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The Importance of Punctuation: A Comprehensive Guide to Improving Your Writing

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1. Introduction to Punctuation in Writing

In English, punctuation is used largely to indicate the pauses and inflections to be observed in reading and the proper grouping of the words in a written sentence. Numbers, dates, and abbreviations are also brought into strict conformity with established norms. Type ornamentation has an even more limited scope, largely confined to relationship to punctuation. Thus Sir Ernest Gowers describes punctuation as “… a device for bringing sense into what would be chattering nonsense without it.” Let’s face it. Hyphens, apostrophes, commas, colons, and other devices of punctuation all represent specialized tools that, when used correctly, clarify specific language learning dilemmas. Much as a carpenter can fashion not only a deck but also a chest of drawers or a dining room table from the single plank he has, the writer, learning how to use the rules of punctuation competently, gains not only an appreciation of the forms of his own language but also the wisdom to be able to fashion his thoughts into diverse, coherent statements.

Whether they realize it or not, writers have an obligation to the reader. In modern society – where most kitchen gadgets come with instruction manuals thicker than a dictionary, where we feel silly when we can’t run the VCR, where life is complex, faster than ever, and fraught with its share of bewildering mysteries – we need all the help we can get. We benefit from an interpretive framework that analyzes and organizes thoughts and, in significant ways, helps discern meaning. We need punctuation.

2. Common Punctuation Marks and Their Functions

Punctuation marks are the symbols in the following list: , . ; : ! ? – – ‘ “ ” ( ) Brackets ( ) , or , (Yes, the common features of bracketing appear near the end of a long list. Their introduction addresses a great need in writing instruction, and their correct use is fairly easy and unambiguous.) While the above list covers a good, comprehensive range of punctuation marks, there are many more that can bring additional clarity and cohesion to our readers’ comprehension of our written language. Far from being peripheral concerns, punctuation marks are essential components of any complete and coherent writing. Although small and subordinate to words, they are not insubstantial, as the history of writing and those dedicated to education and enforcement of writing skills demonstrate.

We use punctuation to separate and organize written language into statements of logical thought and cohesive structure. The correct use of punctuation is often an indication of the quality of a piece of writing. Therefore, when you use punctuation correctly, you look good. Correct punctuation is like good grooming. You look good, and so does your writing.

3. The Impact of Proper Punctuation on Clarity and Meaning

Punctuation is, in some part, definitional. Clarity of quickly getting your message across to the reader begins with the period that announces the end of your sentence, to the semi-any punctuation mark in any language, and then practicing the invisible spaces, white against the dark marking, to group words into larger chunks. Always remember: if punctuation marks were less important, they would have short names instead of names like period, comma, and semi-colon. Words like that can be important! If you do not use them properly, your readers will not be able to puzzle out what your message is. You, the author and speaker, are responsible for promoting clarity in your linguistic message; punctuation is one of those aspects.

One might hesitate to use a semi-colon, and who would blame him? Man has enough stress in his life without all that emoting from those academic punctuation pedants. Or should it be, “Man has enough stress in his life without all that emoting from those academic punctuation pedants?” The meaning changes with the punctuation. Therefore, punctuation is a necessary ingredient in producing coherence and clarity in our communications.

4. Practical Tips for Improving Punctuation Skills

9. Use the dash. Place a dash wherever words have been omitted because the meaning can easily be inferred or for emphasis. If the omitted words are the subject or verb of the sentence, place a dash after a complete sentence. The phrase function, over a, – three variables, as a selector for, – two-dimensional polyhedral solids, or it will provide solutions to standard complex problems. What you want is – considerably more difficult!

8. Use parentheses to set off material that is in summary but not in pronunciation. In the middle of a sentence, parentheses that come at the beginning of a sentence are placed near the end of the sentence. A number of the altered Eco-logic was first proposed in 1965. We will see how that works.

7. Use the question mark? A question mark has much the same function as the exclamation, but it is slightly more polite. Do not use a question mark in the same sentence you have already used an exclamation mark, and never put several of either in a row. Only a few people have written talk like Marlowe, their replications being rare. Shakespeare’s gift for words was unique; there is no real rival for his yard at all. Will people ever achieve in outer space the infinity of macrocomology?

6. Use the exclamation mark! For sheer emphasis, nothing in English can quite take the place of an exclamation point. To say “I love it!” is obviously more emphatic than merely saying “I love it.”

5. Use the period. Each time you pause for whatever reason, use a period. And each time you stop, use a period. Should I put a question mark here? I don’t really know. Periods can also use for noncontroversial requests of information. City, state code, Zip code. Periods are used after Roman numerals if they do not end sentences.

4. Use the comma. Commas are placed between a city and a state, September 20, and around the year in a date. However, when writing or typing the day and month are capitalized but not the season or month. In series, place a comma between all of the items except the last one, which is preceded by a conjunction. Adjectives are connected by commas if they modify the direct object without changing the meaning. Coordinate adjectives, indirect objects.

3. Use the colon to introduce two or more elements in a sentence or to introduce an illustrative or amplifying sentence. But remember that the colon never follows an auxiliary verb. When a colon introduces a long, formal quotation, paragraph construction is the same as for a block quotation. Paragraph breaks occur before and after the quotation. It is customary in American English to place a colon either after or before quotation marks, depending on whether the colon is part of the quotation, but it is customary in other English-speaking countries to place the colon inside the quotation marks.

2. Use the semi-colon sparingly. It should be used only when the relationship between two statements and the implied transition is so close they belong together in a single sentence. A semi-colon is used less frequently than a comma and more frequently than a colon.

1. Write short sentences. Not never-use-two-syllable-words short, but short. Even one-word or two-word sentences can work. A series of very short sentences can force the reader to focus on something important.

No bad marks will be given for failure to observe correct punctuation. Indeed, very few hard-and-fast rules on the subject can be laid down. The following guidelines, however, will ensure that your writing is clear and straightforward.

5. Advanced Punctuation Techniques and Style Guidelines

Making your writing more concise: Editing your writing for clarity might just involve making your sentences more concise. For example, if you use too many nominalizations, your sentences can become unnecessarily complicated. Be on the lookout for sentences that can be divided in two or restructured to make space for a period (or a semicolon). Ideally, try to avoid sentences with more than 20 to 22 words. Of course, you will need to use your good judgment here. Few rules are hard and fast. Sometimes, a long sentence is clear and concise, whereas a short one is unnecessarily convoluted.

Comparison agreement: Comparisons are a fertile source of problems in writing. The most common error occurs when using “like” or “unlike.” These should be followed by nouns, not clauses. Example: I like big boats more than he does. The other issue is with ambiguous antecedents related to a comparative. Example: She was a better athlete than her sister at soccer. Many readers might conclude that her sister was an athlete at another sport, too.

Number agreement: This is a tricky one, especially when you have an unclear antecedent. Example: A lawyer called. They offered to sue for him. Is it the lawyer who will be suing? Or a completely different group of people? When in doubt, rearrange your sentence to avoid this sort of problem. The lawyer offered to sue on his behalf is far less confusing.

Using “who” or “whom”: This is a challenging distinction. The rule is that “who” should be used as a subject and “whom” as an object. Example: Whom are you planning to vote for? The problem, of course, is that virtually no one naturally speaks this way, so attempts to do so can come off as pretentious. In casual settings, if you’re not sure which should be used, use “who.”

Splitting infinitives: This involves inserting an adverb between the word “to” and the following verb. Some people still believe that this should be avoided. Example: She planned to safely run out into the road. You may want to avoid split infinitives in formal English, but this “rule” is not especially well-supported.

Ending a sentence with a preposition: This is one of the more famous “rules” of grammar that isn’t really a rule. Example: This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put. That said, you may want to avoid this construction in formal writing.

Here are some of the more complex (and often debated) grammatical or style issues in writing, along with our advice on how to deal with them:

Advanced Rules of Style

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