Punctuation can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Take the punctuation joke, “let’s eat Grandma,” for example. The missing comma makes the sentence way creepier than it would be with the comma, “let’s eat, Grandma.” Punctuation is important. Jokes aside, punctuation helps us separate dialog from description. It lets us know when to take a breath or emphasize ideas.
Consider a paragraph without punctuation how would you know to take a breath when reading aloud reading to yourself is not the same problem but having no punctuation can make the writing confusing and hard to read think about that
The above paragraph was hard to read, wasn’t it? Reading such a paragraph is exhausting. A reader is more likely to put down such a piece of writing. I know what you’re thinking. No one writes completely without punctuation. I found it as hard to write that sentence as you did to read it. I wrote that to make a point.
Punctuation is not there to annoy writers. It’s there to help readers figure out where to breathe, or which parts of the sentence are important. Commas separate clauses. Quotes show dialog. That’s important in fiction. In nonfiction, authors want readers to understand their ideas. Punctuation helps with that as well.
If you aren’t sure if you should have a comma or a period at the end of a series of words, read it aloud. Ask yourself if the sentence is complete as written. If it is, you need a period. If not, and you feel you need to take a breath, put in a comma and finish your thought.
Commas and periods are analogous to the traffic signs, yield and stop. The comma is the yield sign, pause and then go. The period is a stop sign. Come to a full stop and then go. Quotes separate dialog from description as I mentioned before. These are the most common punctuation marks. That is, aside from exclamation points and question marks.
Other forms of punctuation are a bit more complicated. We use a colon at the start of a list of items, a quotation, or an expansion or explanation. For example, this sentence: punctuation includes: commas, periods, quotes, colons, and semicolons. Use a semicolon to show the end of the list and further text. It can also show a pause longer than a comma but shorter than a period.
No matter what type of writing you do, punctuation can help make what you write clearer. You don’t need to obsess about it. But you do need to know what each mark means and how to use it, even if you don’t use a particular punctuation mark. Punctuation signifies an author knows his or her craft. Use it well, your readers will thank you for it.