Punctuation Changes Meaning

Punctuation Changes Meaning.

Without punctuation, words strung together lack meaning.

dear john i want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men i yearn for you i have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart i can be forever happy will you let me be yours jane

Punctuation turns this string of words into a love-letter.

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours?
Jane

With different punctuation, this string of words becomes a Dear John letter.

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior! You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn! For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Jane

Here’s another string of words without punctuation. See if you can add punctuation so it makes sense.

that that is is that that is not is not that that is is not that that is not.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin loves a well-punctuated sentence; she’s especially fond of the semi-colon, both when it’s used between independent clauses, and when it separates items in a series.

24 thoughts on “Punctuation Changes Meaning

  1. Brought a smile to my face. And in this time of news fixation on what’s the next POTUS horrendoma, what a relief!
    Which reminds me of the challenge we all have, writers and ordinary hour-to-hour slavish mortals alike. How do we keep one foot in the war territory of the moment, and one foot grounded in that which nourishes us? How do I as an aspiring writer stay abreast and active in the current tidal wave of events while at the same time remember that I have to find time and mental energy for thoughtful writing as well as non-preoccupied living.
    One of the biggest offenses of the current political crisis (at least that’s the way I and my circle of friends see it) is not just the issues themselves nor even the frightening autocratic style, it’s the robbing me of balance, of my previous state of “known realities” and my capacity to more or less adequately juggle them. It’s as though an intruder has taken up residence in my head uninvited and won’t leave. (Actually a band of intruders – if it’s not the man, it’s his troupe of nasties, his relentlessly mind-screwing surrogates.)
    It’s reminiscent of a toxic relationship that just won’t go away. It’s like a skunk odor – it pervades everything you do. It’s like being a kid in a horribly dysfunctional family and you’re hearing through the thin walls the parental asininity revving up again and you ache and you know more misery’s coming your way and you just want it to stop.
    Which, come to think of it, is exactly why we need to be there for each other, like siblings determined to define the abuse for what it is and to do whatever we need to do to make it through this ordeal reasonably psychologically intact.
    Refreshingly, your post brought back to mind that wonderful book by a British writer [“whose name is” is between synapses at the moment] on grammar – “Eats Shoots and Leaves” (published I believe without the meaning-giving comma).

  2. I really like the way you demonstrate and explain punctuation and it helps us understand how important it is to let the reader allow to breath otherwise it becomes really difficult to focus.

    I really like the way you demonstrate and explain punctuation. It helps us understand how important it is to let the reader allow to breath. Becomes really difficult to focus otherwise.

    • Call me old-fashioned, I would rather receive a long-winded, unpunctuated snail-mail letter over an email any day. There’s something so personal about a handwritten letter. That said, almost all my correspondence is electronic these days – and I have no excuse!

  3. Pingback: Punctuation | My Blog

  4. I absolutely love this post. The examples given are a great way to show the need for punctuation and grammar in our writing. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Pingback: Writing Links Round Up 3/13-3/18 – B. Shaun Smith

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