Shall we start with an analogy? Look at these:
a. Let’s eat, children.
b. Let’s eat children.
Sentence A is a call to the kids to come eat while sentence B is a call to some person(s) to come eat children.
a. Mikel Obi, the captain, is here.
b. Mikel Obi, the captain is here.
In this also, sentence A informs some persons of the presence of Mikel Obi who is the captain while sentence B informs Mikel Obi of the presence of the captain.
Punctuation marks are to writing what pauses, tone, tune, gaze and gesture are to speaking. All of the misinformation that can be generated by the use of pitch and tone in speaking can be generated by the poor or inappropriate usage of punctuation marks in writing.
In recent times, the problem with punctuation marks is not so much that we do not know how to use them. It is however the laxity which comes with social media interaction that hinders people’s ability to use punctuation marks. Chat is a quasi-conversation which shares features with face-to-face communication and many assume that constant and consistent use of punctuation marks will hinder the spontaneous flow of discussions. Unfortunately, an average person spends a greater time reading and writing on different social media and this has tremendously affected our use of punctuation marks in official writings, hence, the poor performance in writing tasks in schools and workplaces.
It is essential to use punctuation marks appropriately even in our chats. If for no other reason, remember that you have nothing to lose if you use punctuation marks in chats, in fact it makes you a more proficient user of the language, but you have so much to use if your letter misfires due to the inappropriate use of punctuation mark(s). The rest of this essay will however briefly discuss the major punctuation marks and we will be doing ourselves a whole of good if we apply the knowledge to all forms of writing, chats inclusive.
FULL STOP(.): It performs the following functions:
1. It is used to mark the end of a sentence: Gani loves to teach.
2. It is used to indicate abbreviations (initials, degrees, tittc) e.g., Feb., Rev., Prof., Ph.D., Bamgbose G.A.
Note: When the first and last letters of a word are used to form abbreviation, one can either put a full stop or omit it: Doctor, Dr or Dr.
Full stop should also not be used for acronyms which are abbreviations for professional, business and governmental organisations: NBA, INEC etc.
COMMA (,): It performs the following functions:
1. It is used after a formal salutation or complementary close: Dear Sir, Yours faithfully,
2. It is used in addresses, dates and figures: 2, Bello Road, July 29, 2015. 46, 000.000
3. It is used to separate a cluster of words: the handsome, tall, fair, Nigerian man.
4. It is also used to show a short break in a statement: For the first time, actually, surprisingly,
5. It is used to separate a direct quotation: ‘Don’t say a word’, screamed his father.
6. It is used to separate names of business partners, degrees and other qualifications: Bamgbose G.A., B.Ed (LASU), M A (Ibadan).
7. It separates words that are used in apposition(possible replacements) to nouns: Vincent Enyeama, the Nigerian goalkeeper, is diligent.
Colon (:):The colon performs the following functions:
1. It is used after a speaker’s name in a dialogue, especially in a written play. Lakunle: A very good morning to you sir!
2. It is used to introduce formal listing. I found the following in the bag: her wallet, passport, a bunch of keys and some cash.
3. It is used to introduce a formal quotation. According to Fakoya (2008): ‘The only variety of English available to Nigerians is Nigerian English.’
4. The colon is used to separate chapters from verses in biblical references. John 3:16.
5. To indicate time. 9:25am.
6. It is also used to separate a title and a subtitle of a book. Everyday English: A compilation of Common Errors.
Semicolon (;): The semicolon performs the following functions:
1. Use a semicolon in place of a period to separate sentences where the conjunction has been left out: Call me tomorrow; I will give you my answer then.
2. Use the semicolon to separate units of a series when one or more of the units contain commas: This conference has people who have come from Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles, California; and Nashville, Tennessee.
3. Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence: If she can, she will attempt that feat; and if her husband is able, he will be there to see her.
HYPHEN (-): The hyphen performs the following functions:
1. When two or more nouns are used as adjectives, a hyphen is sometimes used to link all the nouns: A three-man committee. However, to check whether a compound noun is two words, one word, or hyphenated, you may need to look it up in the dictionary. If you cannot find the word in the dictionary, treat the noun as separate words. Here are the three forms discussed: eyewitness (one word compound), eye shadow(two word compound), eye-opener (hyphenated compound). Again, phrases that have verb, noun and adjective forms should appear as separate words when used as verbs and as one word when used as nouns or adjectives: The engine will BREAK DOWN. We suffered a BREAKDOWN in communication.
2. The hyphen joins some prefixes to the main words: co-education, anti-climax
3. It is used to split a word at the end of a line such that the part that cannot be contained is taken to the next line. It is important to break a word at the edge of a line on a syllable and not just in between a syllable: accommo-dation (right) intimidat-ion (wrong)
4. A hyphen is also used between compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
Dash(__): This is often mistaken for a hyphen. The hyphen and the dash are not the same. The dash is longer than the hyphen and they perform different functions. Here are the functions of dash:
1. It is used to introduce a list: The group of companies is into so many things__ housing, furniture, cosmetics and farming.
2. It is also used to mark a break or an additional information in a speaker’s line of thought: My brother-in-law__ the proprietor of Tendermate School at Oyedeji __believes in giving out quality.
3. It is also introduced before a repeated word: The University of Ibadan~ the first and the best university in Nigeria~ was founded in 1948.
Quotation Marks or Inverted commas( ‘ ‘ or ” “) – The single quotation marks is British-oriented while the double is associated with the Americans. However both are allowed provided one is consistent.
The following are the functions of the inverted commas:
1. It is used to mark or indicate a quotation: Achebe once said, ‘ Proverbs are the oil with which words are eaten.’
2. To show words used in special or technical sense, slang, vernacular, etc: So you mean you didn’t come with ‘kola’ for oga and you want to have your way? Note: Kola is either money or any gift in this sense.
3. To encolose names of songs, titles of poems, essays, stories, articles, etc.: My recent paper is titled ‘A critical discourse analysis of the Oyo State gubernatorial debate.’
Ellipsis (…): It is used when omitting a word, phrase, line paragraph, or more from a quoted passage. There are many methods for using ellipses. The three-dot method is the simplest and is appropriate for most general works and many scholarly ones. The three- or four-dot method and even more rigorous method used in legal works require fuller explanations that can be found in other reference books.
Caret(^): it is used to show that something is missing from a sentence or text. It is used instead of having to cancel or cross an entire line or sentence because of a single omission.
Write well; use punctuation marks.
(C) 2018 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (GAB)