National Writing Project

What Good is Punctuation?

By: Wallace Chafe
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1
Date: January 1988

Summary: The writer answers the question he poses by advancing the argument that punctuation calls awareness to and develops a sensitivity for the sound of written language.

 

Excerpt

There are few people whose hearts will skip a beat at the thought of punctuation. For sheer excitement, punctuation ranks well below spelling which at least lends itself to interesting games and contests. At best it seems to be a necessary evil. Since it is present in all normal English writing, anyone who is going to write English needs to use it in an acceptable way, but it is seldom mentioned as an important ingredient of good writing....[Punctuation] continues to suffer from a popular reputation as something that is arbitrary, unmotivated and governed by rules that make no particular sense. In short, it is in a class with "grammar." Perhaps it is even a part of grammar, but certainly not one of the more interesting parts.

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