said...

I'm a grammar nut! I taught middle school language arts and I loved teaching grammar. Weird, right? My critique partners love that about me though. They know I'll catch their grammatical errors for them. I didn't realize I was saving them from death though! :P

C.R. Evers said...

I risked death to come over here. Glad I did. Punctuation kills me. Now I know how to fight back. Hi-ya!

T.D. McFrost said...

Hi all!

I'm so glad you liked this post. It was fun to do.

Thanks for the compliment Angela Ackerman, that's what you get when a crazy superhero puts a spin on learning. :D

Tracey Neithercott said...

Ha ha...no, I was just kidding!

MollyMom103 said...

Cool stuff. I think AP style omits that serial comma. I use it in novels and pbs.

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