Four Punctuation Mistakes That Will Make People Think You’re Dumb – Part I

As if the English language wasn’t tough enough already with its sheer word count, we’ve also got to deal with punctuation. Little dots and lines and swooshes mean God knows what.

Like the semicolon, the ugly redheaded stepchild of the Devil himself. I’d almost bet money that there was some point in your life when you put a semicolon in a sentence and immediately regretted it. “Is that right?” you thought. “Is that even what a semicolon does?” You probably sweated over it for a few minutes and then did what everyone else does: deleted the damn thing and rewrote the sentence so you wouldn’t even have to use one.

Well, that’s a pretty good solution, and it probably helps save yourself some face. You can save yourself some more by heeding these four blunders from punctuation Hell.

I’m Excited, and I Mean it!!!

Exclamation points are sometimes acceptable. Sometimes they tear your work to shreds and make you look like a hack. And that’s if you use only one. Two exclamation points in a row mean your writing will never get out of the Winnebago and into the suburbs. And if you ever put three exclamation points right in a row and then hear a knock at the door, don’t answer it. It’s most likely someone who’s come to shoot you.

To go right back to basics, an exclamation point looks like this! It’s not just a period to stop the sentence; it’s a period that’s excited and jumping right up out of its pants.

There’s nothing wrong with being excited, writing excitedly, or having a character exclaim something. What is wrong is that your reader should know from both the context and quality of your writing that something or someone is excited. If you need to depend upon weak punctuation to do a job of writing, there’s something wrong.

The exclamation can still be used, of course, but it should be used only when it might be confusing not to use it.

Example

She answered the door, and standing there on the porch was none other than Ed McMahon. Behind him stood the whole Clearinghouse Sweepstakes crew, and one of them was carrying an oversized check. On it, printed in bold type, was “Two Million Dollars and no cents.”

Regina grabbed the check and ran around the yard, yelling, “This is the greatest day of my life.”

Isn’t that weird without the exclamation point? It almost seems as if Regina is joking or being sarcastic about her excitement. Maybe she’s disappointed that it’s only two million and not four. An exclamation point there would be just fine, as it’s distracting and strange to leave it out.

Another type of exclamation point mistake is using one when the situation isn’t exciting, as in:

“Mmm, this is the best peanut butter I’ve ever had!”

Peanut butter isn’t all that exciting. Even if it is the best, it’s not something anyone will feel right down to their soul.

And besides, what happens when your hero loves his peanut butter (!) and gets shot in the face (!)? Now you’ve got two exclamatory sentences on parity with each other but of entirely different species.

Reserve your exclamation points for only the most appropriate of moments. At all other times, let your writing speak for itself.