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Title: Why We Punctuate - or Reason Versus Rule in the Use of Marks
Author: Klein, William Livingston
Language: English
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  “Punctuation seems to be an art based upon rules without
  congruity, and derived from practice without uniformity.”









who during the many years the subject of punctuation has occupied my
attention has ever been ready, with great intelligence and helpfulness,
to discuss with me the intricate and often dull problems which
punctuation presents



The first edition of this work was published in 1896, and the treatment
of the subject was so highly commended by many leading men and
periodicals of the country that the entire edition, though a large one,
was soon exhausted. In spite of this favorable commendation, which may
have been due to my effort to set forth reasons, instead of rules,
for the use of marks, I had a keen sense of certain shortcomings in
the work, and have long been unwilling to permit its reprinting or
to undertake its rewriting. At least one of the reasons—and I hope
the principal one—why the work fell short of my ideal of the book
needed, was the inevitable failure inherent in the mode of treating the
subject. As a sentence may contain the four principal marks (comma,
semicolon, colon, and period) and, in addition, one or more of the
other marks, a writer courts failure if, in treating the difficult
art of punctuation, he deals with the marks separately, beginning, as
all writers, myself included, have hitherto done, with the comma, the
most difficult mark to understand, and proceeding, one at a time, with
the other marks. Failure follows this mode of treatment because it
disregards the interrelation of marks and the relations between groups
of words to be interpreted by marks.

In this edition, which has been entirely rewritten, I have endeavored
to avoid the fault of such mode of treatment, and have dealt, from
the outset, with groups of interrelated marks, exhibiting, for
instance, in a single illustrative sentence (No. 6) the four principal
marks in their interrelation as affected by the sense relations of
the language of the sentence. I believe that this treatment of the
subject of punctuation is the only logical one; and because of the
lack of a logical treatment of the subject it is no exaggeration to
say that almost utter chaos as regards punctuation which is helpful
to both reader and writer, exists everywhere, inside and outside of

In the preface of the first edition I said it was a remarkable fact
that the subject of punctuation had been very inadequately treated,
as evidenced by the existence at that time of only a single treatise
on punctuation in the English language, and by the total absence of
any consideration of it in periodical literature. This assertion,
with slight modification, is true today. An admirable essay by Mr.
Phillips Garrison, sometime editor of _The Nation_, appeared in the
_Atlantic Monthly_ for August, 1906. This essay, which deals with
the interchangeability of marks, only confounds the confusion of
punctuation. Mr. Garrison admits that the more the difficulties of the
art of punctuation are faced and considered, the fuller becomes our
understanding of the principles which do underlie the convention that
makes punctuation correct or faulty. One of his illustrative examples
exhibiting the interchangeability of three marks, is discussed herein;
and an effort is made to discover the “principles” that determine the
correct punctuation of the example, and to show that the marks used by
him are not interchangeable. No other article on punctuation is found
in the world’s great mass of periodical literature listed in American
library Indexes.

The one treatise referred to above is the work of Mr. John Wilson,
which, it may safely be asserted, is the only _treatise_ on the subject
in English. It is a masterful work, exhibiting an amount of research
and a degree of acumen probably unexcelled in the preparation of a
text-book on any subject. In spite of this fact, I think the work is
so minute, so voluminous, and so lacking in scientific generalization,
as to make mastery of its great number of rules, with “remarks” and
exceptions equivalent to rules, an exceedingly difficult and, to many,
an impossible task. Mr. Wilson’s work was first published in 1826.

The excellent handbook of Mr. Marshall T. Bigelow, published in 1881,
is merely a summary of the principal rules of Mr. Wilson’s work. Its
briefness greatly limits its value.

The work, entitled “Punctuation,” of Mr. F. Horace Teall, published
in 1897, is also an admirable handbook, but it gives more space to
spelling than to punctuation. It gives only four pages, very small
ones, to the consideration of the colon; and two of the colon’s
principal uses, discussed at length herein, are not mentioned.

Mr. Theodore L. De Vinne, the founder of the well-known De Vinne Press,
published his “Correct Composition” in 1901. This work is indeed a
treatise, but a treatise on printing, not on punctuation. Its treatment
of punctuation is somewhat iconoclastic, radically so at points. Some
of its rules are excellent, but others are well-nigh incomprehensible.

The University of Chicago Press issued its “Manual of Style” in 1906,
and its “Manual for Writers” in 1913. The latter work is edited by
Professor John Matthews Manly, head of the Department of English in the
University of Chicago, and Mr. John Arthur Powell, of the University of
Chicago Press. These Manuals, in their treatment of punctuation, are
practically identical, and each devotes less than thirty pages to the
subject. Their rules are brief, clear, and comprehensive; but their
inconsistencies in the use of marks are so great as to be exceedingly

The Riverside Press, which for many years maintained the reputation of
being one of the three or four most painstaking printing establishments
in the world, recently issued a small “Handbook of Style,” setting
forth the style in use by that Press; but it also contains many errors
and inconsistencies in punctuation, which lessen its value.

I have assumed, for several reasons, the seeming impropriety of
criticising the above books: (1) they are recognized as the best
authorities on the conventional use of marks, I acknowledge my
indebtedness to them, and I show my appreciation of them by quoting no
others in my discussion of the subject; (2) criticism of usage by any
other class of writers is worthless; (3) my own work, if it will not
stand comparison with the above-named works, has no value, and I invite
such comparison by my specific criticism of some of their examples
which exhibit the fundamental principles of punctuation.

In no work known to me has an attempt been made to show the sense
relations between parts of language with such relations indicated by
marks, themselves differentiated by these sense relations. A single
illustration will serve to show the truth of this broad assertion
concerning the sense relations between groups of words determined by
marks, yet not recognized by writers on punctuation. Practically all
such writers use a comma after _etc._, the comma of course following
the period. The two Manuals of the University of Chicago Press and the
Handbook of The Riverside Press specifically name this as the proper
punctuation. That such punctuation disregards the sense relations
determined by the meaning of language, is proved, I think, beyond
question by illustrative Sentence 7-1 herein.

If my own work is of any value, or possesses any degree of originality,
it is to be found in my efforts to show that the sense relations
between groups of words are a large factor in determining the meaning
of language, and that a mark of punctuation, or even its absence,
sometimes determines a sense relation, and at other times only serves
readily to point it out. Neither the comma in illustrative Sentence
1-1 nor the semicolons in Sentence 7 determine meanings: they simply
suggest them. The absence of commas in Sentence 3, and their presence
in Sentence 3-1, determine meanings.

As the difficulties in punctuation arise largely from the subtle
relations between groups of words into which all language, often the
simplest, is divided, the study of punctuation becomes in reality
the study of language. Upon the importance attached to the clear
understanding and correct use of language, depends the value of

I desire to express my high appreciation of the helpful suggestions
and criticisms made by three friends, each of whom has read the proof
of this work one or more times, bringing to the arduous task large
knowledge of the subtle principles of punctuation and of language. Of
these friends, Mr. W. F. Webster, Principal of the East High School,
Minneapolis, is well known in educational circles as a teacher of
English, as a lecturer, and as the author of a widely used text-book
on composition and literature. Mr. S. R. Winchell, of Chicago, is
likewise well known in educational circles as a high-school and college
teacher, and as the author of several text-books on English and Latin.
Dr. William Davis, of St. Paul, is an unusually critical scholar and a
lover of good English, with an extensive editorial experience.

  Minneapolis, Minnesota,
  February 1, 1916.


  CHAPTER                                               PAGE

       PREFACE                                             v

       INTRODUCTION                                     xiii


       REAL AND APPARENT MEANINGS                          6


         THE NAMES OF MARKS                               15

         THE RELATIVE VALUES OF MARKS                     16

         PUNCTUATION OF SERIES                            21


         THE COLON                                        50

     V SOME USES OF THE DASH                              74


           ETC.                                           94

         YES, NO, AGAIN, ETC.                            102

         DIFFERENTIATION                                 107

         COMMA AND SEMICOLON                             121

         DIFFERENTIATION                                 131

         COMMAS AND PARENTHESES                          136

         DASHES AND PARENTHESES                          137

    IX MISCELLANEOUS USES OF MARKS                       147

         ADJECTIVES BEFORE A NOUN                        147

         DOUBLE OBJECT                                   147

         A “LONG” SUBJECT                                148

         DOUBTFUL MODIFIERS                              150

         INTERMEDIATE RESTRICTIVE GROUPS                 152

         NOT—BUT                                         157

         O AND OH                                        159

     X CONVENTIONAL USES OF MARKS                        163

         THE PERIOD                                      164

         THE COLON                                       169

         THE SEMICOLON                                   171

         THE INTERROGATION-POINT                         174

         THE EXCLAMATION-POINT                           174

         ELLIPSIS                                        175

    XI QUOTATION-MARKS                                   177

   XII BRACKETS AND PARENTHESES                          185

  XIII ABBREVIATION AND MISCELLANY                       194

         FORMS OF ADDRESS                                194

         FIRM OR CORPORATION NAMES                       195

         FIGURES                                         196

         TIME OF DAY                                     196

         TEMPERATURE, ETC.                               196

         BIBLE REFERENCES                                199

         FOOT-NOTES                                      199

         STAR, DAGGER, ETC.                              201

         PER CENT, ETC., &C., 4TO, I.E., E.G., etc.      201

         THE APOSTROPHE                                  201

         WHEREAS—RESOLVED                                202

   XIV COMPOUND WORDS                                    203

    XV CLOSE AND OPEN PUNCTUATION                        208

       PRESS NOTICES OF THE FIRST EDITION                221


I hope my appreciation of the difficulties which beset the student and
teacher of punctuation may justify a suggestion from me as to a good
method in the study of the subject with this book as a guide.

Until one has gained almost complete mastery of the meanings of
marks and of the subtle sense relations between the groups of words
constituting language, he cannot interpret such relations when
indicated by marks or by their omission. The first step, then, for
the student is not to give extended consideration to points discussed
herein which are not readily comprehended by him, but to gain mastery
of the reasons for the use of marks which indicate language relations
that are thoroughly familiar to him. The principles of punctuation,
unlike the principles of mathematics, are not regularly progressive
from the simple to the complex; therefore the student should not
attempt to master consecutively such principles. Let him, rather, read
the entire work carefully, marking with his pencil the illustrative
sentences whose punctuation presents principles which, though new to
him, are still obvious. This course, repeated with special attention to
the marked sentences, will, I am sure, give him a comprehension of the
nice relations in language which may be clearly pointed out by marks of
punctuation based upon reason.

Having in this way gained a fairly complete knowledge of the fine use
of marks, that is, of _close_ punctuation, he will naturally begin
so to frame his own written language that many marks may safely be
omitted, thus gaining mastery of an _open_ punctuation that will not
destroy clearness of expression.


I am now engaged in the preparation of a briefer book than this one,
omitting most of the discussion, but retaining the reasons, briefly
stated, for the use of marks. I hope to be able to make the treatment
of the subject, even in a small handbook, so clear that all the
ordinary uses of marks may be readily mastered by one who has not had a
thorough high-school or college training in language.

Always read the preface [and the introduction] to a book. It places
you on vantage-ground, and enables you to survey more completely the
book itself. You frequently also discover the character of the author
from the preface. You see his aims, perhaps his prejudices. You see
the point of view from which he takes his pictures, the rocks and
impediments which he himself beholds, and you steer accordingly.—_Bryan
Waller Procter._



A mark of punctuation is used because it has a meaning, and serves a
useful, if not an indispensable, purpose in printed language.[1] In
order to serve such purpose, the meaning of the mark must be thoroughly
understood by both the writer and the reader.

The function of marks is twofold:

1. To reveal the _real_ meaning of printed language.

2. To reveal such meaning _at a glance_.

Marks perform this function in three ways:

1. By breaking up apparent groups of words, which readily form
themselves into new groups.

2. By showing the relations between groups.

3. By characterizing a group of words.

Language, both printed and spoken, conveys meaning, not only by the
meanings of the words constituting such language, but by the meanings
of the relations between the words, used singly or in groups. In spoken
language these relations are indicated, at least to a considerable
extent, by pauses and by inflections of the voice; in printed language,
however, we are compelled to use punctuation to indicate them. As
spoken language is generally quite different from written language,
marks of punctuation do not always indicate voice-inflections; but, as
both marks and inflections express the sense relations between groups
of words, they are not infrequently suggestive of each other. For
instance, each of the three end-marks groups words into a sentence, and
tells what kind of a sentence it follows. Let us illustrate this in a
dialogue between a teacher and a pupil:

  _Pupil._ John has gone home.

  _Teacher._ John has gone home? [or]

  _Teacher._ John has gone home!

We call the first sentence a _declarative_ sentence because it
makes a declaration. We call the second, regardless of its form, an
_interrogative_ sentence because it asks a question (interrogates). We
call the third an _exclamatory_ sentence because it expresses surprise

In the oral conversation between the teacher and the pupil the voice
would readily indicate the meaning of each sentence; but on the printed
page marks of punctuation are necessary to convey the meaning. Thus
each mark in these sentences _characterizes_ the kind of sentence it
follows, and thus reveals the _real_ meaning of the language.

The meanings of these three marks are so plain that they give little
trouble to any reader, even the youngest. Most of the marks that fall
within the sentence should convey meanings quite as plainly and quite
as readily as do these three end-marks. It is the purpose of our
study that they be made to do so, for they are quite as useful as the

Marks are used intelligently only when each mark can give an
intelligent answer to the reader who, meeting it on the printed page,
challenges it with “What do you say to me?” This challenge may be made
the supreme test of the value of any mark of punctuation.

The function of marks can best be shown by a study of their uses in
illustrative examples:[2]

  1. Respect the rights of children and their mothers will respect you.

No mark is required in this sentence to reveal its real meaning, for
that is unmistakable; but almost any reader will momentarily mistake
the meaning at the point where it seems to read as if written “the
rights of children and _of_ their mothers.” When the reader discovers
that “the rights of their mothers” are not referred to, he is like a
traveler who has taken the wrong road, and, discovering his mistake,
must retrace his steps.

If a mistake has been made in reading this sentence, the reader must go
back to the point where the mistake was made, and regroup the words.
The process of regrouping the parts of a sentence is both distracting
and tiresome when reading silently, and is very awkward when reading

The mistake is a mistake in grouping, that is in making one group of
the words “children and their mothers” when these words are not so
grouped by the meaning of the language.

We call “and” a _conjunction_, that is, a _grouping_ word. It naturally
groups together the two words between which it stands, especially if
they make sense when so grouped. If these words are not to be thus
grouped, the reader will be helped by having notice to this effect at
the point where a wrong grouping may be made. We place a sign-board to
guide a traveler; and one is equally useful to guide a reader. A mark
of punctuation is the reader’s sign-board; and it is _to be read_ for
its _directions_.

As we cannot well discuss at this point in our study the proper mark
to use in Sentence 1 we may select the comma, leaving the reason for
the selection to be considered later. Thus the sentence written with a
sign-board, is as follows:

  1-1.[3] Respect the rights of children, and their mothers will
  respect you.

The answer to the challenge, “What do you mean?” put by the reader to
the comma in this sentence, would be somewhat like this: “Reader, ‘and’
is not to be followed by a word with the same relation to ‘of’ that
‘children’ sustains to ‘of.’” In other words, “and” does not form the
very simple group of words that it appears to form without the comma:
it forms a new group.

With this notice, the first group is quite automatically formed by the
reader; for the meaning of the language up to this point has been fully
comprehended, and is not to be supplemented by any word in the _and_
relation to “children.”

In a sentence as simple in its grouping as No. 1, the liability
to error is not very great, especially for one who has read much;
nor is the readjustment of the thought, in case such a reader has
made a mistake, very difficult for him. In more complex sentences,
the confusion of ideas becomes more marked, and more difficult of
readjustment even by the experienced reader:

  2.... Far beyond this group of beautiful hills fell gradually to the

The words in the first line of this sentence, as above printed, group
themselves together in a natural manner, forming a definite picture;
but, when the reader reaches the first word in the second line, he
discovers that a subject must be found for “fell,” for he has made a
wrong grouping. It is probable that most readers would read to the end
of the sentence in search of a clue to the proper grouping, then turn
back to the beginning, and regroup the words after a careful study
of their relations. Although the sense is thus easily obtained, the
process of regrouping is distracting.

The trouble arises from the fact that the words in the first line
naturally fall into a group which makes good sense, but not the sense
intended by the writer. A mark (sign-board) is needed to show the
reader that the _natural_ grouping is not the correct grouping. We mean
by the “natural” grouping that grouping which arises from reading the
words in the usual way, thus making “this group of beautiful hills”
the object of “beyond.” In other words, the _natural_ meaning is the
_apparent_ meaning.

When the _apparent_ meaning is not the _real_ meaning, the reader is
momentarily misled,—that is, he gets off the real line of thought, just
as a traveler gets off the right road.

With a sign-board the sentence will read as follows:

  2-1. Far beyond, this group of beautiful hills fell gradually to the

In this detached sentence we do not know the object of “beyond.” It
would, however, be furnished by what preceded it in the context; and
yet the liability to error in reading the complete, unpunctuated
sentence would still exist. Let us supply the context:

  2-2. In the morning we saw in the east a group of hills, the crest
  of which we reached at noonday. Far beyond, this group of beautiful
  hills fell gradually to the plain.

The context furnishes the object of “beyond,” which is “the crest.”


Let us examine somewhat more carefully the meanings of “real” and
“apparent,” terms which we have used, and shall continue to use, in our

The _real_ meaning of any group of words is the meaning it
unquestionably conveys to the intelligent reader after careful
examination, if such an examination be required by its complexity. It
is also the meaning the writer presumably desires to convey.

The _apparent_ meaning of such group of words is the meaning it conveys
when read at sight.

The apparent meaning should always be the real meaning. If it is not,
the language needs either recasting or regrouping. Recasting is done by
changing the positions of words or by the use of new words. Regrouping
is done by the use of marks of punctuation, which thus perform their
functions. Each of the three end-marks also determines the character of
the group it follows, as we have already seen.

In Sentences 1 and 2 we obtained the apparent, and _wrong_, meaning
at the first reading; and we obtained the real (right) meaning at the
second reading. Marks, understood by the writer and the reader, give
the reader the real meaning at the first reading, at least when the
marks are used properly.

In each of Sentences 1-1 and 2-1 the mark of punctuation was used to
_disconnect_ words apparently connected. In Sentence 1-1 the apparent
connection was made by a conjunction (and); in Sentence 2-1 it was made
by a preposition (beyond). Thus, in each corrected sentence, the comma
performed the office of _disjunction_; and therefore the comma might
be called a _disjunctive_. When the reader thus disconnects words he
regroups them, and learns, quite automatically, the proper relation
between the new groups.

Let us note carefully that we are not dealing with difficult or obscure
processes, but with processes familiar to the ordinary reader, and
equally familiar to the speaker, this grouping being done in speaking,
as already stated, by inflections of the voice and by pauses, which are
understood by very young readers.

The relations between words and groups of words are expressed in terms
of grammar; but we shall avoid in our discussion, as far as possible,
the use of technical terms.

In our next sentence no change in grouping is necessary unless we want
to make a complete change in the meaning of the language:

  3. The prisoner said the witness was a convicted thief.

The apparent meaning of this sentence is its real meaning, for its
language is capable of only one construction. If, however, the
writer of the sentence wished to convey another meaning, he could
have done so by recasting the sentence or by regrouping it by means
of marks of punctuation. If we put a comma after “prisoner” we
disconnect “prisoner” from “said”; and the comma gives notice to the
reader that new relations for the words “prisoner” and “said” must
be sought. The only other _sense_ relations for the words are found
quite automatically the moment the eye catches the next two words,
which suggest to the reader a new group. When the new group (said the
witness) is complete, the reader automatically cuts it off from what
follows and what precedes. Thus we have, as shown in the following
sentence, a new grouping and a new meaning:

  3-1. The prisoner, said the witness, was a convicted thief.

The meaning of voice-changes is understood by children long before the
meaning of marks of punctuation is understood; while the full value of
marks is rarely understood, even by educated and cultured people.

In spoken language the meaning of No. 3 is expressed by a continuous
reading with neither pause nor voice-inflection within the sentence.
The reading of No. 3-1, in order to convey its meaning to another
person, requires quite a different voice process, which may be
represented diagrammatically:

  3-2. The prisoner                  was a convicted thief.
                    said the witness

An analysis of one’s process of reading silently, that is, to himself,
will show that, in reading No. 3-1, he takes note of the commas and
their meanings (disconnecting and regrouping), just as he takes note,
when reading aloud, of the group depressed (written in a line below) in
No. 3-2.

To obtain the real meaning of this sentence when reading silently, he
reads it _commatically_; to impart the meaning when reading aloud, he
reads it _inflectionally_.

Our next illustrative sentence and its variations are not much unlike
the sentences just considered; but the relations between some of the
words in them are not quite so familiar to young readers:

  4. Boys like Henry never fail in school.

The meaning of this sentence is unmistakable, and at no point within
it is a mark of punctuation even suggested; but in a similarly formed
sentence doubt as to the meaning may arise:

  4-1. Boys like men may be courageous for principle’s sake.

“Like Henry” in No. 4 suggests some distinguishing quality that Henry
is known to possess,—for instance, _diligence_. Then, “boys like
Henry” means “diligent boys.” But “like men” suggests no particular
qualities ascribed to boys; and therefore, if the term “like men” is
not applicable to or intended for “boys,” we cut it off by commas. Thus
an _apparent_ relation is shown not to be the _real_ relation; and
therefore we must regroup the words, seeking the new meaning through
our knowledge of the meaning of language thus regrouped. The regrouped
sentence will read as follows:

  4-2. Boys, like men, may be courageous for principle’s sake.

Regrouping of this kind cannot be automatically made by a writer, or
automatically apprehended by a reader, until the meanings of both the
unpunctuated and the punctuated language are perfectly familiar to
the writer or the reader. One’s familiarity with language need not
be purely technical to make it accurate and thorough; but we cannot
readily discuss the language of our illustrative sentences without
using some technical (grammatical) terms.

“Like men” in No. 4-1 is an adjective, and is in the natural position
of an adjective of this kind. “Like men” in No. 4-2 is an adverb, and
is out of its natural position, thus readily giving rise to a wrong
grouping of the words in the sentence. To prevent such wrong grouping,
commas are used; and they will be used by a writer quite automatically
when the purpose and effect of such use are understood.

The use of most of the marks of punctuation should become as automatic
as is the spelling of most words; but some parts of each art become
automatic only after much study. The similarity between some of the
difficulties presented by the arts of spelling and of punctuation
seems worthy of notice at this point in our discussion. To spell the
word pronounced _pâr_, one must know whether he is to spell the name
of a fruit (pear), two things of a kind (pair), or the act of cutting
(pare). Likewise, to punctuate language one must first know what
relations exist between the parts of language. Every group of words, as
well as every word, sustains some relation to another word or group of
words in the sentence or paragraph. Somewhat exact knowledge of this
relation is possessed by everybody, even by the child just beginning
to talk. It is a part of one’s common sense; but, unfortunately,
many text-books on language, used in the grade school, the high
school, and the college, bury the common-sense knowledge of the pupil
under technicalities that are never mastered. In like manner the
technicalities of punctuation have made the art so difficult that it
may be said to be almost a lost art. We are attempting to rediscover it
through our common sense.

Let the reader challenge the first comma, when he reaches it, in
No. 4-2 with “What do you say?” The answer will be, “Reader, if you
think ‘like men’ is an adjective describing ‘boys,’ as ‘like Henry’
describes ‘boys’ in No. 4, you are mistaken, and you must look for
another meaning.” A like challenge of the second comma, if necessary,
will elicit this answer: “Reader, if you think ‘men’ is the subject of
‘may,’ you are mistaken, and you must look for another meaning.”

That the use of the commas in No. 4-2 is practically the same as their
use in No. 3-1, may also be illustrated diagrammatically:

  4-3. Boys        may be courageous for principle’s sake.
           like men

There is another and very important class of words whose sense relation
is determined by the punctuation we have been considering. We shall
merely touch upon this punctuation at this time, leaving it for fuller
discussion later.

As the context is often necessary to show the real meaning of a word,
we will supply it for our first example.

In response to a request to be excused from school, a teacher informs a
pupil that he may go later. At a later hour the teacher says to him:

  5. Now you may go.

The word “now” is here expressive purely of time, and suggests no
other meaning than that obtained at the first reading. The sentence is
another form of “You may go now,” which requires no punctuation other
than the period. The word “now,” as here used, is an adverb expressing

In a similarly formed sentence the office of the word may be quite
different; and, in order to show this fact, the comma is used.

  5-1. Now we see we that cannot learn to punctuate until we comprehend
  the fundamental principles underlying the relations between groups of
  words, as well as the fundamental principles underlying the use of
  marks. Now, what are we going to do about it?

In No. 5-1 the first “now” conveys a sufficient idea of time to stand
as an adverb, just as “now” does in No. 5; but the second “now” is
a mere expletive. To show that it does not sustain its _apparent_
relation, the relation of time, to the remainder of the clause, it is
cut off by a comma.


Let us now review and recapitulate the points we have tried to
establish in our study thus far:

1. The meaning of language depends very largely upon the groupings
of its words. In very simple language, words are so placed that each
word is related to a word or words immediately or closely following or
preceding it. In such language the reader is hardly conscious that the
words are grouped, except into sentences; and no mark may be required,
except the end-mark.

2. In more complex language the grouping within the sentence becomes
manifest to the reader, and two constructions and two meanings of
the language often become possible. In order to notify the reader
which meaning the language is intended to convey, the writer may put
a sign-board at the point where the meaning may be mistaken. The
reader reads the sign-board, and thus keeps on the right line of

3. In the sentences thus far studied, except No. 3-1, marks were used
simply to aid the reader to catch the meaning quickly by avoiding a
wrong grouping of words. In No. 3-1 the meaning of the language was
entirely changed by the marks.

  [Examples will be found at the end of Chapter II]



We endeavored to show in Chapter I that the fundamental purpose of
punctuation is to group by means of marks words whose relations in
the absence of marks would be either easily mistaken or not quickly

When to use a mark, and what mark to use, are determined by _reason_ or
by _convention_.

Some of the _conventions_ that determine a punctuation familiar to most
people, together with some of the problems that confront us in our
study, are exhibited in the punctuation of the following sentence:

  5A. Mr. Smith came to the city in 1872, and located at 1872 Wabash
  Avenue. He brought with him 1,872 horses, valued at $187,200.00.

How does punctuation enable the reader to obtain the meaning at one
point in the above sentence, and so to group the language (figures) at
another point that he can apprehend the meaning at a glance? Because of
well-nigh universal usage, the above _date_ and _street_ numbers are
read _eighteen hundred seventy-two_; but the same number in the next
sentence is read _one thousand eight hundred seventy-two_. As we all
know, in arithmetical notation three figures form a group, the groups
so formed being named _units_, _thousands_, _millions_, etc. It is
therefore evident that, in reading a number containing two or more such
groups, the eye will be aided if the groups are indicated by some mark.
(We here use the comma and the period for this purpose.) Although the
left-hand group of a number may not be full, a figure in that group
takes the name of the group, and so we mark it off. Thus we use commas
in two of the numbers in our example, one of which (1,872) has only
one figure in the second (thousand) group. This we call punctuation by
reason, for we thus point off natural groups.

We do not use the comma to group the figures in the same number (1872)
used in two other places in the above example. Because date and street
numbers of four figures are read in groups of two figures each the eye
readily does the grouping, and a mark is not needed as an aid in the
grouping. This is also punctuation by reason.

In the fourth number in our example we use a comma to do one grouping,
and a period to make another (the cents) group. We call the use of the
period in this number _conventional_ punctuation.

Many printing-offices do not punctuate a number containing less
than five figures. Such a rule would call for 9999 and 10,000. This
is purely arbitrary punctuation. Our problem is to find, as far as
possible, a reason for the use of every mark, and to point out what
seems to us good conventional usage in punctuation for which we can
find no reason.


The names of the principal marks were given to them by the Greek
grammarians, the name of each mark being the name of the group of
words with which the mark was used. The group of words which we call a
_sentence_, they called a _period_. They arbitrarily marked its end by
a dot, and called the dot also a “period.” We retain the name of the
mark. They called one of the largest divisions of a sentence a _limb_,
and set it off with a mark called the “kolon,” which means a limb. We
retain the name of the mark in our word colon. The same is true of the
mark we still call a _comma_. The _semicolon_ is a mark of later date;
and, as its name implies, it falls between the comma and the colon in
its character and use.


We still recognize, at least in large measure, the values given the
marks by the Greek grammarians; and the principle is important in our
study. Thus we say, of the four principal marks the comma indicates
the slightest degree of separation between groups of words within a
sentence; the semicolon indicates the next larger division; and the
colon indicates the largest division. The period separates a full
sentence from the sentence standing next to it; and it is also used
when a sentence stands alone.

We have seen the need of marks in the above illustrative sentences,
and have also seen _where_ the marks were needed; but we had to
_assume_ that the comma was the proper mark to use. We now know the
relative values given the marks by the Greek grammarians. If our
knowledge of language, even though it is not based upon technical
grammar, teaches us that the degree of separation between the groups
of words where we found the need of a mark, was the least degree
requiring a mark, then the comma was the proper mark to use. With this
relative degree of separation in language and the relative value of
the comma intelligently settled, we can assert that we punctuated our
illustrative sentences in Chapter I by _reason_, and not by _rule_. An
apparent exception to the exact truth of this statement is presented
in the punctuation of Sentence 1-1, because the degree of separation
between its parts cannot be exactly fixed. We discuss this point in
Chapters IV and VII.

A sentence exhibiting the relations calling for the use of the four
principal marks will serve to show their relative values, and the
relative degrees of separation between groups of words which the marks

  6. Athens’ freedom and her power have, for more than twenty
  centuries, been annihilated; her people have degenerated into timid
  slaves; her language, into a barbarous jargon; her temples have
  been given up to the successive depredations of Romans, Turks, and
  Scotchmen: but her intellectual empire is imperishable.

Reading this sentence with the knowledge of the comma already gained,
we reach the end of the first fairly complete group of words, where we
meet a semicolon. Let us challenge this mark, or sign-board, for its
meaning. In answer, it says that what is to follow is not to be tied in
the _comma_ relation to what has preceded, as would be the case if the
sentence continued in the following way:

  6-1. Athens’ freedom and her power have, for more than twenty
  centuries, been annihilated, her people having degenerated through

The semicolon, on the contrary, says that the group of words to follow
is of equal rank with the whole group which has preceded the mark; and
it thus shows how the sentence is to develop. The next semicolon in No.
6 says to the reader that a series of semicolon-divided groups is under
way. This makes easy reading up to the colon, which, being followed by
“but,” is to mark the _extent_ of the _but_ relation between what is
to follow and what has preceded. The meaning of the colon, as learned
from its original use, tells the reader that the sentence is divided
into members, or “limbs”; and therefore the _but_ relation here is
between all that precedes and all that is to follow, for these groups
constitute the limbs of the sentence. If what follows the colon was to
be tied to less than all that precedes, the _but_ relation could extend
only to the last semicolon, thus completing this particular group. It
is very evident that the _but_ relation could not terminate in the
midst of language tied together as are the groups preceding “but” in
this sentence; and yet many good writers use the semicolon, instead
of the colon, in sentences like this, probably, however, without
considering what grouping is thus made.

The entire sentence is divided into two groups by the colon, as the
sense relation manifestly requires. If we change the order of the two
larger groups in No. 6, the colon will be the first mark reached by the
reader; and it will give him notice of what is to follow:

  6-2. Athens’ intellectual empire is imperishable: but her freedom
  and her powers have, for more than twenty centuries, been annihilated

Here the colon, if challenged for its meaning, would say that all that
follows it in the sentence is to form one group in the _but_ relation
to all that precedes, with the further information that what follows
is to be divided into groups by semicolons, thus requiring the colon
to divide the sentence into two main parts. A semicolon at this point
would have given another reply, and would not have been followed by
other semicolons.

Probably the beginner in the study of punctuation will not fully
comprehend this discussion of Sentence 6 and its modifications; but the
discussion may throw some additional light on the _disjunctive_ and
_grouping_ office of the four marks, including the period at the end of
the sentence.

We will now consider a sentence in which the grouping, with its
consequent punctuation, is at once very simple and very subtle. It is
subtle because it is based upon the subtle meanings of the language;
and yet it becomes very simple when the language is understood:

  7. The following are the names of the Deity and of Jesus Christ:

  1. Jehovah, Lord, God Almighty; Creator, Father, Preserver, Governor;
  the Supreme Being; the Holy Spirit.

  2. The Messiah, the Anointed; the Son, the Savior, the Redeemer; the
  Holy One; Prophet, Teacher, Master; Judge of the World.

Commas would be sufficient here to indicate what word or group of words
constitutes a name; but there is additional information in the grouping
of names which the writer desires to convey, and which, perhaps, would
not appear to many readers if attention were not directed to it by
proper grouping, which is done here by semicolons. It will be seen that
the number of names in a group in the above example varies from one to

What information does this grouping convey, and upon what is the
grouping based? The words in the first group are the primary terms for
the Deity (Exodus vi, 2, 3); in the second group, the names of the
Deity which express His relation to man; etc.

The next sentence shows a similar grouping, but a grouping based upon
more familiar and more marked characteristics of the things grouped:

  7-1. Among the chief products of Minnesota are the following: wheat,
  corn, and oats; potatoes, beets, beans, etc.; butter and cheese;
  lumber; iron; etc.

The semicolon grouping here needs no explanation, although the use
of a mark at one point in the sentence may seem at variance with the
punctuation at another point. In the second group a comma is used
before “etc.”; and at the end of the sentence a semicolon precedes
“etc.” The punctuation is consistent with the uses of the two marks in
other parts of the sentence. In the second group the comma says the
_group_ is not complete; and therefore “etc.” stands for unexpressed
items of the group, such, for instance, as _peas_. The last semicolon
indicates to the reader that there are other groups; for instance,
_cattle, sheep, and hogs_ might constitute a group.

Many readers pass over punctuation of this kind; and they do not
understand, or seek to understand, the meaning of such grouping as that
in No. 7, while, because of its simplicity, that in No. 7-1 scarcely
attracts their attention.

In the next sentence the grouping is informing and somewhat striking.
The sentence, with a slight modification, is taken from a U. S. Census

  7-2. I have the honor to transmit herewith statistical tables of
  mortality; the insane, feeble-minded, deaf and dumb, and blind;
  crime, pauperism, and benevolence; education; churches; foreign-born
  population; and manufactures.

The third group in this sentence is particularly striking, for it
suggests the relationship between crime and pauperism, and the
consequent private effort, in the form of benevolence, to deal with a
social condition with which every government must deal.

Thus in Sentence 7-2 the grouping by semicolons imparts information
which might be readily overlooked.


Sentence 7-2 suggests two uses of the comma to be found in the simplest
sentences, one of which uses we almost take for granted, and the
other is a mooted use. Why do we use the comma between nouns standing
together? and why do we omit it before the first “and,” and use it
before the next “and,” in the second group (the insane, feeble-minded,
deaf and dumb, and blind)?

We answer that each use is based upon the fundamental principle of
punctuation, the principle of _disjunction_, which distinguishes
between the _apparent_ and the _real_ meaning of words or groups of
words standing together.

It may be said, with apparent good reason, that no comma is absolutely
necessary to separate the second and third nouns in such a group as
“wheat, corn, and oats”; and it is quite common practice not to use
a comma before the final “and” in such a group. While this practice
may be correct, it is to be remembered that we are seeking helpful
punctuation, not the absolutely necessary in each instance; and the
most helpful punctuation is that which is most nearly uniform in its
treatment of cases falling into well-defined classes.

As we are now considering what is technically called a _series_, it
is well to consider the value of consistency in the punctuation of a
series. A few examples will illustrate this point:

  8. William Henry and James are at school.

The words in the above stand in the natural order and relations to
express thought in almost the simplest form of language. “William” is a
noun sustaining to “Henry” the adjective relation, just as it would do
in the name _William Smith_, even though our grammars give it another
relation. If we do not wish it to stand in this relation and to convey
this meaning, we disconnect the two words by a comma:

  8-1. William, Henry and James are at school.

This sentence names three boys; and its meaning is unmistakable at a

We saw in Sentence 1 the tendency of the reader to combine in one group
words connected by “and,” which is the natural manner of reading.
Because of this fact, notice is to be given by punctuation when “and”
does not connect the words between which it stands, unless notice is
given in another way, as it often is. As Sentence 8-1 is written,
“Henry and James” appears to constitute a group to be followed by other
words in a series, just as is the case in the second group of No. 7-2.
This tendency to wrong grouping will be seen in reading the following

  8-2. Among the earliest colleges established in America were Yale,
  Trinity, William and Mary, and Harvard.

In this sentence one college (William and Mary) is named by a group of
words connected by “and,” this group being followed by another name
also connected by “and” to what precedes. All punctuators admit that
such grouping imperatively demands a comma before the final “and,” for
without the comma the reader could not possibly ascertain from the
language the names of the colleges.

As such grouping is very common, and as the tendency to group together
words connected by “and” is quite natural, the use of the comma
before the final “and” in every series is _helpful_ punctuation. This
punctuation makes the absence of the comma before “and” give notice
that a group of words within, and not at the end of, the series, is
reached. For this reason it is well to make the punctuation of every
series uniform.

This punctuation requires a comma before “and” in No. 8-1:

  8-3. William, Henry, and James are at school.

Unless one, in reading aloud, exhibits the grouping by
voice-inflection, his hearers may not comprehend the meaning conveyed
by the grouping. Failure thus to show the grouping in No. 8-2 would
utterly confuse the hearer as to the names of the two colleges
designated by a group of words in which two “ands” appear. This
relation between voice-inflection and punctuation is considered in our
discussion of Sentence 28 and its variations.

A possible and apparent exception to the punctuation exhibited in No.
8-3 may be demanded in the punctuation of a very familiar group of
words, the address line of a speech:

  8-4. Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The voice-inflection of almost every speaker who uses these words,
as well as of almost every person who reads them aloud, exhibits a
grouping that inhibits the use of a comma before “and.” In other words,
the people addressed by the speaker are divided into two groups,—the
“president” constituting one group, and “ladies and gentlemen” another.
This grouping is exhibited by the voice-inflection of the speaker or
reader and by the omission of a comma before “and” by the printer.

If, on the other hand, three groups are to be made of the persons
addressed, the voice-inflection and the punctuation (a comma before
“and”) should show the grouping.

In the absence of a comma before “and” in this group, the language of
the group does not constitute what we technically call a “series”; and
therefore the omission of the comma is only an _apparent_ exception to
the punctuation of a series.

We call attention to the punctuation of this group of words because
we find it in the two Manuals issued by the University of Chicago
Press. It is there printed without an explanation of the omission of
the comma, although such omission is contrary to the rule given in
each Manual for the punctuation of a series, while the words appear
in another place in one of the Manuals with a comma before “and.” The
words appear in the Manuals as illustrations of the use of capitals and
italics, and not in connection with punctuation.

It may be well to recall that the relation between any two words
or groups of words in a series is the relation shown by the final
conjunction. If expressed, this conjunction is either “and” or “or”; if
not expressed, it is practically always “and.”

It is a quite common practice to use a comma before the final “and”
in a series requiring semicolons between the preceding groups. This
punctuation often leaves the reader in doubt as to whether the “and”
completes a group or ends the series; therefore the better punctuation
is to use a semicolon before the final “and” in such a series.

The value of grouping is further shown in the following sentence:

  9. There are no better cosmetics than temperance and purity, modesty
  and humility, a gracious temper and calmness of spirit.

We group the words in this sentence for the same reason that the words
are grouped in Nos. 7, 7-1, and 7-2. It is simply natural grouping
based upon the sense of the language.

How much would be lost in the absence of such grouping may be seen by
breaking up the simple groups in No. 9:

  9-1. There are no better cosmetics than temperance, purity, modesty,
  humility, a gracious temper, and calmness of spirit.

The punctuation of No. 9-1 is just as correct as that of No. 9; but
it is purely mechanical and not “elegant.” Forceful grouping, with or
without grouping words, requires proper punctuation.

Another quite simple form of this grouping, based upon the sense
relation, is sometimes overlooked by distinguished writers, and even by
authors of text-books on language. The following sentence exhibits both
a correct grouping and a correct sense relation:

  10. He is in doubt about the best course for him to pursue; but I am
  sure about the best course for me to pursue.

Here the _but_ relation is between _his doubt_ and _my certainty_, as
if written, _He is in doubt; but I am sure_.

A similarly formed sentence may convey a meaning that is clearly not
the meaning the writer wishes to convey:

  10-1. He is in doubt about the best course for him to pursue; but I
  am sure his doubt will soon disappear.

The _but_ relation in No. 10-1 is not between _his doubt_ and _my
certainty_, as in No. 10. The meaning of No. 10-1 may be expressed
thus: _He is in doubt; but his doubt will soon disappear_. But the
assertion made in the latter part of this statement is too strong,
and requires a modifier. “Probably” would nearly express the meaning
intended to be expressed by the modifier in No. 10-1. If “I am sure” is
preferred as the modifier, its relation to the verb (will disappear)
must be made unmistakable. It is not so made in No. 10-1, for it
appears to be connected by “but” with what precedes it, just as it is
connected with what precedes it in No. 10. To disconnect it, a comma
precedes it; and one follows it to disconnect it from what follows.

The new relations are shown by the following punctuation:

  10-2. He is in doubt about the best course for him to pursue; but, I
  am sure, his doubt will soon disappear.

Suppose the sentence read as follows, how would it be punctuated?

  10-3. He is in doubt about the best course for him to pursue; but I
  am sure that his doubt will soon disappear.

This sentence cannot be punctuated. The _but_ relation is here between
incongruous thoughts; and therefore the sentence must be mended, which
can be done by making it like No. 10-2, omitting “that.”

No amount of usage, even among good writers, can justify the absence of
commas in No. 10-1, or the construction of No. 10-3.

The discussion of these sentences emphasizes the necessity for
observing the meaning of language as expressed by its grouping and by
the relation of one group to another.

Additional light will be thrown upon some of the relations already
discussed if we consider them from another viewpoint, as we shall do in
the next chapter.


  NOTE.—As the principles set forth in Chapters I and II will
  be discussed more in detail in succeeding chapters, the following
  examples are given as general illustrations:

1. They think as I do.

2. They think, as I do, that you are wrong.

3. Far below, the mill was heard singing merrily.

4. Far below the mill the stream dashed over the precipice.

5. As all will recognize, the methods adopted were wise methods.

6. John is, like his father, a great hunter.

7. Genius finds its own road, and carries its own lamp.

8. He who pursues pleasure only, defeats the object of his creation.

9. Father and son, prince and subject, stranger and citizen, are
correlative terms.

10. While principles may abide, the phenomena in which they appear may

11. He has the equipment to play saint or sinner, devil or angel.

12. To the wise and good, old age presents a scene of tranquil

13. The people of Miletus are not stupid, but they do the sort of
things that stupid people do.

14. In his successes and his failures, in his greatness and his
littleness, Burns is ever clear, simple, true, and glitters with no
luster but his own.

15. The high-school course includes arithmetic, algebra, and geometry;
grammar and composition; ancient and modern history; geography, natural
history, and astronomy.

16. If Bacon could find time to write Shakespeare, Marlow, and Greene,
I see no reason why he should not have written Ben Johnson, Beaumont
and Fletcher, and the whole Elizabethan drama.

17. Aristophanes, Boccacio, Moliére and Cervantes, Dickens and Mark
Twain, and our weekly comic papers make us laugh anew over the same old
story, told in different accents and in different syntax.

18. With one of his two boys or a friend, and a dog, Tennyson would
walk afield for miles.

19. With one of his two boys, or a friend and a dog, Tennyson would
walk afield for miles.

  In No. 18 the comma before “and” cuts “dog” off from “friend,” and
  makes a group of “dog” and “one of his two boys or a friend.” It
  makes this group simply because the sense permits no other grouping.
  Thus the meaning of No. 18 is, that Tennyson was accompanied by a dog
  and a person (one of his boys or a friend).

  In No. 19 another grouping is made, which says Tennyson was
  accompanied by one of his boys or by a friend and a dog.




The Greek grammarians gave the name _parenthesis_ to a group of words
“thrust into” language, either spoken or written, when such words have
no _grammatical_ connection with the language. We retain the word
“parenthesis” to describe such a group, and also as the name of the
curved lines with which the group is enclosed and thus identified.
These lines are called _parenthesis_, _marks of parenthesis_, or

Such matter is inserted for explanation or qualification; but it is not
essential to the meaning of the language into which it is thrust, for
matter essential to the meaning would not be so named or so marked.

The parenthesis did the ancient writers a larger service in the
involved style of their composition than it does modern writers;
however, in a modified form, it does the modern writer a very useful
and, at times, an indispensable service.

What we may call a _modified parenthesis_ (modified parenthetical
matter) is found, one or more times, in almost every paragraph.

In order to clarify or explain our adopted term, “modified
parenthesis,” a parenthesis, enclosed in parentheses, was used in the
sentence preceding this one; and, in the same sentence, in order to
qualify, in a somewhat peculiar manner, the expression “is found in
every paragraph,” the modified parenthetical group of words “one or
more times” was inserted. We characterize this parenthesis as _somewhat
peculiar_. In its literal meaning, “one or more times” adds nothing to
the statement in which it appears, for whatever occurs must occur “one
or more times.” It does, however, add a new and perhaps subtle thought
as to the frequency of the occurrence of the parenthesis.

The meanings of these terms, together with the reasons for their
punctuation, will appear as we discuss illustrative examples:

  11. The author says (page 5) that he did not go to London.

The words “page 5” were inserted in the above sentence by the writer
himself simply as a matter of direction to the place in the book where
the assertion was made. It has no grammatical connection with any part
of the sentence: it is simply “thrust in”—it is “parenthetical.” We may
modify its strictly parenthetical nature by putting it in another form:

  11-1. The author says, on page 5, that he did not go to London.

Here the expression “on page 5” has still the parenthetical nature; but
it is given grammatical connection, by means of the preposition “on,”
to what precedes it. Thus we call it a “modified parenthesis”; or we
may call it “slightly parenthetical” matter. It is obvious that the
expression can be omitted in either No. 11 or No. 11-1 without the
slightest effect upon the meaning of the sentence.

If we omit the commas in No. 11-1, we give the sentence practically a
new meaning; and to complete the meaning a new clause must be added:

  11-2. The author says on page 5 that he did not go to London; but he
  says on page 6 that he did go to London.

In No. 11-2 the language is used in its natural order; and no mark is
required in either clause, for each group of words has its natural
or logical relation to the group or groups standing next to it. The
meaning is unmistakable. But why was the comma used in No. 11-1 and
not in No. 11-2? Let us note carefully that we are still dealing
with the proper grouping of words and with the relations of group to
group, such relations giving rise to _real_ and _apparent_ meanings.
With the real meaning of such groups as we are now considering fully
understood, we know that a mark is used to change that meaning. Thus,
in the consideration of these sentences, we come back to the principle
exemplified in Sentences 1 and 2. We use the commas in No. 11-1 because
the real meaning of the sentence is not the same as the meaning of the
same language in No. 11-2.

One or two illustrative sentences will lead us, gradually and
logically, to the punctuation of a large class of sentences in which
the groups of words considered have somewhat more definite names than
we have given the same groups in the above sentences.

A thorough comprehension of this punctuation is often indispensable,
that the writer may convey to the reader his exact meaning, which may
depend entirely upon the punctuation,—that is, upon the _absence_ or
the _presence_ of marks:

  12. Everywhere in America and England, as well as in Germany, the cry
  for peace is heard.

What does the language of No. 12 mean? Clearly, that in every part
(everywhere) of America and in every part of England, as well as
in every part of Germany, the cry for peace is heard. That is the
_apparent_, and it is also the _real_, meaning of the language; but the
writer may have had a different meaning in mind. If he did not wish to
limit the “cry for peace” to America, England, and Germany, he would
have disconnected from “everywhere” these limiting words, writing the
sentence thus:

  12-1. Everywhere, in America and England, as well as in Germany, the
  cry for peace is heard.

The use of the first comma in this grouping notifies the reader that
a grouping different from the apparent grouping must be made. It also
notifies him that a meaning different from that of No. 12 is to be
conveyed by the new grouping. The second comma readily falls into its
place; and by the same reasoning the third comma is called for.

The two groups are slightly parenthetical; and, treated as one group,
they could be set off by parentheses.

  12-2. Everywhere (in America and England, as well as in Germany) the
  cry for peace is heard.

They are not _properly_ included in marks of parenthesis, because they
do not constitute a pure parenthesis. They are inserted, not to explain
the word “everywhere,” but for emphasis, being equivalent in meaning
to _even in America_, etc. It will be observed that “everywhere,” as
here used, means in all parts of the world. Nothing can be added to it;
and therefore what the group of words under consideration explains is,
that the word is used in its inclusive and exact meaning. The marks
give a shade of meaning somewhat similar to that given by commas in
setting off “one or more times,” discussed above.

It may be noted, in passing, that the middle (the second) comma in No.
12-1 acts with the first comma to form one group and with the third
comma to form another group, thus making the three commas equivalent to
two pairs of commas.

Our next sentence is an exceedingly interesting one. It has been
submitted for interpretation to a number of persons, including
editorial writers, authors, teachers, lawyers, and printers. Not a
single one of them saw the real meaning; and, when the meaning was
pointed out, not one of them could explain why the commas are used.
Moreover, not one of the score or more of text-books on punctuation at
hand gives a satisfactory explanation. The rules of all the books, it
is true, cover the point; but the application of the rules is often so
difficult as to render them valueless.

When understood, the sentence is simplicity itself, and the punctuation
becomes equally simple and very informing.

The sentence (No. 13) is a part of a larger sentence taken from an
essay on “Literature and Education” by Dr. Henry van Dyke, the larger
sentence being one of several directions how to determine the value of
a story:

  13. Ask whether the people in the story develop, for better or for

Let us suggest that the reader study the sentence before proceeding
with our discussion of it. Let him put the sentence in the form of a
question, and apply it to any story he has recently read. What two
answers could be given to the question if applied to two stories
requiring different answers?

Now let us ask why the comma is used. The answer is simple, for
in our study of marks we have had only _one_ reason for using the
comma,—namely, to show that an _apparent_ meaning is not the _real_
meaning. If this is the reason for the use of the comma, the reason
will be exemplified by a study of the sentence without the comma:

  13-1. Ask whether the people in the story develop for better or for

If the meaning of each sentence is not yet clear, let us consider the
group of words following the comma in No. 13 as slightly parenthetical
(a modified parenthesis). We may go a step further, and treat them as
purely parenthetical, putting them in marks of parenthesis and putting
the sentence in the interrogative form:

  13-2. Do the people in the story develop (for better or for worse)?

Manifestly, the only answer is _yes_ or _no_.

Why did Dr. van Dyke add these slightly parenthetical and apparently
superfluous words (for better or for worse) to his sentence? He added
them, primarily, because he knew some, perhaps many, readers might
think “develop” means only growth upward (for better), while it is
just as essential for the novelist to depict characters that “develop”
_downward_ (for worse) as _upward_.

But what does No. 13-1 mean? If put in the form of a question, what
answer can be given? Only “for better” or “for worse.” This changes
the meaning of the language. The first sentence (No. 13) asks whether
the people in the story are static or dynamic; the second (No. 13-1)
assumes that they are dynamic (they develop), and asks in what
direction they develop.

Dr. van Dyke’s entire sentence clearly shows the meaning of the part of
it we have been considering. The sentence is as follows:

  13-3. Ask whether the people in the story develop, for better or for
  worse, and how far the change is credible and significant.

The groups of words we have been considering in Sentences 11 to 13-3
are either _restrictive_ or _explanatory_ groups, with the functions of
nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, and with the relations that these parts
of speech take in the construction of language.

The meanings of the terms “restrictive” and “explanatory” will appear
as we consider other sentences; and the differentiation in the
punctuation of restrictive and explanatory groups will be plain.

Our next sentence will serve a twofold purpose: first, to show how
difficult it is to punctuate a sentence out of its context; and,
secondly, to show that a sentence may be given two meanings by

  14. The boy who is at home is my best pupil.

  14-1. The boy, who is at home, is my best pupil.

The person who is thoroughly familiar with the _reasons_ for the use
of marks can interpret these sentences; and he can also construct a
context requiring the commas or their omission. On the other hand, one
not familiar with such reasons could probably do neither.

The value of this knowledge is quite inestimable. Because of ignorance
of it on the part of legislators, our courts have been required to
determine the meanings of municipal, state, and national laws involving
vital social relations and vast financial interests.

Applying the general principles already discussed, we say that the
first comma in No. 14-1 is to show that the relation between “boy” and
“who is my best pupil” is not the same relation that exists between the
same groups in No. 14. But why is this? Let us construct contexts for
the sentences, and then study them in the light of the information thus

Suppose a visitor to a school asks the teacher about a certain class,
and the teacher replies as follows:

  14-2. The class is composed of six boys. The boy who is at home is my
  best pupil.

The group of words “who is at home” is an adjective; and the meaning
of the noun with the qualification made by the adjective may be thus
expressed: _the at-home boy_. In this form the group specifies _what_
boy, and so _restricts_ the boy named as to mean a certain, definite

We here take the language in its natural order, and obtain a definite
and clearly understood meaning.

Another context will show a different relation. The teacher replies as

  14-3. The class is composed of one boy and five girls. The boy, who
  is at home, is my best pupil.

Because of the context, “the boy” needs no identification, no
restrictive words to explain who is meant. The sentence could be
written thus:

  14-4. The class is composed of one boy and five girls. The boy (he is
  at home) is my best pupil.

In the above sentence the group of words in parentheses _explains_; but
it is not _restrictive_. It tells something about the boy; but it does
not tell _what_ boy, for this information is given in what precedes,
which says there is only one boy. In No. 14-3 this group of words is
slightly changed, and is given grammatical connection by its form, and
thus it becomes only _slightly_ parenthetical.

In Nos. 14 and 14-2 the meaning is not complete without the
_restrictive_ words. In Nos. 14-1, 14-3, and 14-4 these words are
not essential to identify the boy, being added simply by way of
explanation, hence they are called _explanatory_.

In the consideration of the terms _explanatory_ and _restrictive_,
much confusion arises from the fact that a restrictive group may
also be an explanatory group. A purely _explanatory_ group, which
requires commas to set it off, is never a _restrictive_ group. This
confusion can be entirely avoided by calling the groups _restrictive_
and _non-restrictive_. The latter group is set off by commas because
it conveys a different meaning from that of a restrictive group, and
also because it is “slightly parenthetical,” that is, parenthetical in
nature, but with grammatical connection.

Not a few writers use the marks of parenthesis or dashes, instead of
commas, to set off a non-restrictive (explanatory) group; but, as their
writings reveal no differentiation in the uses of these three marks,
their system of punctuation is a wholly hit-or-miss one.

Because of the extent and importance of restrictive and non-restrictive
groups of words, another like illustrative sentence, with its
variations, seems worth while:

  15. The committee is composed of women who are not voters.

  15-1. The committee is composed of women, who are not voters.

  15-2. The committee is composed of men who are not voters.

  15-3. The committee is composed of men, who are not voters.

What do these sentences really assert and what meanings do they convey?
Let us consider the answers to this question quite fully, and make them
a test of all restrictive and non-restrictive groups.

No. 15 says the members of the committee are not voters, implying that
other women are voters. The members of the committee might not be
voters because of age, non-residence, etc.

No. 15-1 says all women are not voters,—that is, no women are voters.
The group “who are not voters” is explanatory of women.

No. 15-2 is the same as No. 15.

No. 15-3 is the same as No. 15-1; but, as men enjoy universal political
suffrage, the statement in No. 15-3 is somewhat more striking than that
made in No. 15-1, and therefore we must seek conditions giving sanction
to such an assertion. For instance, a woman’s society might admit men
to honorary membership in the society without the privilege of voting.
If a committee was composed of such men, the statement made in No. 15-3
would be applicable.

Our next three sentences are perhaps more typical of the sentences met
in general reading:

  16. In 1826, an edition of this work, designed solely for printers,
  was first published.

Mr. Teall quotes the above sentence, among others from books on
punctuation, and says that the commas setting off “designed solely for
printers” should be omitted.

The sentence is from a late edition of Mr. Wilson’s work; and it shows
that author’s discriminating use of marks. The omission of the commas
would entirely change the meaning of the language. The meaning of the
language may be more clearly expressed as follows:

  16-1. In 1826, the first edition of this work was published, and was
  designed solely for printers.

With the commas omitted the meaning of the sentence would be as follows:

  16-2. In 1826, the first edition of this work designed solely for
  printers, was published.

Sentences 16 and 16-1 say that the first edition of the work was
published in 1826. Sentence 16, with the commas omitted, as Mr. Teall
says they should be, and Sentence 16-2 say the first _printers’_
edition was published in 1826; and they imply that other editions
not designed solely for printers were previously published. As no
such edition was published, Mr. Teall is in error, and Mr. Wilson’s
punctuation (No. 16) is correct.

Many writers set off such _explanatory_ or _slightly parenthetical_
modifiers by parentheses, as illustrated in Sentence 12-2; other
writers use dashes for this purpose. As we shall show later, neither
mark finds sanction in punctuation by reason.

  17. In medicine the anesthetic of choice is chloroform or ether; in
  dentistry it is laughing-gas, or nitrous oxide.

The conjunction “or” appears twice in the above sentence. In the first
clause it stands between two words, one of which is excluded when the
other is selected, just as if written “either chloroform or ether.” In
the second clause a new relation between the words is set up. Here the
apparent meaning is not the real meaning.

In this second group the words following “or” are explanatory of the
word preceding “or.” One anesthetic with two names is spoken of. The
comma notifies the reader that the relation in the second group is not
the relation existing in the first,—that is, the apparent relation in
the second group is not the _real_ relation.

Many writers would put “or nitrous oxide” in parentheses. The meaning
would be unmistakable; but the punctuation is not commendable, as we
have already seen. “Nitrous oxide,” without the “or,” could properly be
enclosed in parentheses.


There is a very common use of the comma before “or” which reveals a
nice meaning of language. The punctuation grows out of a writer’s
desire to modify a meaning which he has expressed, frequently, in a
word that is too strong. He follows this word with another in the _or_
relation to the too-strong word. In order to show that the real _or_
relation, as discussed under No. 17, does not exist between the two
words, and that the relation of explanation (slightly parenthetical),
as discussed under No. 11, is the _real_ relation, he applies the
principle of disjunction, exhibited in another form in the discussion
of Sentence 1, and uses the comma.

In our first illustrative sentence (No. 17A) the fact that a word of
milder, not coördinate, meaning is to follow “or,” is indicated both by
the group of words (I should say) and by the modifier (even) preceding
the word in the _or_ relation to “independent.” The comma before “or”
would be required in the absence of either or both of these modifiers,
as shown in Nos. 17A-1 and 17A-2. It is especially needed in No. 17A-2
to distinguish the _real_ from the _apparent_ meaning:

  17A. This capital does not make him independent, or, I should say,
  even aspiring.

  17A-1. This capital does not make him independent, or even aspiring.

  17A-2. This capital does not make him independent, or aspiring.

The word or words used in modification of an idea expressed either too
strongly or too weakly, are aptly called an “afterthought”; and such
word or words themselves suggest the parenthetical nature of the added

Our next illustrative sentence shows the use of a word that is too
weak; and therefore the sense requires a stronger word. The sentence
is particularly interesting because it is a type of sentences that are
almost invariably punctuated wrong, even by our best writers:

  18. It is a matter of whim, or, worse, of economy.

The word “worse” is introduced to characterize what follows. It is a
short form of “what is worse.” It requires a comma before it to cut it
off from “or,” and a comma after it to cut it off from what follows.
When cut off, the sense relation between “whim” and “economy” is made
unmistakable. But sentences of this type are, as stated above, almost
invariably punctuated wrong; and the sense relations are thus obscured.
The wrong punctuation is as follows:

  18-1. It is a matter of whim, or worse, of economy.

In the next illustrative sentence (No. 18A) the new word is simply one
that more nearly expresses the writer’s meaning. The comma before “or”
is clearly required; but why put a comma after “easier”?

  18A. It belongs in the lower, or, as it would be better to call it,
  the easier, grades of work.

The comma after “easier” acts with the comma before “or” to suspend
what comes between “lower” and “grades,” just as a similar group of
words is suspended in Sentence 3-1.

OR and AND

The relations expressed by “or” and “and” are so nearly identical that
every rule or principle of punctuation requiring a mark before one
of them requires it before the other in similarly formed sentences.
Only an occasional use of “and” expresses a shade of meaning like that
expressed by “or” in the above sentences. For this reason it may be
well to caution the student against the common error of using a comma
before “and” in a sentence formed like No. 18A, but not like it in

  18A-1. We are not willing to give our sanction to the broad and, when
  applied in a case like that at bar, harsh rule of instruction.


A class of words called “appositives” falls under the classification
and reasoning we have been considering; and an example or two will
suffice to show this:

  19. The word, eagle, is derived from the Latin.

  19-1. The word _eagle_ is derived from the Latin.

In No. 19 “eagle” is used to explain what word, and might very properly
go into the class of words that we have called purely parenthetical. It
seems to be more closely allied to the class of appositives, and thus
takes a grammatical relation which makes it slightly parenthetical, or

In No. 19 “word” is the subject of the sentence; “eagle” shows with
what “word” we are dealing. In No. 19-1 “word” is adjectival in
meaning, and can no more take a comma than can “good” in “good man.”
“Eagle,” as a word, is the subject of the sentence.

  19-2. His son John did all the work on the farm.

  19-3. His son, John, did all the work on the farm.

In No. 19-2 we are told that _one_ of his sons, named “John,” did the
work. In No. 19-3 we are told that his son, not his daughter nor _one_
of his sons, did the work. “John” is simply explanatory, as is “who is
at home” in No. 14-3.

In Nos. 19 and 19-3 we have language that expresses a different meaning
from that expressed in Nos. 19-1 and 19-2; and therefore we use the
commas to show that the _apparent_ meaning of the two former sentences
is not the _real_ meaning of the two latter.


Likewise the so-called vocatives, or words of address, come, though
somewhat indirectly, under this same classification and reasoning:

  19B. Ring out, wild bells.

If expressed in full, the sentence would read as follows:

  19B-1. Ring ye, wild bells, out.

Here “wild bells” is merely an appositive of the subject, “ye,” which
is understood in No. 19B.


1. I shall be there when the train arrives.

1-1. I shall be there at two o’clock, when the train arrives.

2. You will find the word in the index, at the back of the book.

2-1. You will find the word in the index on page 111.

3. He preached his first sermon, in Brooklyn, July 20, 1895.

3-1. He preached his first sermon in Brooklyn July 20, 1895.

4. His creditors wanted to know what resources, in cash and credits, he

4-1. His creditors wanted to know what resources in cash and credits he

5. Were my statements plain? They were, as usual.

6. You will deduct from the deposit, or deposits, the amount due you.

7. At this time my entire force mustered less than 50,000 men, of all

8. He has affection for all men, whom he knows to be his brothers,
whether they love or hate him.

9. On the Western frontier there was no place for the unemployed, rich
or poor.

10. The injured vessel was able to proceed, under reduced speed, to her

10-1. The new type of engine will enable vessels to run under high
speed, however great the storm may be.

11. One can never read a book, and like it, or dislike it, and keep the
fact to himself.

12. Many persons are out of work because they are unwilling or unable,
or both, to do the work they can get to do.

13. The central quality of manliness, around which all others must be
built up, is that of a sense of honor.

14. That such a sentiment should ever have been believed, or expressed,
is proof of how prone the human mind is to mistake a coincidence for a

15. Artemus Ward’s happy saying, that on a certain occasion he tried to
do too much, and did it, exactly fits the program of these men.

16. Architecture is the art which so disposes and adorns the edifices
raised by man, for whatever uses, that the sight of them contributes to
his mental health, power, and pleasure.

17. The ancient Greeks, who were intellectual, and the ancient Romans,
who were warlike, agree upon this point.

18. I leave today on the train for home, where I hope to be, thankful
for a safe journey, on Monday.

19. When our deeds and motives come to be balanced at the last day, let
us hope that mercy, and not justice, may prevail.

20. The physician says the case presents a classical picture of
atrophy, or marasmus.

21. The warning of the ship’s danger came from a whistling buoy, or, as
it is technically called, a siren.

22. The expression “It is worth a Jew’s eye” is proverbial, and
probably dates from the middle ages.

23. You gentlemen must solve this problem.

23-1. You, gentlemen, must solve this problem.

24. The trouble grows less, or ceases altogether, during the winter.

25. We should not forget how confidently and how frequently his failure
was predicted.

25-1. We should not forget how confidently, and how mistakenly, his
failure was predicted.

  Why do we use commas in No. 25-1, and not in No. 25? In No. 25,
  “confidently” and “frequently” are coördinate in sense, and are
  bound together to complete a thought. In No. 25-1 “confidently” and
  “mistakenly” are not coördinate in sense, and express quite different
  thoughts. “Mistakenly” is an afterthought, a slightly parenthetical
  word, and here stands in an _apparent_ relation to another word,
  which relation the comma shows is not its real relation.

26. Mr. Smith promises this magazine another article which cannot fail
to be interesting.

26-1. Mr. Smith promises this magazine another article, which cannot
fail to be interesting.

  In No. 26 the _kind_ of article to be furnished is described; and an
  uninteresting article will not fulfill the promise. In No. 26-1 _any_
  article furnished will fulfill the promise; if it is an uninteresting
  one, the _prediction_ made as to the kind of article in No. 26-1 has

27. Every foot of ground from London to Land’s End was examined by him.

27-1. Every foot of England, from John o’Groat’s to Land’s End, was
examined by him.

  In No. 27 the ground is defined or _restricted_ by the group of
  words that follows London. In No. 27-1 the group of words following
  “England” is a mere repetition, one point named being at one end of
  England, and the other point at the opposite end. This group of words
  is added as an afterthought, and to give a certain degree of emphasis
  to the assertion by making its language literal, inclusive, and not

28. After we had dined, or supped, royally, the old lady told me a
story of Alice Brand.

28-1. After we had dined, or supped royally, the old lady told me a
story of Alice Brand.

  What difference in meaning does the difference in punctuation give in
  the above sentences? And which is the better punctuation?

  No. 28 says the meal was a _royal_ one. The word _supped_ is added,
  as an afterthought, in order to define the meal as an _evening_ meal,
  for the word “dined” signifies to many a _midday_ meal. No. 28-1
  defines the meal as worthy to be called a _dinner_, the principle
  meal of the day, or a _royal_ supper, that is, a meal far above what
  one expects in a mere _supper_.

  In No. 28 we “dined royally” or “supped royally”; in No. 28-1 “we
  dined” or “we supped royally.”

  The punctuation is correct in each example; but the mode of
  expressing the meaning conveyed by No. 28-1 is rather fantastic.

29. The defendant, Baker, was a party to the contract.

29-1. Defendant Baker was a party to the contract.

30. The difficulty of defining the word _vulgarity_ precisely, arises
from the fact that, like most vehement and expressive words, it covers
a large variety of meanings, and is tinged with different kinds of



Thus far in our discussion we have considered grouping done by commas
only, except incidentally in Sentences 6, 6-2, 7, 7-1, and 7-2. We
shall now consider the application of our fundamental principle to
grouping that requires the semicolon and the colon.

Our first illustrative sentence (No. 20) is from a distinguished
writer, noted for the “infinite care he gives to his diction.” We think
the sentence decidedly distracting:

  20. I have an arrangement to do a serial for Harper’s, and a series
  of wayside pieces for Scribner’s, Smith illustrating, is on the tapis.

Probably very few persons, in reading the above sentence at sight,
would take notice from the first comma that the sentence is here
divided into two shorter sentences (the grammarians call these
sentence-parts _clauses_). In the absence of such notice, the reader
goes on to “is” before discovering the real relation of the group of
words following “and.” The comma before “and” does not clearly show
that “and” connects the two larger groups of the sentence, and so gives
notice to the reader that the first group, which is one of the clauses,
is complete; nor, in the absence of such notice, is the reader told
that the words immediately following “and” look forward, instead of
backward, for their completion as a group.

The confusion or uncertainty of grouping is here further increased by
the character of the two groups between which “and” appears to stand.
Each begins with the same word (a), thus making them appear to be
coördinate groups; and each group appears to be the object of “do.”

Perhaps the author would contend that the comma before “and” is
sufficient to give notice of the proper grouping, just as we used a
comma for a somewhat similar grouping in Sentence 1-1. Such contention
would not be without merit; but Sentence 1-1 is much shorter, and
the consequent liability to make the wrong grouping is much less.
Our discussion might thus end in a difference of opinion without
determining the degree of separation requiring a mark of higher rank
than the comma. The discussion could be opened by an admission on our
part that a semicolon in No. 1-1 would be better than the comma; for
its warning of the change of grouping would be unmistakable by any

Two reasons may be given for the use of the comma in No. 1-1, instead
of the semicolon; and we give them in order to emphasize the fact that
we cannot always have in language one degree of separation that calls
unmistakably for the comma, and another degree that calls unmistakably
for the semicolon. The reasons for the use of the comma in No. 1-1 are
as follows:

1. As the sentence is very short, the eye readily catches the relation
requiring the grouping that carries “their mothers” forward for its
connection, instead of backward to “children.”

2. The use of a semicolon in this sentence might seem to justify a rule
requiring a semicolon in every sentence composed of two clauses, while
convention hardly justifies such punctuation. On the other hand, if we
prefer the use of the semicolon in No. 1-1, under what conditions would
the comma be preferred? If what immediately follows the conjunction
between any two clauses, especially short ones, does not suggest
connection with what precedes, a comma before the conjunction gives
sufficient notice of the grouping of the language into two clauses.

Thus we have forced upon us, at least apparently, the necessity of
making choice in many sentences between the comma and the semicolon.
The problem is further complicated by the need of the different classes
of readers for whom the marks in language are used, and still further
by convention.

The proper punctuation of No. 20 is as follows:

  20-1. I have an arrangement to do a serial for Harper’s; and a series
  of wayside pieces for Scribner’s, Smith illustrating, is on the tapis.

Our next sentence is particularly interesting because of its character
and its source. It is from a book by a distinguished literary man, who
is the professor of English in one of our leading universities and the
author of a text-book on English composition. The book from which the
sentence is taken was printed at The Riverside Press, which has long
been considered by many to be the best printing-office in the world:

  21. The deliberate good sense with which Franklin treated matters
  of religion and morality, he displayed equally in his scientific
  writings; and, a little later, in his public documents and
  correspondence,[4] which made him as eminent in diplomacy and
  statecraft as he had earlier been in science and in local affairs.

In No. 20-1 we use a semicolon expressly to show that what immediately
follows the mark looks forward for its connection; and, it seems to
us, the semicolon in No. 21 cannot fail to give to any reader, with
or without much knowledge of marks, notice that a complete new group,
and not an additional part of the preceding group, is to follow the
semicolon. If the reader is looking forward for a new group (a clause),
the ending of the sentence gives him a surprise, and compels him to
read over the entire sentence to make the proper grouping.

It is difficult to say just what notice a comma before “and” in
Sentence 21 would give most readers. Let us so punctuate it, and
challenge the comma. What will its answer be? This, of course, is a
question that the reader puts to himself, testing his own knowledge
of the marks. In the light of our discussion of Sentence 1, the comma
might seem to say that “and” does not connect “writings” with some
noun to follow. We shall see, later in our discussion, that a comma
may be necessary in a grouping almost like this; but in this sentence
the reader has another aid, in fact two others, thus making the comma
unnecessary, if not objectionable. The word “equally,” which comes
before “in his scientific writings,” raises the expectation of a
similar group to follow and to be introduced by a suitable connecting
word. As “and” is such a word, the absence of a mark of punctuation
before it at once suggests that a like group is to follow. The second
aid to the reader in the process of grouping is the word “in,” which
introduces each of the groups connected by “and,” and identifies the
second group as the coördinate of the first.

We punctuate to aid the reader quickly to grasp _through the eye_ the
groupings of printed language, and to enable him to determine the
relations between the groups thus formed. When a mark is not needed for
this purpose, it may be omitted.

If we say _the man is in a bad state of mind and in an equally bad
state of body_, the eye catches the words “and” and “in,” at the end
of the line, practically at the same instant. The “in” tells of the
grouping so distinctly that a comma is not needed to inform the reader
that no word follows “and” to be connected by it to “mind.” Therefore
we say, when groups are so similarly formed that the word following the
conjunction gives ample notice of the grouping, a comma is not needed.
We shall consider this point more fully in another place.

By a slight change in the wording of No. 21, we get a counterpart of
the illustrative grouping just given:

  21-1. He displayed good judgment in his scientific writings and in
  his public documents.

The grouping here is so unmistakable as to make a comma before “and”
quite objectionable. It is unmistakable because of the like formation
of the groups, and also because of the absence of any word after “and”
that suggests a wrong relation to what precedes.

Now, if we do introduce a word or two between “and” and “in,” and such
words do not suggest relation to what precedes, we may still omit the
comma before “and.” This reasoning, with that above, suggests the best
punctuation of No. 21, which is as follows:

  21-2. The deliberate good sense with which Franklin treated
  matters of religion and morality, he displayed equally in his
  scientific writings and, a little later, in his public documents and
  correspondence, which made him as eminent in diplomacy and statecraft
  as he had earlier been in science and local affairs.

Thus we find no need of any mark before “and” in this sentence, where a
painstaking writer uses a semicolon.

As “and,” even in No. 21-1, does not connect “writings” with
“documents,” but connects the two groups of words beginning with “in,”
the adjective clause in No. 21-2 beginning with “which” can hardly go
over into the first group, and there find a noun which it may seem to

To illustrate how puzzling a rule may be, and how wrong, we quote the
following rule from Mr. Wilson’s work (page 113):

_When a sentence consists of three or more clauses, united by a
conjunction, none of which are susceptible of division, a semicolon
should be put between those_ _which are least connected in sense, and
a comma only between the others._

To illustrate this rule, the following sentence is given in Mr.
Wilson’s book (the italics are ours):

  22. The woods may disappear, _but_ the spirit of them never will now;
  _for_ it has been felt by a poet, _and_ we can feel for ever[5] what
  he felt.

Does the punctuation indicate the real sense relations in this
sentence? We think not. The semicolon before “for” divides the sentence
into two parts; but what follows the semicolon is clearly not in the
_for_ relation with all that precedes it, as it should be if the
sentence is divided into two parts at this point. The sense relation
expressed by “for” is unmistakably between all that follows it and what
precedes it back to “but.”

The real division of the sentence into two parts is made at “but,” as
shown in the following:

  22-1. The woods may disappear, but the spirit of them never will now.

Expanding the above, to emphasize the relations, but still maintaining
the sense of No. 22, we get the following:

  22-2. The woods may disappear, for they are material and will decay;
  but the spirit of them never will now, for it has been felt by a poet
  and we can feel forever what he felt.

In No. 22-2 we added a commonplace modifier to the first statement in
the sentence, in order to exhibit more clearly the similar relation
between two like groups in the second part of the sentence, which take
a semicolon in the quoted sentence (No. 22).

Punctuated so as to show the real sense relations, the sentence reads
as follows:

  22-3. The woods may disappear: but the spirit of them never will now;
  for it has been felt by a poet, and we can feel forever what he felt.

A thorough comprehension of the groupings in these sentences, which
is based upon sense relations, will illuminate the punctuation
already discussed. It will also explain some apparent, if not real,
inconsistencies that are inevitable in dealing with marks to express
indefinite degrees of relation.

Sentence 1 is composed of two clauses connected by a conjunction, as
is also Sentence 22-1. The liability to error in grouping Sentence 1
may be sufficient to require a semicolon; but the grouping in Sentence
22-1 is so unmistakable that a comma is sufficient to give notice of a
change in the direction of the thought. In Sentence 21 the semicolon
gives notice of a grouping which does not follow. In Sentence 22 the
grouping by punctuation does not follow the meaning of the language,
and is therefore wrong.

Wrong grouping is perhaps most common in sentences containing groups
requiring coördinate conjunctions, such as “and” and “but.” Quite often
such sentences cannot be so punctuated as to show the correct grouping
by the marks. The following sentence is an example:

  23. The Society has expelled two of its members for unprofessional
  conduct, and has investigated complaints against two other members,
  but it has been unable to obtain enough evidence to convict them.

This is not bad punctuation, for it conveys the meaning, which,
however, is not difficult to obtain; but it is not good punctuation,
for the marks do not group the words in accordance with the sense
relations that exist between the groups.

If the sentence were divided into two parts by “but,” the _but_
relation would exist between what follows and _each_ of the groups
of words coördinated by the conjunction “and.” Thus we would say,
“The Society has expelled four of its members for unprofessional
conduct, but _has been unable to obtain enough evidence to convict
them_.” As this relation does not make sense, we know that the “but”
relation exists between what follows it and what precedes it back to
“and.” As the _but_ relation does not extend beyond “and,” this fact
should be shown by the mark, thus requiring a larger mark (semicolon)
before “and.” But a semicolon before “and” would separate two closely
connected groups (predicates),—“has expelled” and “has investigated.”
It would also connect the second group with the third, making one
larger group in the _and_ relation with the first.

As the sense relations here require a grouping inconsistent with the
grammatical relations, a change in the language becomes necessary
before it can be properly punctuated:

  23-1. The Society has expelled two of its members for unprofessional
  conduct; and _it_ has investigated complaints against two other
  members, but has been unable to obtain enough evidence to convict

The insertion of “it” (a new subject) after “and,” and its omission
after “but,” with the proper use of the semicolon, make clear the two
things done by the Society, and make this clear by the proper grouping
of words to show the unmistakable thought-grouping.

If we are required to punctuate language which we are not permitted to
change, our punctuation may have to depart from our system, whether
established by rule or by reason. A study of such punctuation will
lead to a nice discrimination in both marks and relations. Our next
sentence, with its different modes of punctuation, will illustrate the
point. The sentence is given in three forms: (1) as it appeared in a
literary journal; (2) as it is printed in the Common Version of the New
Testament (2 Timothy i, 16); and (3) as it is printed in the Revised
Version. We shall, however, not follow its division into two verses, as
it appears in the Common Version of the Bible:

  24. The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft
  refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but, when he was in
  Rome, he sought me out diligently, and found me.

  24-1. The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft
  refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in
  Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me.

  24-2. The Lord grant mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus: for he oft
  refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but, when he was in
  Rome, he sought me out diligently, and found me.

In each of these three sentences the punctuation divides the language
into three larger groups of words, two of which are subdivided by
commas. In the second and third a colon indicates a second grouping
of each sentence into two main parts, but not at the same point. If
the semicolons and the colons were challenged for their meanings, the
answers would show an interesting variety of grouping of words, as
well as a variety of sense relations. Such a variety of punctuation is
common only because the actual significance of marks, in their grouping
and relational effects, has not been considered.

These sentences present the same problem, though somewhat further
complicated, that was presented by Nos. 22 and 23. We have only to
ask ourselves how far the _but_, _for_, and _and_ relations extend.
Do the marks so group the words as to indicate the sense relations by
the grouping? Of course they do not, as is shown by the difference in
the groupings. In No. 24 neither semicolon shows how far the _for_ or
the _but_ relation extends; and therefore neither mark is an efficient
sign-board. If challenged for a meaning, neither could give the reader
an intelligent answer.

In each of Nos. 24-1 and 24-2 the colon makes another grouping,
dividing each sentence into two still larger groups. Here each mark
would give a definite answer to a challenge; but both answers could not
be correct. The sentence is unmistakably divided into two parts, the
first part ending with “Onesiphorus.” Mercy is sought for him because
of what he did; and what he did is specified in the language that
follows “for.” The extent of the _for_ relation, therefore, must be
shown by the mark. A colon will clearly show that it goes to the end of
the sentence, as a like relation was shown by the colon in No. 6-2.

We now have to deal with the proper grouping of all that follows “for”;
but we cannot use a colon for this purpose because, having been used
once, a second colon in the same sentence would confuse the whole
grouping. We thus come to a serious difficulty, which arises out of the
number of groups to be made with the marks (comma and semicolon) left
at our disposal. This difficulty would be even greater in No. 24-2 had
we quoted the sentence in full, the complete verse containing another
clause. In the second of the two larger groups we have an _and_ and
a _but_ relation exactly like the _and_ and _but_ relations in No.
23, which we could not indicate by marks. As we may not change the
language of the sentence under consideration, we must punctuate it with
as little violence to the meanings of marks as possible. Probably the
clearest punctuation of the sentence would be as follows:

  24-3. The Lord grant mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft
  refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain, but, when he was in
  Rome, he sought me very diligently, and found me.

As the sentence is thus divided into two main parts, with only commas
in one part, the semicolon is sufficient to mark the larger groups. As
the comma before “but” does not suggest to the reader how far back the
_but_ relation extends, he is left to ascertain it without the aid of a
mark definitely pointing it out.

We do not claim this to be good punctuation, but we think it the best
the sentence will permit. The sentence seems to show the fault of bad

If we are ever in doubt as to how far back a relation, indicated or to
be indicated by a mark before the conjunction, extends, we can easily
determine this by forming the relation between the words _apparently_
thus connected. Take, for instance, Sentence 24. The _for_ relation
between “give mercy” and “was not ashamed” is just as evident as the
_for_ relation between “give mercy” and “he oft refreshed me.” We can
say “give mercy, for he oft refreshed me” and “give mercy, for he was
not ashamed.”

Let us attempt to make a like grouping to determine how far back the
_but_ relation extends. It appears to extend to the two preceding
groups, which, being connected by “and” and put between two semicolons,
constitute one group. This would give us “was not ashamed, but sought
me” and[6] “refreshed me, but sought me.” The sense, of course, shows
that the second group is not a proper group.

A writer, as we shall see later, should always guard against using
a conjunction between words or groups of words not bearing to each
other the relation indicated by such conjunction. Much confusion in
punctuation arises from an effort to indicate by the use of marks
relations that are not sense relations, as in the sentences just

A somewhat different, but even more effective, grouping is shown
by another use of the colon; but, very singularly, practically all
writers on punctuation seem to ignore this use. Before considering it,
we shall take up the colon’s conventional use, which is that of the
“formal” introduction of any matter, such as particulars, a speech, or
a quotation:

  25. I purchased the following articles: one dozen pens, one ream of
  paper, and one box of envelopes.

  25-1. The speaker arose, and addressed the audience as follows:

  “The occasion which brings us together,” etc.

  25-2. The speaker said: “The occasion which brings us together,” etc.

It is difficult to find a reason for this use of the colon, inasmuch
as what follows the colon in any of the above sentences, is not a
“limb” of the sentence. The relation in No. 25 is clearly that of
apposition; and it is the same in Nos. 25-1 and 25-2. In the latter the
apposition is between some word not expressed, but understood, and what
follows,—for example, “addressed the audience _in language_ such as
follows,” “the speaker said _these things_.”

We have called this the “conventional” use because it has become the
accepted punctuation. We introduce it here in order to show that this
same relation (apposition) governs in a frequent use of this mark which
is not explained by the writers on punctuation.

Before passing to this use of the colon, let us make sure that the
meaning of “formal introduction” is quite clear to us. It means that
the matter following the colon is announced or suggested in a manner
somewhat similar to the announcement made in the words _viz._, _as
follows_, etc. It thus implies that the matter is introduced according
to a _form_. “He said,” followed by a colon, is one of the usual
conventional forms; but _he said that_ is not so considered, and no
mark at all follows “said.”

We use a colon throughout this work at the end of the line preceding an
example if the example illustrates what precedes. This use of the colon
ties the example to what _precedes_. See the colon preceding Sentence
25, above.

It is also to be noted that the colon loses, in this formal and
conventional use, its _relative_ value, that is, its rank above the
comma and the semicolon. Thus it often appears in only one or in both
of the semicolon-divided groups of a sentence:

  25-3. In a bill of exchange there are three original parties: drawer,
  drawee, and payee; in a promissory note, only two parties: the maker
  and the payee.

Here we see that the colons are used to group each one of the two parts
into which the sentence is divided by a _semicolon_. We shall show
later (Sentence 33) what we consider a much better mode of punctuating
such sentences, and thus avoiding the appearance of making the colon
subordinate to the semicolon.

We are here seeking to exhibit the relation of apposition. When words
or groups of words stand in this relation, the second word or group
expresses in another form what is expressed in the first word or group
of words. In No. 25 what follows the colon is the same as “articles,”
which precedes it. If the word “articles” were omitted, the colon would
still be used, “articles” or a like word being understood, as some word
is understood in Nos. 25-1 and 25-2. The same relation is shown in
Sentence 32-2 by means of parentheses.

With this understanding of the relation between groups separated by the
colon, our next illustrative sentence is particularly interesting,
not only because of its character, but because of its source. As
punctuated, it fails to show a nice meaning in language which is quite
easily overlooked in the absence of the proper distinguishing mark;
and it is from a letter by Thomas Bailey Aldrich in reply to one, from
a friend, which he could not decipher. It appears in the foremost
printers’ magazine in the country, a magazine that often discusses the
subject of punctuation:

  26. There is a singular and a perpetual charm in a letter of yours;
  it never grows old; it never loses its novelty.

The use of two semicolons, dividing this sentence into three clauses,
signifies that these clauses are in like relation to each other,—that
is, that they are coördinate in sense. If the _and_ or the _or_
relation exists between the first and second clauses, it must exist
between the second and third, just as it exists between the three items
named in the second part of No. 25.

A very slight examination of the meaning of the language of this
sentence shows that the clauses are not coördinate in sense, although
such coordination is indicated by the use of the same mark between them.

The relation between the second and third clauses is exhibited in the

  26-1. It never grows old; and it never loses its novelty.

We cannot unite the first and second clauses in this way, and retain
the real meaning of the language; nor have we, thus far in our study,
found a meaning of the semicolon that would give the reader notice of
the relation between the first clause of No. 26 and what follows. The
second and third clauses of this sentence are as plainly explanatory
of the first clause as are the items that follow the colon in No. 25
explanatory of “articles.” A change in the wording of the sentence will
show that it is exactly similar in its relation to No. 25:

  26-2. Your letter possesses the following singular and perpetual
  charms: youthfulness and novelty.

If this relation exists between the principal thought and the detailed
items, then we may indicate it by the colon, thus dividing the sentence
into two groups with the relation of apposition between them:

  26-3. There is a singular and a perpetual charm in a letter of yours:
  it never grows old; it never loses its novelty.

Let us note how carefully language is used in this sentence: the
letter possesses a _singular_ charm (it never loses its novelty) and a
_perpetual_ charm (it never grows old).

The colon both groups the language and shows the relation (apposition)
between the two main groups. On the other hand, the semicolon in this
sentence stands where the sense relation is the _and_ relation.

It is not quite proper to say that the second and third clauses are
explanatory simply of “charm”: they are explanatory of the entire first
clause, repeating and expanding the thought expressed in that clause,
just as what follows the colon in the sentence we are writing explains
what precedes.

Our next illustrative sentence is from one of Howell’s novels, which
was printed at The Riverside Press. It has the fault of No. 26, and
the added fault of an indefinite _but_ relation:

  27. He was not candid; he did not shun concealments and evasions; but
  positive lies he had kept from.

The second clause is clearly explanatory of the first; and the
third clause simply modifies the second by showing the degree of
untruthfulness of the man.

With the new meaning of the colon we are now considering, a colon after
“candid” informs the reader of the relation between the main groups of
the sentence:

  27-1. He was not candid: he did not shun concealments and evasions;
  but positive lies he had kept from.

So far as the mere grouping is concerned, this could be done in Nos. 26
and 27 by a semicolon and a comma in each; but the semicolon would not
inform the reader of the true relation between the two larger groups.
The colon would still be required if the next two groups took a comma,
or even no mark, between them.

We called this relation that of apposition. We might say, somewhat more
specifically, that the second group is an amplification in language to
express an extension of the idea, or to fortify the image, of the first
group. This purpose may also be accomplished by a contrast between the
ideas expressed in the two groups.

The writer on punctuation who says, as do many such writers, that the
colon is an obsolete mark, except in its formal use for enumeration,
does so, we believe, in ignorance of the useful and beautiful purpose
it performs in a very large class of sentences.


1. There is purpose in pain; otherwise it were devilish.

2. But not thieves; nor robbers; nor mobs; nor rioters, insurgents, or

3. The people’s voice is odd; it is, and it is not, the voice of God.

4. He cared little for poetry; fact, and not fancy, satisfied him.

5. The second Folio, reprinted from the first, was published in 1632;
the third Folio, in 1664; and the fourth, in 1685.

6. Wealth has greatly accumulated; machinery has come to do a large
part of our work; and all sorts of people have more or less leisure on
their hands.

7. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due;
custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

8. The evils are very real, grave, and widespread; whether a trifle
more or less so than these rough estimates make out, is of small

9. His condition was not toxic; for he had never been a worker in
paints, minerals, or other poisonous substances, and he did not use
alcohol or tobacco.

10. There is no roughness in his manners, although he has certainly not
been brought up to the ways of what is generally known as good society;
and his smile is winning and sweet.

11. His fidelity was unconditional, unobtrusive, uncomplaining; he
was willing to give much and receive little; he consented even to be
forgotten, while he never forgot.

12. “I lived with words,” Mr. Stevenson says; and the result is that
formal excellence to which we have now grown accustomed, but which
dazzled our judgment at the outset.

13. The order leaves only a few hundred places, below those filled by
Presidential appointment and Senatorial confirmation and above the
grade of laborers and scullions, for the politicians to quarrel over.

14. Sin and misery appealed most strongly to Holmes, but he invariably
saw hope; and despair, that stalks through life making a tragedy of the
common event to break the universal heart, had no claim upon his pen.

15. Turner’s studies of Carthage represent the death that attends the
vain pursuit of wealth; his studies of Rome, the death that attends the
vain pursuit of power; his studies of Venice, the death that attends
the vain pursuit of beauty.

16. The Scotchman of the world, the gay puritan, insists upon the few
articles of his belief when he is openly preaching, as in “A Christmas
Sermon”; or covertly preaching, as in “Old Mortality”; or sketching and
traveling, as with a donkey.

17. Ruskin says that in a kindly and well-bred society, if anybody
tries to please them, they try to be pleased; if anybody tries to
astonish them, they have the courtesy to be astonished; if people
become tiresome, they ask somebody to sing or play: but they do not

18. Such a household as that of Zacharias and Elizabeth would have all
that was beautiful in the religion of the time: devotion towards God;
a home of affection and purity; reverence towards all that was sacred
in things divine and human; ungrudging, self-denying, loving charity to
the poor; the tenderest regard for the feelings of others, so as not to
raise a blush, nor to wound their hearts; above all, intense faith and
hope in the higher and better future of Israel.

19. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.

  As the _for_ relation is here unmistakable, it should be made so at a
  glance in the punctuation by the use of a comma before “for” or by a
  colon after “slept.”

20. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down
together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

  The above is the punctuation of the Common Version of Isaiah xi, 7.
  The American Revised Version uses a semicolon instead of the colon,
  thus making a series of the three groups of words. We think the
  latter poor punctuation, because the first and second groups form
  one picture, and the third group forms another. The two pictures are
  revealed by the use of the semicolon and the colon; and intelligently
  to read the verse aloud requires a shorter pause at the semicolon
  than at the colon. The two pictures are clearly indicated by
  “feeding” in one group, and “eating” in the other.

21. Virtue and wisdom are an up-hill road, where people do not advance
without some effort; folly and vice, a down-hill path, where it
requires some effort not to advance.

22. The custom of exchanging presents on a certain day in the year is
a fine thing or a foolish thing, as the case may be; an encouragement
to friendliness, or a tribute to fashion; an expression of good nature,
or a bid for favor; an outgoing of generosity, or a guise of greed; a
cheerful old custom, or a futile old farce, according to the spirit and
the form which it takes.

  This sentence, from a well-known writer, is poorly punctuated, and
  has another fault, which will be revealed by an effort to punctuate
  the group of words following “farce” so as to show to what it belongs.

  The omission of a comma before the first “or” is proper; the use of
  one before each following “or” is unnecessary.

  “A fine thing” and “a foolish thing” are general terms, and are
  followed by four illustrations in alternative groups,—for instance,
  “an encouragement to friendliness” is “a fine thing,” and “a tribute
  to fashion” is “a foolish thing.” This sense relation requires a
  colon after “be.”

  “According to the spirit and the form which it takes” belongs to
  each semicolon group following the colon; and, moreover, it is a
  mere duplication in sense of “as the case may be.” It is difficult,
  by punctuation, unmistakably to separate this group from exclusive
  modification of the group it follows, and thus tie it to the four
  groups, where it seems to belong.

  The substitution of “according to the spirit and the form it takes”
  for “as the case may be,” would convey, it seems to us, the author’s
  full meaning. With the omission of commas as suggested, this would
  give the following:

22-1. The custom of exchanging presents on a certain day in the year
is a fine thing or a foolish thing, according to the spirit and the
form which it takes: an encouragement to friendliness or a tribute to
fashion; an expression of good nature or a bid for favor; an outgoing
of generosity or a guise of greed; a cheerful old custom or a futile
old farce.

23. The philosophical elements of his work are not especially profound
or novel; its descriptive merits are considerable; but its deficiencies
as an orderly and inclusive narrative are, to say the least, perplexing.

  The sense relations between the three clauses of the above sentence
  are not properly expressed by its conjunctions, “and” (understood)
  and “but.” The incongruity of the _and_ relation becomes apparent
  upon reading the first and second clauses with “and” between them.
  The use of two semicolons in the sentence renders the “but” relation

  The sentence needs to be recast, which may be done as follows:

23-1. The philosophical elements of his work are not especially
profound or novel; and, although its descriptive merits are
considerable, its deficiencies as an orderly and inclusive narrative
are, to say the least, perplexing.

24. Amateurs in literary composition soon acquire the bad habit of
writing carelessly; they spell strange names in two or more different
ways; they form capital letters, and even the small lower-case letters,
so obscurely that one word may be mistaken for another; they have
no clearly defined system, or at least observe none, for the proper
placing of capitals, italic, and the marks of punctuation.

  The above sentence is from the preface of what is probably the most
  complete work on composition written in recent years. A preceding
  sentence contains the statement that our high schools do not
  “thoroughly teach the correct expression of thought in writing.”

  In view of this charge against our high schools, and because
  the sentence under consideration is itself a type of careless
  construction, very common among even good writers, the sentence
  becomes interesting. It is divided by semicolons into four clauses,
  apparently in a series; but an analysis of the meaning of the
  language will show that the four clauses do not constitute a series.

  Four charges against amateurs are made in the sentence, in brief, as

  1. Writing carelessly.

  2. Spelling names differently.

  3. Forming letters obscurely.

  4. Possessing, or observing, no system in the use of capitals,
  italics, and marks of punctuation.

  If these four faults form a series, what does “writing carelessly”
  mean? To spell a word in different ways, to form letters obscurely,
  or to observe no system in the use of capitals, etc., is “writing
  carelessly.” In short, the first term of the four is a general
  statement, of which the three terms that follow are details. This
  fact should be shown by the punctuation.

  A colon after the first clause will show its relation to what follows.



It is often said that the dash is the mark of ignorance in punctuation.
When a writer does not know how to punctuate his own language at
any point he uses a dash. When one, in the preparation of another’s
manuscript for the printer, cannot exactly make out the meaning at
any point, and therefore does not know what mark to use, he inserts a
dash. When the printer, who does most of the world’s punctuation, is in
doubt, he uses a dash.

Out of this mass of hit-or-miss punctuation, many writers of text-books
on punctuation have attempted to formulate rules for the use of the
dash. The result is—“all that could be expected.”

The dash is a useful mark. It came late into our language; and it came
to meet a real need, which our illustrative sentences and discussions,
we hope, will reveal.

One of the distinctive uses of the dash is to indicate a rhetorical
pause made by a speaker for a specific and well-understood purpose. Mr.
De Vinne says “the dash should be selected whenever there is an abrupt
change in a statement.” This is the primary use of the mark, and is
the one generally understood by persons with even a slight knowledge
of punctuation. Mr. De Vinne illustrates his definition by a sentence
which possesses special interest for the student of punctuation. This
sentence appears also in the works of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Bigelow,
and in several other text-books on punctuation. As Mr. Wilson’s work
antedates all the others, it is probable that he first used the

As Mr. Bigelow and Mr. De Vinne made changes, even though slight, in
the sentence, its study becomes both interesting and informing. We give
the sentence as written by each of these writers:

  28. HERE LIES THE GREAT—False marble! where? Nothing but
  sordid dust lies here.—Wilson.

  28-1. Here lies the great— False marble! where? Nothing but sordid
  dust lies here.—Bigelow.

  28-2. Here lies the great—false marble! where? Nothing but sordid
  dust lies here.—De Vinne.

Let us carefully compare these examples, and ask the meanings of the
different modes of printing them.

In No. 28 the first four words are in small-capital letters, the first
word of the sentence beginning, of course, with a capital. The word
“false” begins with a capital.

In No. 28-1 there are no small-capital letters, and there is a space
after the dash.

In 28-2 “false” begins with a small letter.

We are not particularly concerned with the second part of the example
(nothing but sordid dust lies here).

What is the meaning of the small-capital letters in No. 28?

What is the meaning of the space following the dash in No. 28-1?

What is the meaning of the capital letter beginning “false” in Nos. 28
and 28-1, and of the small letter beginning the same word in No. 28-2?

What punctuation will best reveal the full meaning of this sentence, so
differently treated by these well-known writers?

We venture to assert that few readers would grasp at the first reading
the _real_ relations in this sentence, and, further, that not a few
cultured readers would make bad work of the sense in reading No. 28-2
at sight.

Mr. Wilson makes no explanation of his use of the small-capital
letters; and their absence from Nos. 28-1 and 28-2 imply that Mr.
Bigelow and Mr. De Vinne attached no importance to them. We think they
serve a useful, if not an indispensable, purpose; and it requires
little imagination to picture the scene which this typographical device
suggests. Let us imagine it, and learn one important use of the dash.

On an anniversary day, a crowd stands before the monument of a great
man. Let us assume it to be a monument of Shakespeare. The speaker is
in the midst of his oration, his listeners “hanging” on his words. He
turns to the statue, and, with pointing finger, directs the attention
of his hearers to the inscription on the base of the monument, which
inscription reads as follows:


The orator begins slowly to read the inscription. When he reaches the
name of the great man, he hesitates, turns his attention from the
inscription to the monument as a whole, and, without uttering the name
“Shakespeare,” passionately addresses the monument thus:

“False marble! Where lies the great Shakespeare? Nothing but sordid
dust lies here.”

Having heard the speech, we come to prepare it for the printed page.
How shall we punctuate the part of it now under consideration so as to
convey the meaning expressed by the speaker in the break made after
the word “great”? Mr. De Vinne’s mode (No. 28-2) of printing the
language fails to show the grammatical end of the first group of words
(the inscription); and, in the absence of such knowledge, the reader
will not readily catch the relation of “great” to “false marble.” Mr.
Wilson (No. 28) shows the change in two ways: by a change in the style
of letters in the first word after the dash, and by beginning this
word with a capital letter. The sense of the language clearly shows
that the first group of words would have ended, in the absence of the
dash, where the dash ends. The change from the style of letters (small
capitals) also shows this. As the practice of using no period after a
dash in sentences like No. 28 is thoroughly established, the reader
learns from the first letter of the next word whether such word begins
a new sentence. As printed in Mr. De Vinne’s work, “false,” beginning
with a small letter, appears to be a part of what precedes, giving the
meaning of “the great, false marble.” As printed in Mr. Wilson’s work,
“False” begins a new sentence, and should have the usual space before
it; but is it correct?

Mr. Bigelow, apparently seeing the difficulty we are discussing, puts
a space after the dash, thus ending the sentence with the dash. This
of course requires that “false” begin with a capital letter, the word
being the first word in a new sentence.

We believe that if “false” is written with a capital letter, thus
making a new sentence, the dash should be followed by the space that is
used to separate sentences.

Our conclusions would require that the sentence be written in the
following way:

  28-3. “Here lies the great”— False marble! where?

Let it be remembered that we are attempting in the above sentence to
reproduce on the printed page _what_ a speaker said and _how_ he said

If the first four words are a part of the inscription, the fact must be
shown; and it is shown in No. 28-3 by the quotation-marks. The use of
small capitals in No. 28 is much more suggestive of an inscription than
the use of the quotation-marks in No. 28-3.

In our next illustrative sentence, the grammatical connection within
the sentence is perfect, but the sense changes. Here the dash is used
to suspend the thought in preparation for the surprise to come. It is a
rhetorical mark, for it indicates how the words would be spoken:

  29. He never lacked a good word—from those who spoke his praise.

A speaker or a writer often wishes to repeat a part of or all that he
has said, and then continue with his line of thought, using different
words for emphasis, for exactness, or for other reasons. Or he may
wish in this way to summarize what he has already said, completing the
sentence with the summarizing word as the subject. There seems to be no
grammatical relation between the summarizing group of words and what
precedes them. The dash serves to show the break in the sentence, and
is thus merely a rhetorical mark:

  30. He has been unkindly—he has been shamefully treated.

  31. Persecution, injustice, ruined fortune—all seemed insignificant.

The office of the dash in each of the above sentences might be
performed by a blank space of equal length; but such space might not
always be easily distinguished from the usual spaces between words.

Some English writers use dots or two or more periods where we use
dashes in sentences like the above.

Our next illustrative sentence, with its modifications, shows a very
useful and quite indispensable office of the dash. The sentence
exemplifies one of the commonest errors made by good writers.

  32. The expenditure of this vast sum is entrusted to school officers,
  trustees, inspectors, and commissioners.

  32-1. The expenditure of this vast sum is entrusted to school
  officers: trustees, inspectors, and commissioners.

  32-2. The expenditure of this vast sum is entrusted to school
  officers (trustees, inspectors, and commissioners).

  32-3. The expenditure of this vast sum is entrusted to school
  officers,—trustees, inspectors, and commissioners.

The punctuation of No. 32 is erroneous, for it does not show the
relation between “school officers” and what follows.

That of No. 32-1 is not bad; but the words following “school officers”
are not formally introduced, and therefore do not require a colon.

That of No. 32-2 is not wholly bad; but the words introduced are not a
pure parenthesis, and to use the marks of parenthesis in this way would
unduly extend their office.

That of No. 32-3 is the best, because the true relation (apposition)
of the words is maintained, and is shown by a mark (the comma) already
seen to be the proper mark for this relation. The failure of the
comma to show the relation of apposition in No. 32 is due to the fact
that the words following “officers” form an _apparent_ series with
“officers.” The comma here needs re-enforcing by a special grouping
mark, which office the dash performs. The comma shows the relation; the
dash does the grouping.

We spoke above of extending the office and limiting the value of a
mark. We mean by this that the more uses and, in consequence, the
more meanings a mark has, the more difficult it is for the reader to
interpret it when he meets it. For this reason the comma and dash seem
to be the best mode of punctuating sentences like the above.

As we saw in Sentence 6, the colon is used to mark the largest
divisions of a sentence; and it is used, as in Sentence 25, for the
formal introduction of particulars. The former use is determined by the
colon’s rank, which is above the semicolon and below the period; the
latter use is conventional, and is without reference to its rank.

If two colons appear in a sentence, one because of its rank and one in
the enumeration of particulars, there may be a seeming inconsistency in
grouping. The same is true when a colon is used within a group made by
a semicolon. For instance, in No. 25-3 we used a colon in each of two
groups, the groups themselves being separated by a semicolon. We think
it much better to use within each group the comma and dash than to use
the colon, thus emphasizing the grouping done by the semicolon, instead
of apparently subordinating the colon in each group to the semicolon
making the two groups. This would give the following punctuation for
No. 25-3:

  33. In a bill of exchange there are three original parties,—drawer,
  drawee, and payee; in a promissory note, only two,—maker and payee.

We have thus used a comma and a dash to set off particulars formally
introduced, making the punctuation of No. 33 inconsistent with that of
No. 25, and apparently inconsistent with No. 32-2. If this resulted in
misleading a reader, objection might be raised; but, we feel confident,
this exceptional mode of punctuation is justified.

In our next illustrative sentence we get away from details either
formally or almost formally introduced; yet the relation to be shown by
the punctuation is just the same and quite as evident:

  34. She had a face altogether of the sunny south,—a pure skin, black
  hair, and blue eyes.

Professor Wendell uses this punctuation a great deal and, we think,
very effectively. Other good writers do not use it at all; but they
seem to have no satisfactory substitute for it. Professor Wendell
frequently uses it twice in one sentence, as it is used in No. 33. The
following sentence is from his “Literary History of America” (page 2):

  35. These records [of things seen and felt by men] are often set
  forth in terms which may be used only by those of rarely special gift
  and training,—the terms of architecture and sculpture, of painting
  and music; but oftener and more freely they are phrased in the terms
  which all men learn somehow to use,—the terms of language.

We may perhaps turn aside from our discussion of the dash to consider a
point in the above sentence which illustrates our general principle of
grouping, especially as exhibited in Sentences 10 to 10-3.

Many punctuators would set off by commas the group “oftener and
more freely” in No. 35 on the ground that it is “an intermediate
parenthetical group.” This would be thoughtless punctuation based upon
a rule of questionable meaning. The _but_ relation in this sentence is
between two groups of words restricted, respectively, in meaning by
“often” and “oftener”; and commas should not be permitted to destroy
a grouping that shows the contrast. Somewhat shortened, the sentence
would read thus, readily exhibiting the point under consideration:

  35-1. These records are _often_ set forth in terms of architecture;
  but _oftener_ they are phrased in terms of language.

The italicized words here emphasize the restriction of the thoughts
that are in the _but_ relation in this sentence. In No. 10-2 commas
perform this office by holding the proper words in the _but_ relation.
We may not assert that commas in the second clause of No. 35 would
change the meaning to the extent that it is changed by the absence of
commas in No. 10-1; but the point of emphasis would be somewhat changed
by their use in No. 35.

The combination of a comma and a dash to express apposition is most
useful when the thing to be explained by the appositive words is
suggested, as in No. 34, and not indicated, as in No. 33. We find a
good illustration of this point in Gray’s Elegy as punctuated by the
author; and we also find in this illustration what, we believe, is
a late development of the dash. The poet Gray was one of the most
painstaking writers known in literature. There was a comma in the first
line of the manuscript of his Elegy in a Country Churchyard when sent
to the printer:

  35A. The curfew tolls, the knell of parting day.

The comma here means just what the comma in No. 34 means. What follows
“tolls” is in apposition with the thing which “the curfew tolls”
suggests, as what follows the comma and dash in No. 34 is in apposition
with a picture suggested by what precedes. The suggestion in No. 35A is
less apparent and more subtle than in No. 34.

The printer who received the manuscript of the Elegy did not see the
picture, and so left out the comma, thus making the intransitive verb
“tolls” a transitive verb. The poet’s musical ear felt the improvement
made thus unconsciously by the printer; and the change was accepted.

In order more clearly to show the meaning of the manuscript line, we
should punctuate it with the comma and dash:

  35A-1. The curfew tolls,—the knell of parting day.

Thus the dash is an aid to the comma in grouping the appositive words,
especially when following a thought only implied.

There is a very common use of the dash that is commended by all writers
on punctuation; but not one of these writers has formulated a rule that
differentiates the dash so used from marks of parenthesis.

A writer frequently uses a group of words that are _purely_
parenthetical in nature; and yet he desires to give them grammatical
connection with the sentence. Such connection clearly takes them out
of the class of groups of words requiring marks of parenthesis; but,
because of their purely parenthetical nature, it does not put them into
the class requiring commas or semicolons alone. As the group retains a
twofold nature, such nature may well be shown by two marks. If it be
said this is not good reasoning, we may well resort to a rule which,
with the explanation of the conditions above given, together with a
very general practice, will quite distinctly differentiate the class of
sentences to be thus punctuated. Such a rule will have, at least, the
merit of producing a certain degree of uniformity in punctuation. The
rule may be about as follows:

  RULE.—Matter that is purely parenthetical in nature, and
  yet is given grammatical connection, slight or otherwise, with what
  precedes it, may be set off by a dash or dashes together with the
  mark that would be required by the language with the parenthetical
  matter omitted.

One or two sentences will illustrate the points under discussion:

  36. He cannot understand—nor can any of his leisurely countrymen—why
  tomorrow will not answer as well as today.

The matter here set off by dashes is a side-remark, purely
parenthetical in nature, but given grammatical connection by the use of
the conjunction “nor.” If the matter were not purely parenthetical, it
would, of course, not take the dashes. A sentence similar in form will
illustrate this point:

  36-1. He cannot understand, nor does he want to understand, why
  tomorrow will not answer as well as today.

In the next sentence the grammatical relation is in the nature
of apposition; and yet what follows “heroines” is not purely an
appositive, for all “female characters” are not “heroines.” The added
thought goes beyond the office of parenthetical matter, and becomes an
integral part of the sentence, which cannot be omitted without changing
the sense:

  37. George Eliot’s heroines—her female characters, from first to
  last—are drawn with the serene firmness of omniscience.

The group of words here set off by dashes expresses too much to be
either an appositive of “heroines” or a parenthesis explaining the
meaning of “heroines”; in short, it is neither wholly one nor the
other, and cannot be properly punctuated as belonging to one or the
other class of words.

It may be well to note here the difference between Sentences 36 and
37 and Sentence 32-3, the latter being a type of sentences often
improperly punctuated when the sentence is continued beyond the
appositive group of words. We have just read such a sentence in the
morning newspaper:

  38. There is literature in our newspapers—a lively, colloquial, vivid
  literature, reflective of the life we lead—and we are grateful for
  his [Augustine Birrell’s] admonition that in the making of it we have
  regard first for truth and afterward for beauty, if we find it.

The error in the punctuation of the above sentence was probably due
to the lack of a clear definition, in the mind of the writer, of the
meanings of the dash. The relation of the matter between the dashes
to what precedes is clearly that of apposition; and the dash alone is
quite generally used to express it. We prefer, however, the comma and
dash, as was shown in our discussion of No. 32.

This relation makes the appositive group of words a part of what
has gone before, thus ending the first clause with the end of the
appositive group of words. This puts the _and_ relation between the two
_larger_ groups of the sentence, thus making the use of the second dash
erroneous, and requiring a new grouping. A semicolon will best perform
this office.

Punctuated in accordance with the above reasoning, and with some commas
added, the sentence will read as follows:

  38-1. There is literature in our newspapers,—a lively, colloquial,
  vivid literature, reflective of the life we lead; and we are grateful
  for his [Augustine Birrell’s] admonition that, in the making of it,
  we have regard first for truth, and afterward for beauty, if we find


In order to save space, the dash is used, purely conventionally,
between paragraphs not put in paragraph form,—that is, between
paragraphs run together, as are sentences. Such usage may be seen
in the definitions of any dictionary. It is permissible especially
on postal and correspondence cards, or wherever economy of space is


1. Men, of your own family and out of it, sometimes put you on trains,
and take care of you—sometimes.

2. To have courage without pugnacity, conviction without bigotry,
charity without condescension, faith without credulity, love of
humanity without mere sentimentality, meekness with power, and emotion
with sanity—that is Christianity.

3. The weather was perfect,—the days warm, the nights cool.

4. Royalty bred in Saul what it bred in most kings of the East,—an
imperious temper, a despotic will.

5. Nurses who cherish the professional spirit will be minor players in
the drama,—faithful attendants in the day, silent watchers in the night.

6. Stevenson never lacks precision, clearness, proportion,—the classic
qualities; but, outside of them, the variety of his masters helped him
to be various.

7. This spider springs for his mark, and is remarkably sure of his
aim,—a fact which proves that for distances of several inches the
vision of hunting spiders is perfectly distinct and clear.

8. Serenity of soul is a divine gift,—prop, shield, and unfailing
cordial in one.

9. Now, if it were possible that you, Sir,—and the keen eyes surveyed
the young man closely,—could command the confidence of these dealers,
you might make your visit profitable.

10. Mr. Newman’s syntax presents Homer’s thought in a way which is
something more than unconstrained,—over-familiar; something more than
easy,—free and easy.

11. Jackson’s conquests had been those of war,—always more dazzling
than those of peace; his temperament was of fire,—always more
attractive than one of marble.

12. The subject divides itself naturally into two main topics,—the
political and the social and economic.

13. The work of his administration is represented by the City
Hospital,—its buildings and equipment and its domestic administration.

14. Walt Whitman is the globe itself,—all seas, lands, forests,
climates, storms, snows, sunshines, rains, of universal earth.

15. A few northern warblers were chirping in the evergreens along the
edge of the summit, between the inn and the Point,—black-polls and
bay-breasts, with black-throated greens and Carolina wrens; and near
there I saw with pleasure my first Tennessee phoebes.

16. The patient has the symptoms resulting from dilatation,—dyspnea and
serous effusion.

  Without knowing the meaning of the three technical terms in the above
  sentence, the reader is informed by the comma and dash that “the
  symptoms” are “dyspnea and serous effusion.”

17. Her economies were frantic child’s play,—methodless, inexperienced,
fitful; and they were apt to be followed by remorse.

  In this sentence “child’s play” is not sufficiently specific to
  define “economies”; and therefore the characteristics of “child’s
  play” are added in the form of a group of adjectives looking back to
  “economies” and descriptive of child’s play.

18. A young man or a young woman may go, unaided and unfriended, to
a large city,—may go with nothing and to nothing,—and yet build up a
beautiful and successful life.

  In this example the comma is required because it would be required
  after “city” if the _dash_ group (may go with nothing and to nothing)
  were omitted. The dashes set off the group, and thus connect what
  follows the second dash with what precedes the first one.

19. We made a brave effort to smoke the rats out with the vilest
imaginable compound of vapors,—brimstone, burnt leather, and
arsenic,—and spent a cold night in a deck-bivouac to give the
experiment fair play.

  This sentence is from an English classic, Dr. Kane’s “Arctic
  Explorations.” The first comma and dash perform a double office: they
  indicate and set off the appositive group that follows, and also act
  as the dash and comma in the preceding example.

20. The same note of character—the craftsman’s keen delight in work—is
struck in “Adam Bede” and in the little poem on Stradivarius.

  Here is a fairly well-established conventional punctuation which we
  do not like. The relation of the group of words following the first
  dash to what precedes it, is that of apposition, and is best shown
  by the comma, with the dash for grouping. This use would require the
  repetition of the comma and dash after the group. The comma and dash
  would conform to the punctuation of the examples considered above.

21. We went into the trenches a full regiment. We came out to retreat
again with four hundred men—and I left my younger brother there.

22. In spite of his harsh, stern exterior, the man had wonderful depths
of emotion and nervous sensibility. I think you can see it in his
face—when you have discovered it otherwise.

  Much of the beauty of language is lost to one who cannot read into
  the dash in No. 21 a scene of tender emotion, and into the dash in
  No. 22 a bit of philosophy, as well as a bit of humor.



We shall discuss in this chapter some uses of marks determined partly
by reason and partly by convention. In a subsequent chapter we shall
take up the purely conventional uses of marks.

Among the commonest uses of marks is that of a comma before the
conjunction _that_ introducing a group of words. Our next two examples
illustrate two classes of sentences in which “that” connects the
parts of each sentence somewhat differently, permitting a difference
in punctuation. As such modes of punctuation are not well settled by
practice, and cannot be determined by reason, the use or omission of
the comma in the second sentence (No. 40) becomes a matter of taste. We
prefer the comma:

  39. The court holds that the evidence is material.

  40. The truth is, that we very much exaggerate the power of riches.

If it be said that punctuation which is a matter of taste necessarily
becomes inconsistent punctuation, we may reply that some inconsistency
in such punctuation does not in the least affect the value of the
proper use of marks where they have real worth. A discussion of these
seemingly minor points bears this value, that it may show niceties in
grouping overlooked in our discussion of sharply defined groups.

No comma is required after “holds” in No. 39 because there is no
grouping of words in the sentence that requires to be made in order to
show a relation different from the relation that exists in the simplest
form of expression, such, for instance, as the relation of adjective to
noun, noun to verb, verb to object, etc.

In Sentence 40 “that” does not grow out of or coalesce with “is” as
“that” grows out of and coalesces with “holds” in No. 39. The reader
almost invariably pauses after “is” in such relations, as if to group
into a whole what follows, such whole constituting the predicate of the
sentence. The comma serves to show a grouping that is at once natural
and helpful in reading, whether aloud or silently. This relation,
with the need of the grouping, may be shown somewhat more clearly in
a sentence where the use of the comma is quite unquestioned by good

  41. The benefit of a right good book depends upon this, that
  its virtues just soak into the mind, and there become a living,
  generative force.

Let us note that the relation here marked by a comma is quite
suggestive of two similar relations which we indicated, respectively,
by a colon (Sentence 26-3) and by a comma and dash (Sentence 34). It is
plain that the relation in each of the three sentences (Nos. 26-3, 34,
41) is that of apposition; but it takes a different form in each, and
so we punctuate the three sentences differently, each sentence falling
into a different class.

While the above sentences present no difficulty in their punctuation,
the punctuation of other sentences quite like them seems to be somewhat
puzzling, yet it is based upon reason.

In court decisions the finding or findings generally appear in a
separate paragraph or paragraphs, following a review of the case.
The punctuation here is not entirely uniform; but, although it seems
inconsistent with that of No. 39, it is easily explained:

  42. Held, that the evidence is material.

If the decision covers two or more points, it may take this form:

  42-1. Held—

  1. That the evidence is material.

  2. That the lower court did not err in its instructions to the jury.

If there is a reason for the use of a comma after “held” in No. 42, the
same reason seems to require a comma after “held” in No. 42-1, the dash
being used for another purpose, to be considered later. A comma is not
used in No. 42-1, because its omission is the _conventional_ usage.

The punctuation of No. 42 probably follows the mode of reading the
sentence, a decided pause being made after “held,” which would not be
the case in reading No. 39.

It could not be said that a colon after “this” in No. 41 would not be
good punctuation.

As we have said elsewhere, Mr. Wilson’s work is very masterful and
exhaustive, even though exceedingly puzzling; and therefore we feel
justified in drawing frequent lessons from it. We take from it our
next two illustrative sentences, which are so much alike that we
wonder how there can be a difference in their punctuation after the
verb followed by “that”:

  43. The writer just quoted says, that “the grammatical pauses, which
  are addressed to the eye of the reader, are insufficient for the
  speaker, who addresses himself to the understanding ‘through the
  porches of the ear.’”

  44. Mr. Maglathlin says that “the comma occurs sometimes where there
  should be no pause in reading or speaking; nor can the length of
  any required stop be inferred with much certainty from the common
  stop-mark used.”

We fail to find a rule in Mr. Wilson’s work explaining the use of the
comma before “that” in No. 43. The sentences, however, are taken, not
from Mr. Wilson’s illustrative examples, but from the text of his work;
and therefore the punctuation is more likely a typographical error.


Writers on punctuation seem to find the use of marks required by such
words as _first_, _second_, _when_, _now_, _because_, etc., very
puzzling; and their rules to determine the punctuation are exceedingly
puzzling to the reader.

This punctuation falls quite readily under the principles of grouping
and relationship exemplified in practically all of our illustrative
sentences considered up to this point. It will be seen that the
difficulty is to determine the actual relation of the word to what
precedes or follows, or to both. Illustrative examples will serve to
solve this difficulty:

  45. You ask me, perhaps, even you, who are all charity, why parts of
  this book are what they are.

  46. You ask me, perhaps even you, who are all charity, why parts of
  this book are what they are.

In No. 45 the speaker makes in the first three words a statement
which may be merely an assumption; and, perceiving this fact as the
statement is finished, he wishes to soften the possible severity of his
language. This he does by the insertion of a _slightly_ parenthetical
word (perhaps). Besides having this parenthetical character, “perhaps”
has here also a squinting character (looking both ways),—that is, it
may be intended to qualify what precedes it or what follows it. As it
is entirely cut off by a comma from what follows it, the reader must
determine what it does qualify; and this he readily determines from
his knowledge of language. Of course, it here qualifies the statement
that precedes it. If “perhaps” were placed before “ask,” the meaning
would be unmistakable; but, as the effect of the language would not
be exactly the same, the former mode of expression is necessary, and
demands proper punctuation.

In No. 46 “perhaps” stands in the regular position of a word that
qualifies what immediately follows it, and therefore needs no mark.
The commas in this sentence are used to _suspend_ a group of words,
as diagrammatically illustrated in Sentence 4-3, coming between
words closely connected in sense. The more natural position of this
appositive group of words is immediately after the first “you”; but
even here it would require the commas, because it is an appositive.
They are placed where they are for the same reason that “perhaps” is
placed out of its natural order in No. 45.

  47. The word _therefore_ sometimes stands, as an adverb, in the
  natural position of an adverb, and therefore requires no mark, at
  least after it; it likewise stands, as a conjunction, in the natural
  position of a conjunction, and therefore no mark is required after
  it; it also sometimes stands, as either part of speech, out of the
  regular order of such part of speech, breaking the continuous flow
  of the thought, and thus becoming _slightly_ parenthetical and
  requiring the marks (commas) used to show this office of the word.
  If, therefore, this distinction between the word’s uses be carefully
  noted, the punctuation required will not be difficult to learn.

The above sentence will serve to illustrate the punctuation required
by “therefore” and also by its synonyms, which are _accordingly_,
_because_, _hence_, _since_, _thence_, _wherefore_, etc. These
words belong to a large group of words whose punctuation is readily
determined by the sense relations. The word _however_, in its relation
to other parts of the sentence, will serve to emphasize the distinction
between the two uses of many of these words:

  48. He was reluctant to discuss the subject. He replied, however, to
  all questions put to him, however pointed such questions were.

This sentence may be so formed as to bring the first “however” into the
usual position of the conjunction:

  48-1. He was reluctant to discuss the subject; however, he replied to
  all questions put to him, however pointed such questions were.

In this form, another word, _but_, _yet_, _although_, or the like,
would be preferred to the first “however.”

The relation indicated by the word _because_ is easily misunderstood,
and therefore often wrongly indicated in the punctuation by the
presence or absence of a mark. The meaning of a sentence may thus be
entirely changed by the punctuation:

  49. John did not go to town because his father was absent.

  49-1. John did not go to town, because his father was absent.

No. 49 asserts that John went to town, and states that his reason for
going was not his father’s absence. No. 49-1 asserts that John did
_not_ go to town, and that the reason for not going was his father’s
absence. In No. 49 the language is used in its natural order and
without any turn in the thought, which is not complete until the end
of the sentence is reached. In No. 49-1 the same language is made to
give an entirely different meaning by changing the relation between the
two groups of words constituting the sentence. A like change of real
meaning is seen in Sentences 13 and 13-1; and a like change of apparent
meaning is seen in Sentences 1 and 1-1. This principle is clearly
exemplified in Sentences 11-1 and 11-2.

A very important principle of language is involved in this punctuation;
and we should thoroughly comprehend it. In No. 49 the relation
expressed by “not” goes on to the group of words beginning with
“because,” although apparently confined to “go.” In No. 49-1 the
relation is confined entirely to “go.” We find a counterpart of this
form of expression in the use of “only” and similar modifiers. “Only”
is used out of place so generally, often by excellent writers, that we
hesitate to criticize such usage. In the expression, _I only assisted
the boys to work the example_, we are not sure whether the writer means
to say that he _only_ assisted,—that is, did not do all the work; or
that he assisted _only_ the boys,—that is, not the girls; or that he
assisted them _only_ to work the example, and not to explain it.

A careful writer will always avoid such ambiguous expressions, for
it is not easy for the reader to differentiate the meanings in such
sentences as Nos. 49 and 49-1.

Our next two sentences (Nos. 50 and 51) are especially interesting
because of their sources. No. 50 is a part of Mr. Teall’s general
rule (page 1) for the use of the comma; and No. 51 is a sentence from
the text of Mr. Wilson’s work (page 3), quoted by Mr. Teall in the
discussion of his own rule.

We quote No. 50, not to consider it as a rule, but to consider the use
of the comma in its language. No. 51, as it appears in Mr. Wilson’s
work, has a comma before “unless”; and Mr. Teall quotes the sentence to
illustrate an erroneous use of the comma:

  50. When there is no break in sense no comma should be used, unless
  necessary for clearness of expression.

  51. Scarcely can a sentence be perused with satisfaction or interest,
  unless pointed with some degree of accuracy.

No. 50, like No. 49-1, is practically completed at the comma, what
follows in each being added as an additional thought. In No. 51 the
language up to the comma is almost meaningless, or, at least, makes an
untrue statement. What follows the comma _restricts_ the assertion to a
definite and true statement, just as what follows the comma in No. 49
_restricts_ the meaning of the assertion made in the language preceding
it. Because of this relation between the parts no comma is used, and
for the reasons already discussed.

Sentences 50 and 51 are not unlike Sentences 13 and 13-1; and therefore
the same reasoning determines their punctuation.

Mr. Wilson’s use of a comma before “unless” in No. 51 is wrong, and is
contrary to one of his own rules.

Such mistakes can be found, probably, in the text-book of every writer
on punctuation. They are generally mere oversights, and should not be
construed as evidence of the writer’s lack of knowledge. It is the
system of a writer which determines the value or lack of value of his

The punctuation between clauses connected by _when_, _where_, and like
connectives, presents difficulties only when an attempt is made to rob
such connectives of their apparent meanings, respectively, of time and
place, as is done by some writers, and perhaps correctly in rare cases.

In each of our next three illustrative sentences the thought of time is
equally manifest; and therefore there is no more need of a comma in one
than in the other:

  52. You may fire _when_ you are ready, Gridley.

  52-1. You may fire _now_, Gridley.

  52-2. You may go _tomorrow_, Gridley.

It is true that “when” may lose, at least in a measure, its sense
of time, and then indicate a somewhat different relation between
the clauses it connects. Mr. Wilson gives the following sentence to
illustrate this point:

  53. Refrain not to speak, when by speaking you may be useful to

Here “when” may not refer to time, but may be equivalent to _if_, thus
introducing a condition under which to speak; or it may be equivalent
to _because_, thus giving a reason. Such meaning would make a sentence
very much like No. 49-1.

We find an exact counterpart of No. 53, with similar punctuation, in
the following sentence from the New Testament, Common Version:

  53-1. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you.

The same sentence in the Revised Version appears without the comma,
thus giving “when” its full sense of time:

  53-2. Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you.

In Sentence 47 we saw the various uses of the word “therefore”; and in
Sentences 48 and 48-1 we saw the different meanings of “however” with
a change of position. In our next five or six sentences, we shall see
that the meaning to be conveyed determines the relation, this relation
being indicated by the mark of punctuation:

  54. Fortunately for me, the work was easy.

  54-1. Fortunately, for me the work was easy.

In No. 54 the good fortune (fortunately) is for me, as if the language
read, “It was fortunate for me.” In 54-1 the comma cuts “fortunately”
off from “for me”; and the meaning is thus changed.

If the meaning of No. 54-1 is not perfectly clear to the reader, it may
be made so by a change in the form of the sentence:

  54-2. Fortunately, the work was easy for me.

Sentence 54 is not capable of such transposition; and this shows that
the sentences are different in meaning.

Words and groups of words like this and in like use are very numerous;
yet practically all of them readily fall into their respective classes,
and are easily punctuated. A change in meaning, however, even without a
change in form, will require different punctuation, although the proper
punctuation is rarely seen. That it is so seems strange in view of the
fact that the meaning logically permits of no other than the obviously
correct punctuation:

  55. In conclusion, I wish to say that the evidence does not justify
  the verdict.

The relation of “in conclusion” will be clearly seen if we transfer the

  55-1. I wish to say, in conclusion, that the evidence does not
  justify the verdict.

In each of these sentences “in conclusion” is merely an adverb
equivalent to _finally_. If we make it equivalent to a clause, and
thus prevent its performing the office of an adverb, its relation is
changed, and its new relation will determine the punctuation. Such a
change and such new relation are seen in the next sentence:

  55-2. In conclusion: the jury seemed unable to comprehend either
  the evidence or the charge of the judge; the judge was not entirely
  free from prejudice; and the prisoner was unable to obtain important

Here “in conclusion” seems to bear no grammatical relation to what
follows. It is, however, the remnant of a clause which bears the
_colon_ relation to what follows; and therefore the colon is used after
it. Such a clause might read thus, “I will state, in conclusion, the
facts in the case.”


The words _yes_, _no_, _again_, _to sum up_, _to proceed_, etc., are
often used in this way, and so require the colon:

  56. Do you think he will meet the expectations of his friends? Yes:
  he has never failed to meet reasonable expectations.

Apparently in the absence of a comprehension of the _colon_ relation
between “yes” or “no” and what follows, even careful punctuators
seem to prefer the semicolon after these words; and, it may be said,
convention thus overrides reason, making the semicolon far more common
than the colon for this punctuation.

The conventional punctuation of the sentence is as follows:

  56-1. Do you think he will meet the expectations of his friends? Yes;
  he has never failed to meet reasonable expectations.

As marks are used mainly to assist the reader in so grouping words
that their relations may be readily seen, it is apparent that a mark
is not needed when the grouping is unmistakable in its absence. There
is a large class of groups so formed and so connected that a mark
of punctuation between them is superfluous, although used quite in
accordance with our general principle, as exemplified in Sentences 1
and 1-1. The following sentence exhibits such grouping:

  57. The author was identified with Maine in blood and spirit and in
  the ideals of life.

In this sentence the first “and” clearly connects “blood” and “spirit,”
forming a group governed by the preposition “in.” Because of the
absence of a mark before the second “and,” the reader, in view of what
has been said in our discussion, might expect the word following the
second “and” to have the same sense relation to “spirit” that “spirit”
bears to “blood.” If such relation does not exist, then why should
not a comma be used to notify the reader of the fact, as one was
used in Sentence 1-1? The reason is, that marks are used to prevent
wrong groupings which are easily made because of apparent, but wrong,
relations. When the eye does not need a mark, the mark should be
omitted, even though consistency in punctuation seems to call for it.

It is to be noted that “in blood and spirit” makes in itself a complete
group and a complete picture (the material and the immaterial), thus
practically inhibiting the use of a third coördinate word connected
by “and”; moreover, the word “in” following the second “and” at
once notifies the reader that another _in_ group is to follow the
conjunction. For these reasons there is no liability even to momentary
wrong grouping, and therefore no mark is needed before the second
“and.” This principle may be applied to somewhat long groups, if
similarly formed, even though the words beginning the groups are not
the same. This applies especially to groups formed by the correlative
conjunctions, such as _either—or_, _neither—nor_, etc., the first
conjunction giving notice that its correlative is to introduce a group
bound to the preceding group by the expected complementary conjunction.

If we closely followed the principle exemplified in Sentence 1-1, a
comma would be required before the second “and” in No. 57. Such use
of marks would be very “close” punctuation, which means subservience
to rules based upon an apparent principle. Close punctuation often
becomes confusing by making so many groups of the words in a sentence
that such groups are not readily grasped and properly joined together
by the reader. The same effect is produced by the use of too many short
sentences in a paragraph, for the relations existing between such
sentences is not easily apprehended. Striving after short sentences is
a common fault of many modern writers.


1. I shall go unless my orders forbid.

2. We fail to praise the ceaseless ministry of the inanimate world
around us only because its kindness is unobtrusive.

3. We never praise the ceaseless ministry of the great inanimate world
around us, except when we are compelled to invoke its kindness.

4. They are alike in one respect, that each is susceptible of omission.

5. His emotions are divided between contemptuous hatred of those who
are beneath him because they are black, and envious hatred of those who
are above him because they are what he calls “aristocrats”; and we are
not alarmed if he rallies the “crackers” of a state, or even of a group
of states in which the same conditions exist, to his support.

6. No one knew where the boundary line was, because, as we pointed out
long ago, there never was a boundary line.

7. Holmes illustrated, perhaps better than any of that remarkable
circle of poets of whom he was the surviving member, the brightness and
beauty of life in itself.

8. There is no sorrow I have thought more about than this: that one who
aspires to live a higher life than the common should fall from that
serene height into the soul-wasting struggle with worldly annoyances.

  The use of the colon in No. 8 follows conventional punctuation; and,
  therefore, as many good writers prefer this mode of punctuation, it
  is well to know the usage.

9. This, however excellent in its way, is neither scientific nor

10. This, however, excellent though it be, is neither scientific nor

11. He lacks all the essentials of a big man.... No, he is not the man
for the place.

12. It is possible, yes, probable, that the work can be done in the
time set for it.

  In examples 11 and 12, “no” and “yes” are not used as sentence
  words requiring the punctuation of Sentence 56; but they are mere
  expletives, introducing something more emphatic than what precedes.
  Each takes the punctuation of an expletive, namely, a comma or commas.

13. The man gave many proofs of complete indifference to death, while
he was doing his duty.

14. On the battle-field the man gave many proofs of complete
indifference to death, while at home he seemed almost a coward.

  No. 13 is an _Atlantic Monthly_ sentence. As “while” is here
  equivalent to _during the time_, the use of the comma, which gives
  “while” the adversative meaning exhibited by “while” in No. 14, is
  wrong. In No. 14 “while” is almost equivalent to “but,” and here
  loses the sense of time.

15. The Lord has blessed thee, since my coming.

  No. 15 is a clause from Gen. xxx, 30, punctuated as it appears in
  Webster’s New International. As “since” is a preposition, equivalent
  in meaning to _during the time subsequent to_, the use of the comma
  before it is clearly a typographical error.




As has already been seen, we determine what mark of punctuation is
helpful at any point in written or printed language by the sense
relation between two groups of words and by the degree of separation
between such groups. The degrees of separation cannot be so accurately
classified that there will not be much apparent and some real
inconsistency in the punctuation of the most careful writer, and much
more in the uses of marks by different writers.

We shall consider these points in this chapter, in order to show (1)
the cause of this inconsistency; (2) how, in some measure, it may be
avoided; and (3) that much of it is wholly immaterial, being not in the
least misleading.

A diagrammatic grouping indicated by the coordinate conjunction _and_,
with or without one of the four principal marks, may help to illustrate
the above points and to differentiate, to some extent, the uses of the

  1.  ...   and ...
  2.  ... , and ...
  3.  ... ; and ...
  4.  ... : and ...
  5.  ... . And ...

What does the absence of a mark before “and” in Diagram 1, and what
does each of the marks in the other diagrams, say to the reader, even
before he has seen enough of what follows the conjunction to enable him
to apprehend the probable grouping?

We, of course, know that “and” connects words and groups of words which
are coördinate in sense, and that such groups are often similar in
form. Similarity in form with similarity of relationship in groups of
words makes reading easy; and much attention is given to it by good

In Diagram 1 “and” stands between two words or groups of words whose
apparent relation is quite unmistakable for their real relation, which
was not the case in Sentence 1, which therefore required a mark of
punctuation. In other words, no mistake can be made, and therefore no
mark is needed. However this diagram may be filled out, “and” joins
words or groups of words into a single group, such new group being
related to some other word or group in the sentence.

Diagram 2 gives notice of a grouping different from that in Diagram 1;
and Diagrams 3, 4, and 5 exhibit still other groupings.

We saw, particularly in Sentences 7, 7-1, and 7-2, a simple grouping
which plainly required another and a larger mark than the comma. We saw
another kind of grouping in other sentences which also unmistakably
required a mark other than the semicolon.

We now come to discuss the basis of differentiating our principal
marks, sometimes at points where the choice of a mark is not always
unmistakable. In some cases the choice is based upon well-defined sense
relations; in other cases it is based upon shades of meaning or upon
degrees of separation not sufficiently sharp to make the choice easy,
especially under _rules_ for punctuation.

Sentence 1-1 is a good illustration of Diagram 2; and yet the apparent
relation between “children” and their “mothers” might so strongly
impress itself upon the mind of an inexperienced reader, especially
if reading the sentence at sight and aloud, that the comma would not
prevent a momentary wrong combination of these words. A semicolon
before the conjunction would prevent the liability to such error, and
probably do so even with the most inexperienced reader. Thus we have
a choice between the comma and the semicolon in Sentence 1; and this
choice rests upon the degree of liability to error, which cannot be
the same with different classes of readers. Liability to error in
grouping is increased by a closeness of _apparent_ relations that
are _wrong_ relations, and also by a reader’s lack of expertness in
grouping language at sight. In view of these facts, we think the use of
a semicolon in Sentence 1 better punctuation than the use of a comma;
but the use of the semicolon in this particular sentence should not be
made to justify a rule requiring a semicolon between every two clauses
connected by a conjunction, or between two clauses so connected, one of
which contains one or more commas.

Our next sentence is taken from an essay, in a high-class magazine, by
the professor of English in a leading eastern university; and this
essay has for its title “Writing English”:

  58. The boy must be able to say what he knows, or write what he
  knows, or he does not know it.

As written and punctuated, this sentence contains three apparently
coördinate groups of words, the groups being connected by “or,” and the
grouping indicated by commas. It is, however, composed of only two main
groups, the first of the two groups being regrouped into other groups.
Such grouping should always be shown by the punctuation; for, when it
is not so shown, the sentence cannot be read without some distractive
effect upon the reader and, if read aloud, also upon the hearer.

The failure of this sentence to read smoothly, or without distractive
effect, arises from the usual cause: the form of the language leads
the reader to look forward to a mode of development of the sentence
which does not follow,—that is, the _apparent_ mode of development, as
exhibited in the grouping, is not the _real_ mode of development. As
each of the second and third groups is introduced by “or” and preceded
by a comma, the reader is led to look for the same relation between the
second and third groups that exists between the first and second. He is
thus led to expect a group in a series, which does not follow.

The distractive effect of the sentence can be removed in some degree
by writing it in the following form, the added “to” giving the second
group a form similar to that of the first:

  58-1. The boy must be able to say or _to_ write what he knows, or he
  does not know it.

In this condensed form the sentence lacks, at the point of
condensation, the emphasis of the original; and therefore the sentence
is not so effective in its statement of a truth. If, then, the original
form is preferred, its distractive effect can be removed by the use of
punctuation that properly groups its parts:

  58-2. The boy must be able to say what he knows, or write what he
  knows; or he does not know it.

The semicolon here _disconnects_ the second group from the third,
giving the third group connection with a larger group, the first and
second combined.

The need of the semicolon in No. 58-2 is not determined by the presence
of the preceding comma, but mainly by the apparent relations of the
groups, such apparent relations being emphasized by the presence of the
second “or,” which makes the three groups appear to be in a series. If
these groups were in a series, the second “or” would connect the second
and third groups. The semicolon at once throws the grouping into two
parts, thus making the second “or” connect all that precedes with all
that follows.

Although the writer of Sentence 58 appears to have placed no value upon
the _like_ formation of the first two groups of this sentence, nor to
have recognized the differentiation of the comma from the semicolon, he
uses both of these devices in a sentence, quite like the above, in the
next paragraph of his essay. It is as follows:

  59. It is here that composition is of service to the imagination,
  and incidentally to culture; and I should speak more largely of this
  service if there were space in this essay to bring forward all the
  aspects of college composition.

The need of the semicolon in both Nos. 58 and 59 is, we think,

The comma in No. 59 has no value for the reader. There is no _apparent_
and _wrong_ meaning here requiring this comma; and it is difficult to
see how any wrong grouping, in the absence of the comma, is likely to
be made by the reader. If this comma were challenged for its meaning we
do not know what answer it could give.

The absence of a comma after “imagination” would give notice to the
reader that what has been said about “imagination” is to be said about
something else in the _and_ relation to “imagination.” The writer,
wishing to qualify the added statement, does so before the statement
is made, thus throwing matter (one word in this case) between what
has preceded and what is to be grouped with “imagination,” as shown
by the absence of a mark before “and.” This makes the qualifying word
a modified parenthesis. Such treatment of the word, indicated by
marks, gives a shade of meaning difficult to express in language. The
difference is, perhaps, in the emphasis gained by the punctuation.

We should write the sentence in the following way:

  59-1. It is here that composition is of service to the imagination
  and, incidentally, to culture; and I should speak more largely....

Our next sentence, which is taken from a well-known literary paper, is
punctuated so badly that we wonder how it could pass an experienced

  60. Providence made him a waif on London streets and later, a waif on
  the ocean, she taught him the feeling of a rope’s end on a naked back.

When the reader reaches “and” in this sentence he needs to be informed
by a mark of punctuation that what immediately follows the conjunction
looks forward, not backward, for its connection. Such notice is always
imperative when the words immediately following the conjunction may
readily be attached by the reader to what precedes, but belong to what
follows. In this sentence “a waif on the ocean” readily becomes the
object of “made”; and even a very careful reader might so connect it,
not discovering his mistake until he reached “she taught him.” “Later”
apparently looks backward to “made”; but its connection is forward.

Properly punctuated the sentence reads as follows:

  60-1. Providence made him a waif on London streets; and, later, a
  waif on the ocean, she taught him the feeling of a rope’s end on a
  naked back.

“Later” takes a comma before it because it is out of its natural order
and also because it is placed in a position where it obstructs the
smoothness of the language. The position of both “later” and “a waif on
the ocean” gives force and beauty to the language; but they entangle,
to a certain extent, the principal words of the sentence, thus
requiring marks of punctuation to point out the proper relation between
such words, as in Sentence 4-2.

Diagram 4 covers the punctuation exemplified in Sentence 6,—that is,
punctuation based upon the rank of the colon.

The use of the colon that is properly differentiated from the uses of
the semicolon and the period, respectively, is the use determined by
its rank. This particular use is exemplified in Sentences 6 and 6-2
and, to some extent, in Sentences 26-3 and 27-1. Writers who ignore the
latter use of the colon—and they are many in number—apparently ignore
the real relations between the parts of a sentence or of a composition;
or, if they themselves see and appreciate such relations, they are
willing to leave them obscurely expressed. It is quite probable that
many writers do not know that marks of punctuation have inherent
meanings which clearly express these relations. The lack of such
knowledge is explained by the almost total absence of any discussion of
the matter in the text-books on punctuation.

Our statement that Sentences 26-3 and 27-1 illustrate only “to some
extent” the rank of the colon among the principal marks, may need
explanation. In Sentences 6 and 6-2 the colon is used because a mark
larger than the semicolon is required to group the parts of each
sentence, one part being subdivided by semicolons. This use is wholly
one of rank, and clearly differentiates the use of the mark. It is
another sense relation of the parts of each of the other sentences
(Nos. 26-3 and 27-1) that requires the colon, and not the presence of a
semicolon in one of the parts. The colon would still be the only mark
with an inherent meaning expressive of the relation between the parts
even if there were no other mark in either sentence. The colon would
still be the proper mark in No. 26-3 if it ended with “old,” and in No.
27-1 if it ended with “evasions.” The relation between the two groups
following the colon in No. 26-3 is the _and_ relation, each group being
an expansion of a picture in the main group,—that is, the first group
(it never grows old) explains “perpetual charm,” and the second group
(it never loses its novelty) explains “singular charm.” In No. 27-1 a
conjunction (but) is present to show the sense relation at that point.

Our next sentence, which is from Balzac, will illustrate the points we
are considering, and also show the difficulties the punctuator meets in
the punctuation of language which he may not change:

  61. He was all that a hero should be; he suffered long, and came into
  his own, and he has been, in a measure, the world’s ideal of a heroic
  man of arms.

According to most rules of punctuation based upon grammatical
relations, this punctuation is correct; according to the principles of
punctuation based upon sense relations, this punctuation is very bad.
The obscurity in the meaning of the language cannot be wholly removed
by punctuation. Two simple statements are made in the sentence, and
are coördinated by the second conjunction (and); but the language is
so grouped by the punctuation as to conceal this fact. We can show the
meaning by a different mode of punctuation, which, however, is not
good punctuation. Such punctuation will show the relation because the
meaning of the marks used is familiar to most readers:

  61-1. He was all that a hero should be (he suffered long, and came
  into his own); and he has been, in a measure, the world’s idea of a
  heroic man of arms.

The parentheses show the relation of the matter so enclosed to what
has preceded; but the matter so set off is not a parenthesis, and
therefore the use of the marks of parenthesis is not good punctuation.
It is true that the matter so set off is explanatory matter; but it is
an expansion of the idea preceding it, and therefore should be preceded
by a colon.

Having determined that a colon is the proper mark after this first
group of words, we must then determine where the second group ends. It
is quite evident that “came into his own” is joined to “suffered long,”
even though _coming into one’s own_ is no part of what constitutes a
hero. We simply accept the words at Balzac’s estimate.

The meaning of the next group, introduced by the second “and,” is
unmistakable; and the group is coordinate in sense, and is connected
by the conjunction, with all that precedes. If the group preceding
the conjunction is subdivided by a colon, even though the colon here
is not used solely because of its rank, it is well to ignore this
technicality, and use a period, thus unmistakably and properly grouping
the language.

This reasoning would give us the following punctuation:

  61-2. He was all that a hero should be: he suffered long, and came
  into his own. And he has been, in a measure, the world’s ideal of a
  heroic man of arms.

The period here connects the second sentence with _all_ of the
preceding sentence, at once disconnecting the second sentence from
the second clause of the first sentence, of which it is made an
unmistakable part in the original sentence (No. 61).

This sentence illustrates the loose grouping common to many of our best
writers; and it also shows that marks of punctuation, if possessing
clearly understood meanings, cannot be adjusted to loose groupings.

If the colon in No. 61-2 were considered like the colon in No. 25, and
thus held subordinate to the semicolon, a semicolon would be preferable
to the period that follows; yet very few readers would grasp such fine
use of a mark in a sentence like No. 61-2.

Our next sentence illustrates a fault that is practically the opposite
of the above; and its punctuation is much more common and even more
distracting. It is the fault of splitting up a sentence, making two
sentences out of one, or of carrying a part of one sentence over into
another sentence, making two incomplete sentences. This fault grows out
of an effort to use short sentences, which some writers think essential
to clearness. It is quite safe to say few sentences are too long if
the relations between their parts can clearly be shown by marks of

We take the sentence from _The Outlook_. It appears in Dr. Abbott’s
“Reminiscences”; and, as Dr. Abbott is noted as an unusually clear and
forceful writer, the sentence, with its context, is of special interest:

  62. There were lawyers [in 1853-59] who promoted quarrels to get
  fees. But they were the pariahs of the profession. The best lawyers
  were peacemakers, and though, of necessity, professional partisans
  when engaged in litigation, they were generally honorable partisans.

That the third of the above sentences grows out of the first is clearly
shown by the contrast between the kinds of lawyers mentioned: the
former promoted _quarrels_; the latter were _peacemakers_. Note also
that each class is qualified: the first is qualified by “but they were
the pariahs”; the second by “and were generally honorable partisans.”
The “and,” which introduces a really qualifying clause, might
properly have been “but,” to show that as “peacemakers” these lawyers
surrendered no rights of their clients, _but_ contended for such rights
when necessary to become “professional partisans.”

As the sentences are written, the third sentence does not grow out of
the sentence (the second) preceding it, but out of the first sentence;
and such remoteness of parts standing in the close relation required in
a contrast, is distracting.

We used a period in No. 61-2 because “and” there connects two complete
sentences standing in the _and_ relation to each other. We object to
the use of a period in No. 62 where the conjunction (but) connects two
sentences which are properly only one, and should be so written.

The points we wish to make may be seen by a slight change in the

  62-1. There were lawyers who promoted quarrels to get fees; but
  they were the pariahs of the profession. The best lawyers were
  peacemakers; but, when engaged in litigation and it became necessary,
  they were professional partisans, though they were generally
  honorable partisans.

In order to see more clearly the differentiation between relations that
require the semicolon and those that require the colon, let us study
these relations in two sentences properly punctuated with each of the
two marks:

  63. The only true equalizers in the world are books; the only
  treasure-house open to all comers is a library; the only wealth which
  will not decay is knowledge.

  64. Here was a superintendent worth having: when he did not find good
  tools, he made them.

Why not use commas or periods in No. 63? Why not use a semicolon in No.

Perhaps we have not made, and cannot make, the differentiation between
the comma and the semicolon sufficiently definite to answer the first
question, especially as the formation of each of the three clauses is
such that the liability to error in reading them is very slight. It
would be rather dogmatic to assert that the use of commas here would
be poor punctuation; yet the degree of separation between the groups
is so marked as to make the relations more like the relations between
groups that we have seen to require a semicolon than like relations
between groups separated by a comma. The degree of separation here
almost approaches the degree that takes the period; and therefore the
semicolon seems much better than the comma.

But why not periods? Two positive answers may be given. The three
clauses constitute one complete idea, and therefore make a sentence.
If set off by periods, thus making three sentences, no fourth sentence
could be formed to follow the third and maintain sentence unity; for
the fourth sentence would necessarily grow out of the third, while its
logical relation would be to the three clauses. Such a fault would be
that seen in Sentence 62.

Why not a semicolon in No. 64? Because, under our classifications and
definitions, the colon, when its use is not determined by its rank, as
it is in Sentence 6, is used to show a relation that is practically
that of apposition, exhibited, in different forms, in Sentences 25
and 26-3. “A good superintendent” is explained by the expanded clause
following the colon, just as “articles” in No. 25 is explained by the
details that follow the colon.

In most sentences like No. 64 the second clause can be tied to the
first by a conjunction (for, as, etc.); but the exact idea is not thus
expressed. While this would sometimes show the sense relation between
the clauses, it would distinctly weaken the force and beauty of the
language, tending to make the second clause a specific, rather than a
general, statement.

The differentiation between the semicolon and the colon in Nos. 63 and
64 is very clear if we recognize the colon as the mark of apposition
or explanation. In No. 63 other clauses are added to the first to add
other thoughts; in No. 64 the added clause repeats the thought of the
first by way of amplification of such thought.

The greatest value of a mark of punctuation lies in its ability to
indicate a meaning that depends upon the relation of one group of words
to another; and so long as language has a literary value, just so
long will the colon be useful as an aid in the expression of thought.
This is illustrated in our next sentence (No. 65), where a semicolon,
instead of the colon, would suggest the _and_ relation, and thus make
havoc of the sense:

  65. Ethics has no summons to righteousness: it knows nothing of truth
  spiritually discerned.

If a period were used here, instead of the colon, the relation between
the two sentences (clauses formed into sentences by the use of the
period) might easily be taken for the _and_ relation. With such
relation between the clauses, the first clause would make a vague
assertion, which, without an explanation, would convey no definite

In our discussion of Sentence 6 we saw that the colon, preceding “but,”
made the _but_ relation extend back over several clauses separated by
semicolons. “But” may begin a sentence, a paragraph, a part of a book,
or even a volume. When beginning any one of such groups, the _but_
relation should be a well-defined sense relation between the groups
so connected. If “but” begins a paragraph, the sense relation must be
between the two paragraphs connected by the conjunction. Such relation
is rarely sustained between long paragraphs; and it does not exist
between sentences nearly so often as it is indicated by the use of the
conjunction and the period.

_But_, _and_, and _for_ are the principal conjunctions thus used,
although others are not infrequently so used.


The differentiation of the semicolon from the colon, and the colon
from the period, seems to be so well marked that a choice between
them is rarely difficult to make in the punctuation of language with
proper sense relations between its parts; but the differentiation
between the comma and the semicolon is not so well defined, yet it
is generally very clear in well-written English. Here the choice of a
mark is determined, very largely, by the degree of separation between
the groups. In order further to illustrate this point, let us compare
No. 63 with a sentence which is quite like it, and yet requires only a
comma between its clauses:

  66. Experience is fallacious, and judgment difficult.

The first three words of the above form a clause which so completely
expresses a thought that the addition, by means of the “and,” of
another adjective to follow “fallacious,” is hardly suggested. On the
other hand, this degree of completeness might suggest that what is
to follow will be a complete clause so changing the direction of the
thought as to require a semicolon to show the fact of the change. Let
us look at the sentence diagrammatically:

  66-1. Experience is fallacious and....

How will this sentence probably continue? This question confronts every
intelligent reader, whether he realizes it or not, when reading the
complete sentence. If the mark before “and,” or the absence of a mark,
conveys to him no information upon this point, he learns only through
a tiresome mental process of ascertaining the correct relation of the
words that follow “and” to the words that precede it. This process
is one of holding in suspense two or more possible combinations. It
is always distractive, and very often ends in a wrong combination.
A semicolon before “and” would suggest that the preceding group of
words is complete in itself, and is to be followed by a complete and
coördinate thought (“and” indicates the coordination) in the proper
sense relation with the group that has preceded. It would at once
preclude the expectation of an adjective coördinate with “fallacious.”

We may complete the sentence thus:

  66-2. Experience is fallacious; and therefore it is difficult for us
  to form correct judgments based upon experience.

To exhibit at once the sense relation between the two groups of words
in the above (the relation of correct judgment to experience), we
inserted the word “therefore”; to show that “and” is to be followed by
a group grammatically coördinate with what precedes it, and of like
form, we used a semicolon.

If the relation between the groups were closer than the relation
suggested by the semicolon, but not so close as indicated by the
absence of a mark, the comma would logically be the proper mark. It
would suggest neither a word to be grouped with “fallacious” nor a
clause to be grouped with all that precedes “and.” It would suggest
a different development of the sentence. Such development would tie
what follows to a _part_, not to the _whole_, of what precedes; and,
as there are but three words in this sentence preceding the mark, what
follows must be tied to one of them, and not to the whole, as in No.
66-2. Two sentences will serve to illustrate the point:

  66-3. Experience is fallacious, and may not safely be depended upon
  in the formation of correct judgment.

  66-4. Experience is fallacious, and unreliable as a basis of correct

In No. 66-3 the comma notifies the reader that another adjective in the
_and_ relation to “fallacious,” is not to follow.

In No. 66-4 the comma is used to confine “as a basis of correct
judgment” to “unreliable,” thus disconnecting it from “fallacious.”
This makes the language say that experience is fallacious _in all
things_, and unreliable _only_ as a basis of correct judgment.

If the reasoning in our discussion on the differentiation of the comma
from the semicolon, be correct, it seems to establish a rule that the
semicolon is the mark of choice between two clauses, whether joined by
a conjunction or not. It is not entirely the length or the character of
the groups of words that determines the choice. The liability to make
wrong combinations, especially such combinations as are suggested by
the apparent meaning of the language, is to be lessened by the mark.

In the absence of a mark in Sentence 1, a momentary wrong combination
is quite unavoidable, because perfectly good sense is made by the wrong
grouping. As a comma before “and” may not give to every reader notice
of the development of the sentence, and as a semicolon could hardly
fail to do so, it would seem to be the better mark.

In neither No. 66-3 nor No. 66-4 can the reader definitely interpret
the meaning of the comma until one or two words following the
conjunction are reached. As the process of determining a relation from
a mark often requires the reader to consider the mark and one or two
words following it, which process becomes almost instantaneous, a comma
may thus convey its purpose as readily as the semicolon in No. 66-2
tells its purpose.

A slight change in the language of Sentence 1 will not change either
the names of the two groups (clauses) or their relation (coordination);
but it will remove the liability, even the possibility, of such wrong
combination as is suggested in Sentence 1:

  66-5. Respect the rights of children and you will gain their respect.

In this sentence, a mark before “and” is not really needed as a warning
to the reader not to connect “you” with “children,” thus making “you”
an object of the preposition “of.”

The similarity in form between Nos. 1 and 66-5, with a mark of
punctuation imperative in the first, suggests the use of a mark in
the second. As the comma is here quite sufficient to prevent a wrong
combination by the reader, the comma naturally becomes the mark of
choice; and good convention confirms this choice, while convention not
so good seems to ignore the need of the semicolon in similarly formed
sentences in which the _apparent_ and _wrong_ grouping is much more
marked than in Sentence 1.

Sentences 66 and 66-5 stand at one extreme of the class of sentences in
the punctuation of which we seek to differentiate between the comma and
the semicolon. The relation is made quite unmistakable by the shortness
and completeness of the first group of words, and also by the fact that
the word in each sentence following the conjunction does not suggest,
even in the slightest degree, a connection for itself with anything
that precedes.

Let us consider a sentence at the other extreme, where a wrong
combination is wholly unavoidable without a semicolon, and quite
suggestive with one:

  66-6. I do not mean that the people are conscious of this fact; but
  that the leaders of the people are conscious of it, I think, there is
  no doubt.

In this sentence a semicolon is quite indispensable in order to
disconnect the second group beginning with “that” from “mean,” to which
the preceding similarly formed group, beginning with “that,” belongs.

Between these extremes are many sentences which may take either the
comma or the semicolon without distractive effect. The close punctuator
will generally prefer the semicolon; the open punctuator, the comma.
(For a discussion of close and open punctuation, see Chapter XV.)

The degrees of variation in the relationship between parts of language
are so great that a differentiation between the comma and the semicolon
is at times almost impossible. Fortunately, a quite indiscriminate use
of these two marks in the class of sentences under consideration is not
always misleading or distractive to the reader; but the indiscriminate
use of marks tends to lessen the importance attached by a reader to


1. He suffered much, and he also suffered long.

2. Virtue is intolerant of vice, and virtue is just as contagious as
vice ever was.

3. Be the first to say what is self-evident, and you are immortal.

4. In some states the legislatures meet annually, and in others

4-1. In some states the legislatures meet annually; in others,

5. Want of intellect makes a village an Eden, a college a sty.

  In each of the first four examples above the relation between its
  groups is indicated by a conjunction; and the grouping is so readily
  apparent that the comma serves to show it.

  In No. 4-1, in the absence of a conjunction, the semicolon at once
  shows that another clause is to follow as in No. 7, below. Such
  clause, however, is contracted by the omission of a group of words
  common to the two clauses. This omission is indicated by a comma in
  the second clause, which also shows that the two words in the group
  are not in any grammatical relation to each other.

  In the first group of No. 5 we have a double object of the verb
  (explained later as requiring no comma), and the object is repeated,
  in form, in what follows the comma. The comma may be said to be used
  to indicate the omitted verb, or, as in Sentence 1-1, to indicate the

6. The sentences of Seneca are stimulating to the intellect; the
sentences of Epictetus are fortifying to the character; the sentences
of Marcus Aurelius find their way to the soul.

7. In the world of reality suffering is not a thing to be read or
heard or talked about, but a living truth. Being defied, it maketh for
bitterness; or ignored, for selfishness; or accepted, for wisdom.

8. Venice, it has been said, differs from all other cities in the
sentiment which she inspires. The rest may have admirers; she only, a
famous fair one, counts lovers in her train.

9. Fame is what you have taken,
   Character’s what you give;
   When to this truth you waken,
   Then you begin to live.

10. Homer has not Shakespeare’s variations: Homer always composes
as Shakespeare composes at his best; Homer is always simple and
intelligible, as Shakespeare is often; Homer is never quaint and
antiquated, as Shakespeare is sometimes.

11. There are many beautiful letters in Cary’s “Life of Curtis”; there
is no other so beautiful as that written just after the death of
Lincoln, nor is it possible to read it without a great trembling of the

12. If there is ever a time to be ambitious, it is not when ambition is
easy, but when it is hard. Fight in darkness; fight when you are down;
die hard, and you won’t die at all.

  The comma before “and” in No. 12 divides the _semicolon_ group into
  two parts, and does not stand between groups coordinate with the
  first and second groups.

  “Die hard, and you won’t die at all” is really a bull; and the
  incongruity of ideas might well be expressed by a dash before “and.”

13. All association [among people] must be a compromise; and, what is
worse, the very flower and aroma of the flower of each of the beautiful
natures disappears as they approach each other.

14. All religions, even the most conservative and traditional, are in
constant flux, they either advance or decay.

  The above sentence is thus punctuated in the Enclycopedia Britannica
  and the New Standard Dictionary. We know of no meaning of the comma
  that indicates the real sense relation between “in constant flux”
  and what follows. Nor is this relation that shown by the colon; for
  a thing,—for instance, the ocean,—may be _in constant flux_, and yet
  not either _advance_ or _decay_.

  The meaning of the language requires “and” after “flux,” preferably
  with a semicolon before it.

15. Lily Dyer was a favorite with the village folk; she had just the
qualities to arouse admiration. She was good and handsome and smart.

  In the above example the _semicolon_ relation does not exist between
  the groups of words (clauses) between which it is placed, for the
  second group does not add something to the first to make a complete
  thought. Moreover, the third group bears an unmistakable relation to
  the second group; and such relation is not the _period_ relation. The
  language needs regrouping, to show the sense relations:

15-1. Lily Dyer was a favorite with the village folk. She had just the
qualities to arouse admiration: she was good and handsome and smart.

16. It is a party which is as yet without a name. And what is even
stranger, without a nickname.

  No. 16 is a somewhat extreme, though common, result of seeking to
  make one’s sentences short. No mark at all is needed, or permissible,
  before “and” in such a sentence:

16-1. It is a party without a name and, what is even stranger, without
a nickname.

17. Polemic is always dreary. Devotion always interests. This is
because men are nearly always wrong when they want their own way, and
always partly right when they worship.

  As the third sentence in the above example does not grow out of the
  sentence preceding it, sentence unity is destroyed; and, besides,
  the use of “this” clearly shows reference to a thought expressed in
  the _two_ preceding sentences. A semicolon is the proper mark after
  “dreary,” to make one sentence of the two, out of which the third

18. Milton does not paint a finished picture, or play for a mere
passive listener. He sketches, and leaves others to fill up the
outline. He strikes the key-note, and expects his hearers to make out
the melody.

  In this example sentence unity is wholly disregarded: the first
  picture is put into one sentence, instead of two; the second picture
  is put into two sentences, instead of one. Moreover, as the second
  picture is but an amplification of the first, both pictures may be
  put into one sentence, and should be so put, in accordance with the
  punctuation we have discussed.

  As now punctuated, the second sentence does not grow out of the
  first, but out of the first half of the first; and the third
  sentence, instead of growing out of the second, grows out of the
  second half of the first, ignoring the second sentence entirely.

  Uniting the second and third sentences by a semicolon will improve
  the grouping and the punctuation; but making one sentence out of the
  three is still better:

18-1. Milton does not paint a finished picture, or play for a mere
passive listener: he sketches, and leaves others to fill up the
outline; he strikes the key-note, and expects his hearers to make out
the melody.

  The relations between the groups may be shown in another way; but
  such mode of expressing thought is not tolerable:

18-2. Milton does not paint a finished picture (he sketches, and leaves
others to fill up the outline), or play for a mere passive listener (he
strikes the key-note, and expects his hearers to make out the melody).




We know of no writer who has attempted to differentiate the above
marks; but some writers have dismissed the subject by saying that these
marks are interchangeable. Such a statement, we believe, is merely a
confession of failure to comprehend the inherent meanings of the marks,
and the need of giving marks definite meanings. The confusion resulting
from such failure is, at least at this point, chaos in punctuation and,
not infrequently, in the meaning of language so punctuated.

Mr. Garrison,[7] in his able _Atlantic_ article, says: “Dash, comma,
and parenthesis have equal title to employment in this sentence of
Thackeray’s.” The following is the sentence punctuated in the three
ways recognized by Mr. Garrison as correct punctuation:

  67. If that theory be, and I have no doubt it is, the right and safe

  67-1. If that theory be (and I have no doubt it is) the right and
  safe one.

  67-2. If that theory be—and I have no doubt it is—the right and safe

Let us first ask why any mark is required before “and” in the sentence,
and then what the mark, if used, says to the writer. When the reader
reaches the conjunction, two questions at once confront him: First,
does “and” connect the words between which it immediately stands?
second, does “and” carry the _if_ meaning over to the second group of
words? As “and” does not connect the words between which it immediately
stands, some mark is suggested; and that mark is the comma, but a comma
may not clearly exclude _if_ from the second group. If the _if_ meaning
is not to be conveyed, a larger grouping is suggested; and this would
call for a semicolon, which would _more widely_ separate parts (subject
and predicate) of the whole sentence which should be held together.

The _and_ relation is here what we may call a strained one; in fact,
the _and_ relation hardly exists in this sentence.

The punctuation of No. 67-1 is all right if we accept a meaning of
the term _parenthesis_ that will cover the group of words we are here
dealing with; but the punctuation is wholly wrong if we use marks
according to fundamental principles. Both the New International and the
New Standard dictionaries give definitions of a parenthesis that are
incomplete and misleading. Their definitions are almost identical in
their wording, and call a parenthesis, in substance, a group of words
inserted, for explanation or qualification, “in a sentence which would
be grammatically complete without it.” This definition ignores both the
root meaning of the word and the common usage of the parenthesis. It is
an excellent definition for an _explanatory_ word or group of words,
except a complete explanatory sentence, which we set off by commas, as
shown in our discussion of Sentence 11 _et seq._ We do not know what
would become, under this definition, of a parenthesis in the form of
a complete sentence; for the definition confines the parenthesis to a
word or words inserted _in a sentence_.

The Century gives a definition that is based upon the Greek roots
of the word _parenthesis_, as well as upon its use by good writers.
According to this definition, a parenthesis has _no grammatical_
relation with the language into which it is “put.” (The word _thrust_
would perhaps give a clearer idea of the original.) We “parenthesize”
in spoken, as well as in written or printed, language; but in the
former we convey the meaning by inflections and pauses, while in the
latter we convey the meaning by marks of punctuation.

The use of the conjunction (and) in the sentence under consideration
clearly takes the inserted group of words out of the proper definition
of a parenthesis; for it puts such words into _grammatical_ connection
with what precedes, although the words are quite strongly parenthetical
in nature.

Now, having eliminated the comma, the semicolon, and the parentheses as
the proper marks for setting off this group of words _thrust_ into the
sentence, and still making good sense by their grammatical connection,
how shall we punctuate them? It is perfectly evident that this group of
words makes a decided _break_ in the thread of the thought, and that
they do not have logical or natural connection with what precedes,
because the true _and_ relation does not exist between the thoughts,
implied or expressed. Such language may be said to be idiomatic and
therefore proper; but the group of words is not properly set off in
either No. 67 or No. 67-1. As the fundamental use of the dash is to
note such a break in language as here occurs, it is the proper mark
before “and” in this sentence. In language of this kind it may be said
that the writer _dashes_ off the track of his thought for a moment; and
therefore the dash is the proper mark to indicate such a break in the
continuity of thought.

The second dash is used to close the group in the same way that the
second comma of a pair of commas, or the second part of the marks
of parenthesis, is used; and this makes the punctuation of No. 67-2
correct punctuation, for it is based upon the fundamental meanings of
both the marks and the sense relations of the words.

This careless use of the marks of parenthesis, especially as in No.
67-1, is quite common in some literary periodicals of high standing and
in not a few large printing establishments; but, we venture to assert,
it is rare among painstaking writers who punctuate their own writings.

Such use of marks utterly prevents a differentiation between commas
and parentheses; and this disregard of sense relations finds an exact
parallel in a disregard, only too common among careless writers, of
such fundamental differences in meanings as exists between the words
_vocation_ and _avocation_.

Let us also note that groups of words defined in Chapter III as
“slightly parenthetical” do not make any break in the thread of
thought, so that Sentence 67 is not at all similar to such sentences
as were considered in that connection. In further proof of this
statement, let us compare Sentence 67 with Sentence 10-2. If the _and_
relation in No. 67 does not exist between the two groups of words (all
that precedes it, and what follows it up to “is”), the group “I have no
doubt” should be set off by commas, as is a similar group in Sentence
10-2. This punctuation would make “and” connect “be” and “it is,” which
would not make sense.

If it is not now clear that the punctuation of Nos. 67 and 67-1
violates the fundamental principles of the meanings of both marks and
sense relations, it may be worth while to consider the subject further.

Mr. Teall does not go quite so far as Mr. Garrison, who puts the
three marks into a class from which any one may be selected for the
punctuation of Sentence 67. Mr. Teall, however, makes the following
statement (page 50): “As in some instances there is no absolute
choice between commas and parentheses, so also there is none between
parentheses and dashes.” He illustrates the latter part of his
statement, but not the former. His illustrative example is a sentence
taken from Mr. Wilson’s work, which sentence, he says, may take either
the parentheses or the dashes. We give the sentence (No. 68) as
punctuated by Mr. Wilson:

  68. If we exercise right principles (and we can not have them unless
  we exercise them), they must be perpetually on the increase.

Mr. Teall evidently agrees with Mr. Wilson in the punctuation of the
sentence, which, he says, may as well take dashes; but he expresses no
choice between the two modes of punctuation.

We have already said that this punctuation violates fundamental
principles; and that it does so is evidenced by Mr. Wilson’s
definitions. In one place (page 168) he defines a parenthesis as “words
thrown obliquely into the body of a sentence”; and on the preceding
page he says a parenthesis is “an expression inserted in the body
of a sentence,[8] with which it has no connection in sense or in
construction.” Mr. Teall gives a like definition of a parenthesis.

The meaning of “obliquely thrown into” is, we think, unmistakable.
It is equivalent to “thrust into,” and characterizes matter that is
“without grammatical connection.”

It does not seem to us true that the parenthesis (group of words) in
No. 68 has “no connection in sense” with the sentence. As “and” gives
it constructive connection, why does “and” not give it sense relation?
and why is “and” used, what does it mean, and what does it connect?

The punctuation of No. 67-2 seems to us to be in accord with the
fundamental meanings that determine the use of marks; and it at once
differentiates the dash from the two other marks. These principles are
violated in the punctuation of No. 68, which requires dashes.


The differentiation of the comma, or commas, from parentheses, is the
differentiation of the _purely_ parenthetical from the _slightly_
parenthetical. The purely parenthetical word or expression is wholly
detached from the essential meaning of the language in which it is
found, and properly takes marks of parenthesis as evidence of this
fact; the slightly parenthetical is in grammatical relation with some
word or words in the language in which it appears.

An excellent illustration of such erroneous definitions of a
parenthesis as is noted above, and of a lack of differentiation between
the semicolon and the period, is found in the following sentence, which
is the opening sentence of the preface to a work on the proper use of
words, written, we believe, by one who was formerly a college professor
of English:

  69. The author’s main purpose in this book is to teach precision in
  writing; and of good writing (which, essentially, is clear thinking
  made visible) precision is the point of capital concern.

From our point of view the principal faults of this sentence are the

1. The _and_ relation between the two clauses “and” here connects, is a
strained one. The real relation between them would be better expressed
by a period without the conjunction.

2. The _explanatory_ group of words set off by parentheses is not
a _parenthesis_, and therefore should not be enclosed in marks of
parenthesis. Commas are the proper marks.


The indiscriminate substitution of dashes and parentheses for commas,
which is quite common in some literary periodicals and in some books
by authors of recognized literary ability, greatly weakens the value
of marks; for there can be no differentiation between the marks so
used, and, consequently, the first part of either mark fails to give to
the reader notice of what is to follow. The value of the punctuation
is thus weakened. In some sentences, such use of these marks is not
objectionable; but the necessity of the substitution is not always

The occasional substitution of parentheses for commas, where the use
of semicolons is thus avoided, is desirable; but the occasion for such
use is rare. In the following sentence the use of commas is strictly
correct, but the result is not pleasing:

  70. The following were appointed a committee on organization: John
  Smith, chairman, Henry Jones, and William Brown.

This punctuation seems to throw the four nouns following the colon into
a series. This effect can be avoided by the use of a semicolon after
“chairman”; but this punctuation would require another semicolon after
“Jones,” thus grouping the words as words are grouped in Sentences
7, 7-1, and 7-2. The better punctuation of sentences like this is to
enclose the descriptive word in parentheses, and retain the commas for
the other words:

  70-1. The following were appointed a committee on organization: John
  Smith (chairman), Henry Jones, and William Brown.

It seems surprising that good writers will adopt the punctuation of No.
70, and use it when it tends to obscure the sense. As illustrative of
this point, we give a sentence from the current issue of the _Literary

  71. This new magnet is used for the study of light, the motions
  of electrons, the smallest components of matter, and the minute
  movements in the interior of an atom.

For the sake of clearness, which is a chief object of punctuation,
the sense relations of the things named in this sentence as objects
of study should be shown by the punctuation. As “electrons” are “the
smallest components of matter,” the punctuation should reveal the fact:

  71-1. This new magnet is used for the study of light, the motions
  of electrons (the smallest components of matter), and the minute
  movements in the interior of an atom.

By reserving dashes for the large groups of words which are purely
parenthetical in nature, but are tied to what precedes by a connective,
generally a conjunction or a preposition, we do not violate the
fundamental meaning of either the dash or the marks of parenthesis;
and therefore when we meet either mark its meaning is unmistakable. In
short, we do not make a mark serve an additional and unnecessary use,
and so render it more difficult to interpret as a sign-board.

When we speak of the “fundamental” meaning of a mark, we refer to the
meaning implied in its name, the name, of course, being descriptive of
a feature of the language which is to be pointed out by the mark. The
word _dash_, as has already been said, points out that the writer has
_dashed_ aside, as it were, in his line of thought, and is going to
“parenthesize” something, keeping his thought, however, _grammatically_
connected with what precedes. We violate this principle in the use
of the single dash exemplified in Sentence 33, just as we violate a
fundamental principle in the use of the parentheses in No. 70-1. We
think there is no objection to the former use of the dash; for it
serves a good purpose, and its meaning can hardly be mistaken. The
relation indicated by the comma and dash is suggested before the mark
is reached, as, in Sentence 33, details are suggested by the words
“three original parties.”

The indiscriminate use of dashes and parentheses for commas has
become quite common; but, after a very careful study of language thus
punctuated, we can find no justification or excuse for such usage.
It may give the writer a choice of marks, but it gives no light to
the reader. It is too much like using either red or yellow for a
danger-signal when red better answers the purpose.

Although the differentiation between commas and parentheses is at times
somewhat difficult, generally it is very easy. The following sentences
will illustrate common uses of the marks where the shades of meaning
are nice, but unmistakable:

  72. Ian Maclaren (Dr. John Watson) wrote “Beside the Bonnie Briar

  73. Ian Maclaren, a noted Scotch minister (Dr. John Watson), is the
  author of “Beside the Bonnie Briar Bush.”

  74. Ian Maclaren (the pen-name of Dr. John Watson) is unmistakably

In No. 72 “Dr. John Watson” is purely parenthetical matter, used to
give the reader some information about the _name_ of the man already
mentioned. As we have been talking about the man, the information about
his name is like an aside,—that is, it is purely parenthetical. This
matter may be omitted without affecting the sense of the language in
any manner; and, as it is purely parenthetical, it properly takes the
marks of parenthesis.

In No. 73 we have both an explanatory group of words and a parenthesis.
The first is equivalent to “who is a noted Scotch minister.” In
either form it is an essential part of the information the writer
wishes to convey. We have already defined such a group as _slightly
parenthetical_, to be set off by commas.

No. 74 is a particularly distractive sentence, although its punctuation
may be technically correct. The first picture given in this sentence to
the reader is that of a man; the next one, given by the parenthesis, is
that of a name. A third thought follows; and this thought is applicable
to either a _man_ or a _name_. As “Watson” is an Irish name, the
question may arise in reading No. 74 whether the writer wishes to say
“Ian Maclaren,” the _man_, is Scotch, or “Ian Maclaren,” the _name_, is

There is a conventional way of writing a name of this kind to show
that the name is referred to merely as a word. This is done by the use
of italics or quotation-marks; and therefore to avoid the distractive
effect of No. 74, it may be written thus:

  74-1. _Ian Maclaren_ (the pen-name of Dr. John Watson) is
  unmistakably Scotch.

Here the italics notify the reader that he is to consider the name,
not the person named; and this name is a Scotch word.

Like notice would be given by the use of quotation-marks in place of
the italics.

The distractive effect caused by producing two impressions through a
wrong use of marks of parenthesis, should be avoided.


1. I am a lady, and a coward.

2. I am a lady and—a coward.

  In No. 1 the comma makes “a coward” an afterthought. In No. 2 the
  dash shows a hesitancy on the part of the writer about calling
  herself, or one (a lady) of her sex, a coward. The shade of meaning
  between the two sentences is clearly marked.

3. On these occasions I have been grateful to the happy accident, or
design, that made me a participant in such scenes.

4. On these occasions I have been grateful to the happy accident—or
design?—that made me a participant in such scenes.

  In No. 3 the commas indicate an afterthought; in No. 4 the writer
  makes an aside, as if asking someone a question, thus requiring a
  dash to show the change in thought.

5. The Syracuse (New York) _Journal_ asserts that the spoilsman must go.

6. The following sentence contains three nouns: Do (1) good by (2)
stealth, and blush to find it (3) fame.

7. She walked away, a very straight, beautiful—yes, certainly
beautiful—young figure, and disappeared.

8. Crime is merely an unrebuked temptation, a natural instinct running
at large,—a very natural thing.

  In No. 8 the second group is a mere appositive or definition of the
  first; but the third group is a restatement of the thought implied in
  the two preceding groups. The comma shows the relation; the dash does
  the grouping.

9. The examination embraces spelling, punctuation, the use of capital
letters, grammar, arithmetic, geography (descriptive and physical),
languages, etc.

10. If you will take my advice, you will throw that letter into the
fire. (A bright one was blazing on the hearth.) If you keep it, it will
probably tempt you into an outlay beyond your means.

11. His voice and manner,—the manner of the old Oxford scholar of the
best type, and, alas! of a bygone generation, with its indescribable
indication of cultured and lettered ease,—were singularly attractive.

12. Measure as we may the progress of the world,—materially, in the
advantages of steam, electricity, and other mechanical appliances;
sociologically, in the great improvements in the conditions of life;
intellectually, in the diffusion of education; morally, in a possibly
higher standard of ethics,—there is no one measure which can compare
with the decrease of physical suffering in man, woman, and child when
stricken by disease or accident.

  The consideration of the use of the dash in No. 12 does not strictly
  fall in this chapter; and yet its position gives what follows it the
  appearance of an aside with grammatical connection (apposition) with
  what precedes. “As we may” is equivalent to “in any manner”; and the
  matter set off by dashes gives details of “in any manner,” or, more
  strictly, of “measure in any manner.”

  Let us here note, parenthetically, that if “as we may” were changed
  to “as we can,” these words would be set off by commas, being simply
  an explanatory group, and not a restrictive group, as they are now,
  being equivalent to “in whatever way.”

13. Shooting stars are only little masses of matter,—bits of rock
or metal, or cloudlets of dust and gas,—which are flying unresisted
through space, just as planets and comets do, in paths which, within
the limits of our solar system, are controlled by the attraction of the

  Why not use marks of parentheses in No. 13, instead of dashes? The
  reason lies in the meaning of the former marks. If “matter” or
  “little masses of matter” were an obscure term requiring explanation,
  the explanatory term would properly take the form of a parenthesis;
  but we have here a mere apposition, used by way of example or
  illustration, as we might use the words apples and pears to explain
  what we mean by the word fruit in a sentence.

14. That child of so many prayers, who was to bear the significant name
of John (Jehochanan, “the Lord is gracious”) was to be the source of
joy and gladness to a far wider circle than that of the family.

15. Such scanty record was kept of Sebastian Cabot’s voyages of 1497
and 1498 that we cannot tell what land the Cabots first saw,—whether it
was the bleak coast of Northern Labrador, or some point as far South as
Cape Breton.

15-1. Such scanty record was kept of Sebastian Cabot’s voyages of 1497
and 1498 that we cannot tell what land the Cabots first saw; whether it
was the bleak coast of Northern Labrador, or some point as far South as
Cape Breton, is still a matter of dispute.

  The differentiation between the comma in No. 15 (here aided by a
  dash) and the semicolon in No. 15-1, is very plain; and each mark,
  when reached, unmistakably notifies the reader what relation exists
  between what precedes and what follows it.

  When one is reading these sentences aloud, each mark determines the
  voice-inflection that will convey the meaning to the listener.

16. An ellipsis or omission of words is found in all kinds of
composition. (Remarks _d_ and _i_.)

17. When a quotation is short, and closely connected with the words
preceding it, a comma between the parts is sufficient.—See page 108.

18. Capitalize the exclamations “O” and “Oh” (see chap. iii, sec. 6).

19. In resolutions, italicize the word “_Resolved_,” but not the word
“Whereas.” (See chap. iv, sec. 36.)

  The above four examples show a variety of treatment of reference
  matter (real or apparent) that is perplexing, not only because of the
  sources of the examples, but because the same is found many times in
  the books from which the examples are taken. Nos. 16 and 17 are from
  Mr. Wilson’s work, and Nos. 18 and 19 are from “A Manual for Writers.”

  No. 16 is one of a number of examples to be punctuated according to
  a preceding rule and the “Remarks” under such rule. (The punctuation
  of No. 16 is to follow “Remarks _d_ and _i_,” which require commas
  before and after “or omission.”) Thus “Remarks _d_ and _i_” above is
  purely parenthetical matter in its relation to the language of the
  example. As it explains no word or group of words within the example
  it is treated as an independent sentence, and is therefore properly

  No. 17 is a “Remark” under a general rule. “See page 108” is a part
  of this “Remark.” Instead of condensing the information found on page
  108 and adding it to what precedes, in the example such information,
  additional to and not explanatory of what precedes it, takes the
  form of a sentence,—“See page 108.” It has no reference by way of
  explanation to what precedes, but stands for an additional sentence.
  It also belongs in another paragraph; and this fact is shown by the
  dash, the use of which here is purely conventional punctuation.

  We do not understand why the references in Nos. 18 and 19 should not
  be treated alike. We think No. 19 is correct, except that “Resolved”
  should not here be italicized. It is properly italicized in a
  resolution, while “Whereas” in a resolution should be written with a
  capital and small-capital letters.

  NOTE.—We do not think that “oh” is often written with a
  capital, except when it begins a sentence.

20. None of the ills from which England is at present suffering are due
to democracy or to freedom, but to inherited conditions and traditions
which British democracy (one of the finest and most devoted bodies of
men and women in the world) has been working manfully to throw off.
These go back to the days—not yet wholly past—of British Imperialism
and paternalism.

  The above example is a good illustration of the improper use of both
  the dash and the marks of parenthesis. The group of words enclosed in
  parenthesis is an appositive of “British democracy,” appositional in
  form and adjectival in meaning. The group of words set off by dashes
  is adjectival in both form and meaning. Each group is explanatory,
  not restrictive; and therefore, according to the principles we have
  discussed herein, each should be set off by commas.




When two or more adjectives come before a noun, and are not connected
by a conjunction, the meaning to be conveyed determines the punctuation:

  75. This is a large wild grape.

  75-1. This is a large, wild grape.

The punctuation is correct in each of the above sentences; but the two
sentences do not mean the same.

Sentence No. 75 says that the grape is a large one in the class of
_wild grapes_, confining the comparison to wild grapes.

Sentence No. 75-1 says that the grape is large and is wild. It is large
in comparison with all kinds of grapes.

In No. 75 we give the language its natural meaning. In No. 75-1 we use
a comma to show that the natural meaning is not the meaning we wish to
convey; we disconnect “large” from “wild grape,” as, in Sentence 1-1,
we disconnected words standing in an _apparent_ relation which was not
the _real_ relation.

Other examples at the end of this chapter will further illustrate the


We have already seen that nouns standing together require some mark
between them if their apparent relation is not their real relation.
This principle was illustrated especially in Sentence 8-1.

The so-called double object furnishes an apparent exception to the
principle. The relation, however, between such words is as regular as
the relation between an adjective and a noun when the former precedes
the latter. Thus the following sentence requires no mark between the
nouns constituting a so-called double object:

  76. They elected John Smith president.

A similar relation is seen when the first noun in a sentence like the
above is followed by an adjective. The relation is regular, and calls
for no mark:

  76-1. They called John Smith wise.

In some cases the relation may be more idiomatic than regular, the
mark being omitted because there is no real need for its use. The next
sentence exhibits such relationship:

  77. I myself will undertake the work.


When a subject is composed of two or more words, and these words do
not readily group themselves, a comma may be helpful to group them
as a subject. This failure of words to fall readily into a group is
generally due to one of three causes: the subject may be somewhat long
and contain marks of punctuation, or it may end with a word that seems
itself to sustain grammatical and sense relation with the word or words
following it, or it may end with a verb. In either of such cases the
comma serves to show the end of the subject; and its use is therefore
helpful punctuation:

  78. Whatever is, is right.

  79. He that sees a building as a common spectator, contents himself
  with speaking of it in the most general terms.

The use of the comma after “spectator” simply warns the reader that
“the spectator contents himself” is not the meaning of the language
at this point. The comma disconnects “spectator” and “contents,” just
as the comma disconnects certain words in Sentence 1-1. Thus the
punctuation of this sentence depends upon the fundamental principle of
_grouping_ and _disjunction_.

This principle also explains the value of a comma at the end of several
subject-nouns not connected by a conjunction:

  80. Ease, indulgence, luxury, sloth, are the sources of misery.

With the conjunction “and” before “sloth,” the comma after “sloth”
would not be needed, as “and” and the comma before it would give notice
of the ending of the group.

The value of a comma in No. 79 is unmistakable; but is such punctuation
helpful when the subject clearly ends itself, either because of its
manifest completeness or because there is no apparent relation between
the last word of the subject and the predicate verb? Probably a
definite and satisfactory answer to this question cannot be given, for
the mental capacity and alertness of the reader are involved.


Perhaps more obscurity in language, often resulting in hurtful
misunderstandings and expensive litigation, grows out of doubtful
modifiers than out of any other source of bad construction. A knowledge
of punctuation here serves a very useful purpose, not always by putting
the proper mark in the proper place, but generally by showing the
writer the necessity of recasting his sentence, thus removing the
cause of any possible wrong interpretation. Punctuation points out the
danger; the writer removes it.

What did Smith write according to the wording and punctuation of the
following sentence?

  81. Smith wrote part of the preface and Chapter I.

It says clearly that Smith wrote _part_ of the preface and _part_ of
Chapter I.

And what does the next sentence say he wrote?

  81-1. Smith wrote part of the preface, and Chapter I.

It says that Smith wrote _part_ of the preface, and _all_ of Chapter I.

It is not wise to make the meaning of language, especially in important
matters, depend upon a mode of punctuation little understood. The
wise way is to recast the language. Legal phraseology grew out of the
difficulty of so writing as to make one’s meaning unmistakable; but it
went to the extreme in verbiage, and has become distasteful even to
lawyers. Such verbiage is not necessary to express one’s meaning.

Our next sentence is particularly informing to us in our efforts to
establish two or three fundamental principles governing the use of all

  82. Life may be held so pure, so receptive to all high influence,
  so noble in its aspirations, as to furnish the right conditions for
  these finer promptings; or it may so degenerate into the material,
  the selfish, the self-centered, as to become deaf and blind and
  unresponsive to them.

The comma after “aspirations” is used to disconnect the two groups
of words between which it stands, thus breaking up an apparent group
(so noble in its aspirations as to furnish the right conditions for
these finer promptings), and forming out of it two groups, each of
which begins with “so,” each group having for its complement the group
beginning with “as.”

We perhaps may not say that the comma after “aspirations” at once gives
notice of the relation of each of the preceding groups to what follows;
but, when the comma cuts “as” off from the preceding “so,” it shows
that “as” introduces a group completing each of the preceding groups
introduced by “so.” This disconnection between the last two groups
compels the reader to make the new grouping.

In the second of the larger groups of this sentence occurs a somewhat
similar grouping made by “so—as.” Here the comma is used, just as
it is used in Sentence 80, to mark the end of the first part of the
group. Its use in both clauses may be said to follow the punctuation
diagrammatically exhibited in Sentence 3-2. In No. 82 the reader
suspends the thought partially expressed by “so pure” until he
reaches the complementary group of words beginning with “as.” This
process of suspending the thought occurs in this clause after each
group introduced by “so.” The process, instead of being difficult, is
well-nigh intuitive, for “so” naturally raises the expectation of
the correlative “as,” which introduces the complement of each group
introduced by “so.”

Let us also note the last grouping in this sentence, where “to them” is
tied to each of the three preceding adjectives by the grouping _ands_,
thus requiring no mark after the last adjective.


Probably at no other point in punctuation do writers obscure the
meaning of language so much as in dealing with _restrictive_ and
_explanatory_ groups of words. We dealt with the subject in Chapter
III, but passed over one feature of it,—namely, the intermediate
restrictive group, or a restrictive group coming between two other
groups closely tied together in sense, and seemingly requiring the
suspension of the intermediate group by commas.

Before dealing with these groups, let us consider an interesting
sentence, from very high authority, which tends to confirm our
statement concerning the importance of properly punctuating restrictive
and explanatory modifiers. The sentence is from a passage in Dean
Alford’s notable book, “A Plea for the Queen’s English,” in which
passage the Dean severely scolds compositors for their bad punctuation,
particularly for the insertion of commas “without the slightest

  83. I have some satisfaction in reflecting, that, in the course
  of editing the Greek text of the New Testament, I believe I have
  destroyed more than a thousand commas, which prevented the text being
  properly understood.

Mr. De Vinne quotes the passage in which this sentence appears; and
he does so in apparent approval of Dean Alford’s condemnation of the
misuse of commas. Mr. De Vinne makes a single comment upon the passage,
in which he says “the last comma in this extract is superfluous.” The
reference is to the comma before “which.”

The comma before “which” is not simply “superfluous”: it is wrong. It
is _wrong_ because it changes the meaning of the language by making
the writer say, apparently, that he destroyed _all_ the commas in the
text, while he, unquestionably, intended to say he destroyed more than
a thousand _offending_ commas, that is, commas _that_ (which) _obscured
the text_.

The superfluous comma in the above sentence is, in our opinion,
the one after “reflecting.” This comma is used in accordance with
the convention of Dean Alford’s day, and follows a rule of “close”

But the punctuation is very bad at another point; and, we venture to
say, in spite of the great distinction of its author as an English
scholar, the language at this point is not the “Queen’s English.”
Omitting the intermediate and final groups of words, and the
superfluous comma, the sentence will read as follows:

  83-1. I have some satisfaction in reflecting that I believe I have
  destroyed more than a thousand commas.

“Satisfaction in reflecting _that I believe_,” is, to say the least,
a curious satisfaction. This is not the meaning the writer wished to

The obvious error cannot be mended by setting “I believe” off with
commas, for this would simply throw doubt upon the statement which
follows (I have destroyed), which is a positive statement, needing no
qualification. The only doubtful assertion in the sentence is as to
the _number_ of commas destroyed. The evident meaning of the language
is, that the number of commas destroyed is _probably_ (I believe) more
than a thousand. To be sure, “probably” and “I believe” are not exactly
equivalent terms; but the word _probably_ here serves to show how “I
believe” is used. We set it off by commas because of its slightly
parenthetical character.

The entire sentence should be written thus:

  83-2. I have some satisfaction in reflecting that, in the course of
  editing the Greek text of the New Testament, I have destroyed, I
  believe, more than a thousand commas which prevented the text being
  properly understood.

The absence of a comma before the _adjective_ group of words
beginning with “which,” tells the reader that such adjective group is
_restrictive_, thus confining the destruction to _harmful_ commas.

Let us turn aside again to ask why, in the sentence above and
beginning with “The evident,” “probably” takes no commas, while a
similar expression (I believe) in No. 83-2 requires them. “Probably”
here requires no commas because it coalesces with “more”; while “I
believe” does not do so, but makes a decided break in the smoothness
of the sentence. The latter expression is like an aside, thus becoming
slightly parenthetical. The use of commas with “probably” would make
“probably” more emphatic, because the pauses thus indicated would call
special attention to it. Such use is good punctuation.

We will now turn to a restrictive group of words that comes between
two other groups closely connected in meaning.

Mr. Wilson treats this subject at length, but, we think, in an
unsatisfactory way. We find in the wording of one of his rules an
illustration of this mode of punctuation which seems more informing
than his discussion of the subject. As we do not desire to consider the
subject-matter of Mr. Wilson’s rule, we make up a sentence modeled upon
its language:

  84. When books, that have been thoroughly examined and unqualifiedly
  approved by a board of college professors, are recommended by a
  teacher, her pupils should not refuse to read them.

The adjective group of words following “books” is restrictive. It is
perhaps made more clearly so by the use of a pronoun (that) formerly
used, in the place of _who_ or _which_, to introduce a _restrictive_
adjective in the form of a pronominal group of words.

If “which” be substituted for “that” in this sentence, the restrictive
character of the group may not be so readily apparent; but this would
not change the punctuation recommended by Mr. Wilson. Let us deal with
the sentence in this form:

  84-1. When books, which have been thoroughly examined and
  unqualifiedly approved by a board of college professors, are
  recommended by a teacher, her pupils should not refuse to read them.

If it is deemed helpful punctuation to set off by commas the group
of words between “books” and “are,” in order to show clearly the
dependence of “books” upon “are recommended,” then commas are
required. If, on the other hand, we wish to show by the punctuation
that the group of words following “books” is restrictive, we must
omit the comma after “books.” Thus, apparently, we must here make a
choice between two modes of punctuation. As failure to distinguish by
punctuation the character of a qualifier,—that is, whether restrictive
or explanatory,—not infrequently totally obscures the sense, we do not
quite like a rule that calls for a comma before a restrictive group of

The sentence may be written without a comma after “books,” but with one
after “professors.” The use of the latter would follow the punctuation
of No. 79. This mode of punctuation is, after all, only a choice
between two modes of punctuation. The better way is to recast all such
sentences. No. 84 may be recast in several ways; but it is difficult,
without introducing a new word, clearly to express the fact that _one
kind_ of books is meant, as shown in the restrictive adjective in both
Nos. 84 and 84-1.

We suggest the following form for the recast sentence:

  84-2. When _certain_ books have been thoroughly examined and
  unqualifiedly approved by a board of college professors, and have
  been recommended by a teacher, her pupils should not refuse to read

Every restrictive word or group of words confines the meaning of the
word or words so modified to a _certain_ thing or _certain_ things.
The man _who was here yesterday_ means a _certain_ man, and means so
because of the restrictive group of words following “man”; but “the
man, _who was here yesterday_,” is not so designated by the same group
of words set off by commas. These points were considered in another
place in this book.


The punctuation of intermediate groups of words gives rise to a
peculiar phraseology, which needs explanation. We have seen that the
intermediate group is set off by commas to show that the sense is
suspended at the point where the first comma is placed, to be continued
by connection with what follows the complementary comma. We illustrated
this process diagrammatically in Sentence 4-3 by actually suspending on
the printed page the intermediate group.

We do not hesitate to use commas in the following sentence:

  85. His success was attained, not by ability and enterprise, but by
  friendly assistance.

If we suspend or omit the intermediate group in the above we obtain a
result which is not a good sentence:

  85-1. His success was attained but by friendly assistance.

We can say of such language as that of No. 85 only that it is
_idiomatic_, thus justifying it as we justify the grammatical solecism
“_than whom_.”

Mr. Wilson makes an exception to this mode of punctuation that is very
perplexing; and it is probably because of this that few, if any, other
writers refer to or deal with it.

We shall not attempt to discuss Mr. Wilson’s rule, but let us consider
one of his examples:

  86. It _is not_ from wild beasts, but from untamed passions, that the
  greatest evils arise to human society.

We think the omission of a comma after “is,” thus suspending the
negative group beginning with “not,” is justified, if at all, by the
fact that such a sentence is usually read without a pause after the
verb; in other words, the language thus readily groups itself, and
shows the meaning and the force of the negative intermediate group.

Not a few good writers use a comma before “not” in sentences like No.

If one or more words intervene between the verb and the negative
particle, the parts of the sentence do not coalesce, and the comma is

  87. He came not to teach, but to be taught.

  87-1. He came here, not to teach, but to be taught.

If we change the form of No. 87, we may perhaps see somewhat more
clearly why this grouping is more natural than would be a grouping made
by a comma after the verb (came):

  87-2. He did not come to teach, but to be taught.

No. 87-2 seems to show that the grouping made by the comma in No. 87 is
a natural grouping.

In spite of Mr. Wilson’s rule, and of our reasoning to explain it,
we believe that each mode of punctuating the following sentence is
correct, each depending upon where the emphasis is to be laid:

  88. The book’s primary aim is, not to convince the skeptic, but to
  solve the difficulties of the best-thinking men.

  88-1. The book’s primary aim is not to convince the skeptic, but to
  solve the difficulties of the best-thinking men.

In No. 88 the emphasis is placed upon “to solve the difficulties,”
the preceding group being thrown in for contrast, thus heightening the
effect of the statement made in the next group of words.

In No. 88-1 the emphasis falls upon “not to convince the skeptic,”
just as it would if written, “It is not the book’s aim to convince the

Let us note carefully that the mode of punctuation in each of the two
preceding sentences would grow out of the context, which would clearly
tell where the emphasis was to be laid.

We have dwelt upon this punctuation in order to emphasize a purpose of
punctuation too often overlooked.

O and OH

The Century Dictionary says there is no difference between _O_ and _oh_
except that of their present spelling. The New Standard and Webster’s
New International do not go so far, but they point out the difference
observed by most good writers.

_O_ is generally used only in direct address; and, as the name of the
person or thing addressed immediately follows it, it takes no mark of
punctuation after it. An exclamation-point may follow the group of
words introduced by _O_. Its vocative character is not lost when the
person or thing addressed is not named, for it may be understood.

_O_ is used more in poetry than in prose.

_O_ is used in an ejaculatory expression when followed by _for_ or
_that_. It does not here seem to lose its vocative character, although
the name of the thing or person addressed may not readily be supplied.

_O_ is sometimes used colloquially in expressions like “O my!” “O
dear!” etc.

_Oh_ is purely ejaculatory, and takes a comma or an exclamation-point
immediately after it; but the latter mark may follow the group of words
beginning with _oh_, with a comma before _oh_.

_O_ is always written with a capital, but _oh_ takes a capital only
when beginning a sentence. Some writers prefer always to write _oh_
with a capital.


1. Yesterday was my last bad day, but I remember the preceding bad days.

2. He played a prominent part in Congress during the last, bad days of
the period of Reconstruction.

3. Cultivation is a fitting object to be attained by education,
particularly in a country, like ours, of busy, practical people.

4. For this stream of apt illustrations Macaulay was indebted to his
extraordinary memory, and his rapid eye for contrasts and analogies.

5. The so-called revolutions of Holland, England, and America, are all
links of one chain.

6. A man who is sensitive, quick in his responses, loyal to his
convictions, and strong in his feelings, is capable of a kind of public
service that the phlegmatic, unresponsive, insensitive sort of man
cannot render.

7. Much of this work was written, and some of it was printed, years ago.

8. We call a thing a blessing because it happens to fit our desires,
or, at least, our ideas of what a blessing ought to be.

9. Many suns may set, and many dark nights may cover the earth with
clouds, before the truth is ripened into fruitage.

10. These, and a hundred others which will occur to everyone, are
marked instances of adaptation to environment.

11. His first problem is the growth of great fortunes, and the
collocation of wealth and poverty in large cities.

12. They laud the commission’s report, and exult in its conclusions as
the final vindication of their own motives and methods.

13. We have learned, or ought to have learned by this time, that the
use of a mark of punctuation often depends wholly upon the sense of the
language, and not upon grammatical construction.

14. Untrammeled physical motions may here perfectly express the
feelings that elsewhere have to stay unexpressed, or be, at best,
imperfectly expressed by a trammeled tongue.

15. A tiny owl with a queer little voice called continually, not only
after nightfall, but in the bright afternoon.

16. His speech was noteworthy, not for its eloquence, but because of
the effect it produced upon the public.

17. The secret of life is, not to do what one likes, but to try to like
that which one has to do; and one does come to like it in time.

18. Mortality; the insane, feeble-minded, deaf and dumb, and blind;
crime, pauperism, and benevolence; education; churches; foreign-born
population; and manufacturers, are the subjects of his report.

19. Elijah is not the only one who has heard in the wilderness a still,
small voice.

20. A holy war—oh, the irony of the appellation!—means the
legitimatizing of slaughter, rapine, and plunder.



Many uses of marks seem to be based solely upon convention, or
arbitrary custom. Back of this convention there may be, in many cases,
reason for the punctuation; but, more frequently, there seems to be no

It is not always worth while carefully to attempt to distinguish
between reason and convention; but it is quite important to know what
is the best, or, at least, what is good, conventional usage, and to
follow it in one’s writing. We think it reasonable to call _good_ only
such conventional punctuation as is found in the work of writers,
and of expert editors of copy, who use marks with a fair degree of
consistency, and do not often violate the fundamental principles of
punctuation already discussed herein. The punctuation found in most
weekly and monthly periodicals is very poor, and is often inferior
to that of daily newspapers. In a very few magazines (it would be
difficult to name a half dozen, either American or European), and
in a considerable number of daily newspapers, the use of marks is
discriminating and helpful; in most of our periodical literature the
use of marks is so distractive as to make the presence of any mark
other than the end-marks of doubtful value, at least to readers not
familiar with the meanings of most of the marks of punctuation.


1. A period or any other mark, except an interrogation-point, is not
often used after a display line in the title-page of a book. This
practice is well-nigh universal in book-work, and almost equally so in

2. A period is generally placed after the letter or the number
indicating a division in enumerations. Periods are so used after the
figures 1 and 2 numbering this and the preceding paragraph.

If the divisions have subdivisions, and the subdivisions are further
subdivided, it is helpful to the reader if a good conventional style
is followed. In case of four divisions and subdivisions, a good
conventional style is as follows:

The capital letters (A, B, C, etc.) mark the main divisions of the

The Roman capital numerals (I, II, III, IV, etc.) mark the subdivision
of A, B, C, etc.

The Arabic figures (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) mark the subdivision of I, II,
III, etc.

The small or lower-case letters (a, b, c, etc.) mark the subdivision of
1, 2, 3, etc. The italic letters are generally used.

If there is only a single enumeration, the Arabic figures (1, 2, 3,
etc.) are used.

If there are one enumeration and one subdivision, the Arabic figures
and the lower-case letters are used.

If one or more of the first divisions are subdivided, and one or more
of such subdivisions are subdivided, the Roman numerals, the Arabic
figures, and the lower-case letters are used.

The enumerating letters (A, B, etc.) of the first, or main, divisions
are indented the space of the usual paragraph; the subdivisions of the
first divisions are so far indented that their enumerating letters or
figures are in alignment with the first letter of the first word under
the division above. This mode of indention is continued with the next
subdivisions, thus putting the enumerating letters or figures of the
respective divisions or subdivisions in perpendicular alignment. This
mode of enumeration and indention can be illustrated diagrammatically:


  A. The capital letters (A, B, C, etc.) will mark the main divisions
  of the subject.

  I. The Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.) will mark the subdivisions
  of A, B, C, etc.

  1. The Arabic figures (1, 2, 3, etc.) will mark the subdivisions of
  I, II, III, etc.

  _a._ The italic lower-case letters (_a_, _b_, _c_, etc.) will mark
  the subdivisions of 1, 2, 3, etc.

  B. Here follows the second main division, its enumerating letter (B)
  being in perpendicular alignment with “A,” above.

This mode of indention and alignment is not observed unless the
divisions and subdivisions are somewhat close together; for, otherwise,
the alignment of the enumerating letters or figures would not be
apparent to the eye. It is particularly useful in the preparation of a

An extra indention of the second and following lines of each
subdivision helps to make clear the alignment of the enumerating
letters and figures. This is particularly desirable in type-written
manuscript. In book-work the lines are often too short to permit so
great indention, and therefore the letters and figures are indented the
usual paragraph space.

A half-parenthesis is sometimes used with _a_, _b_, _c_, etc., as
the half-bracket is used in dramatic composition. This is the German
style. We do not know what is gained by it, unless it is used for an
additional subdivision.

Some punctuators enclose in parentheses figures and lower-case letters
when used before paragraph-enumerations. Generally, such usage is
condemned by the meanings of the marks, and serves no useful purpose.
Marks of parenthesis are properly used to enclose figures and letters
enumerating particulars within the limits of a sentence or a paragraph.
If one or more of the particulars are composed of two or more
sentences, each of the particulars should be put in paragraph form, in
order clearly to group the parts of each particular.

  NOTE.—It is hardly proper to designate as a paragraph
  that which is a part of a sentence; and we therefore use the term
  “paragraph form” to designate a group of words that is a part of a
  sentence, and is yet put in the form of a paragraph, and is numbered
  as a particular.

As a rule, each enumerating group in paragraph form is composed of one
or more sentences; and thus each enumerating figure or letter becomes
a part of a paragraph group, and therefore loses its parenthetical
nature. If each paragraph group is composed of a single group of
words constituting only a phrase or a sentence, it may be followed
conventionally by a semicolon, and thus give apparent justification for
the use of parentheses enclosing the enumerating figures or letters.
The following example will illustrate the point:

  90. There are three objections to buying very cheap editions of
  standard uncopyrighted books:

  (1) The text is almost always inaccurate;

  (2) The punctuation is so poor that, often, the meaning of the
  language is entirely changed;

  (3) The printing is generally so poor as to injure the eyes of the

To divide paragraph groups by semicolons is so obviously inconsistent
that little justification can be found for this form of writing. If it
is desirable, for the sake of the ease of reading thereby gained, to
paragraph the particulars, as in the above sentence, the parentheses
and semicolons should not be used:

  90-1. There are three objections to buying very cheap editions of
  standard uncopyrighted books:

  1. The text is almost always inaccurate.

  2. The punctuation is so poor that, often, the meaning of the
  language is entirely changed.

  3. The printing is generally so poor as to injure the eyes of the

The De Vinne Press does not use a period after the letters and figures
noting paragraph enumerations. This is not very common usage; but it
is followed in the Bible and in practically all hymn-books, no period
following the verse-numbers. As it makes a better-looking page, the
style should be adopted. It is not adopted herein, except on pages xi
and xii, for we prefer not to follow a limited conventional usage.

3. A period and a dash are generally used after a side-head. The dash
sets the group of words off from what follows, and thus shows at a
glance that the words are a heading, and not a part of the sentence
following. This style is very common, and is helpful to the reader.
Side-heads are generally put in italics, but often in small capitals or
bold-face type.

The same marks are put after the word “Note” (the word is generally
printed with a capital and small capitals) when used to introduce
remarks (a note) in the text.

4. The period and dash are used before the name of the author or the
title of the work following a quotation when the name of the author or
the work begins on the last line. If such name is dropped below the
last line of type, the dash alone is used before the name.

5. The period is used to indicate abbreviations. (See Chapter XIII.)

6. The period is used by some printing-offices, notably The Riverside
Press, between the figures expressing the time of day:

  91. The train arrives at 6.20 P. M.

As this makes the “20” look like a decimal, the style is not to be

7. The period is used to indicate decimals.

  NOTE.—Quite contrary to the statement made in not a few
  school text-books, a cipher standing alone frequently precedes the
  decimal point, and is useful when it will prevent an error that is
  especially to be guarded against,—for example, in a physician’s
  prescription. It is easy to read “.1 gm.” as _one_ gram; but “0.1
  gm.” is quite unmistakable, even with a faint mark for the decimal
  sign (period), because the spacing between the figures serves to show
  that a period belongs there.


The conventional uses of the colon are not numerous. The following are
the principal ones:

1. Between figures expressing the time of day in hours and minutes;
but, as stated above, the period is used by some good printing-houses:

  92. The train arrives at 6:20 P. M.

2. Between the name of a publisher and the place of publication,
especially in title-pages and in book titles:

  93. New York: The Macmillan Company.

3. After the salutatory phrase at the beginning of a letter, if not on
the first line of the letter:

  94. Dear Sir:

  Your letter of the 21st ultimo is at hand.

When the salutatory phrase is put on the first line of the text of the
letter, a comma and a dash is the usual punctuation:

  94-1. Dear Mr. Smith,—Your letter of the 25th ultimo is at hand.

4. After the salutatory phrase used by a speaker in addressing the
chairman or the audience.

5. Many good punctuators use a dash with a colon when the colon is
at the end of a paragraph. As the salutatory phrase in No. 94 is a
paragraph, a dash would follow the colon. This is the style of The
Riverside Press. We followed it in the first edition of this work. The
combination is not pleasing to the eye, and therefore we do not now use
the two marks together.

6. It cannot be denied that the use of the colon after different forms
of the verb “to be,” and preceding details, is good _conventional_
punctuation. We think it exceedingly bad punctuation; for it separates
words (the verb and its predicate) that are in the closest grammatical
relation, and, generally, the mark is without apparent purpose.

Our illustrative sentence is from the work of Mr. Teall, who explains
that the colon is used because of the modifiers following the name of
the persons:

  95. Among those present were: John Brown, who made a speech; Adam
  Smith, with his wife and daughter; Charles Jones, etc.

We think no mark is needed after “were.” As indicated elsewhere, if the
particulars are put into paragraph form, thus leaving “were” at the end
of an incomplete line, a dash may be used, simply to act as a sort of
leader for the eye, or as a partial filler of the blank space in the

  95-1. Among those present were—John Brown, who made a speech....

Some good punctuators would use no mark after “were” in No. 95-1.

In No. 95 we give Mr. Teall’s punctuation, which shows a comma before
“etc.” This makes “etc.” stand for a modifier of “Jones”; and this,
in turn, puts three words, with their modifiers, in a series without
a conjunction before the last one. Such grouping is not in the usual
form of grouping, except in language where, as we believe, the proper
relations are overlooked, as they seem to be here.

This apparently doubtful meaning of the comma,— that is, whether it
indicates that “etc.” stands for a modifier, like the preceding ones,
or for additional persons,—may be avoided by using “and” after the
second semicolon, thus making “etc.” stand for a modifier of Jones, or
by the use of a semicolon after “Jones,” thus making “etc.” stand for
an additional group or groups.

In such sentences as No. 95, Mr. Wilson and other writers on
punctuation suggest the use of a comma before the beginning of the
semicolon-divided group. This punctuation might be based upon the use
of a comma at the end of a long subject. The use of the colon is based,
of course, on the ground that some introductory word like _namely_ is


We believe there are only two purely conventional uses of the semicolon:

1. As stated on a preceding page, a book title with a subtitle
introduced by “or,” takes a semicolon before “or” and a comma after it:

  96. Why We Punctuate; or, Reason versus Rule in the Use of Marks.

  2. Before an example or the specifications of particulars. We will
  give Mr. Wilson’s rule for their use. He says:

  97. A semicolon is put before _as_, _viz._, _to wit_, _namely_, _i.
  e._, or _that is_, when they precede an example or a specification of

  NOTE.—The punctuation in the above sentence has a striking
  peculiarity, which may readily deceive even a very careful reader.
  The use of “or” apparently makes _one_ of the particulars enumerated
  the antecedent of “they,” thus requiring the singular pronoun “it,”
  instead of “they,” in the clause that follows. As Mr. Wilson
  would neither make nor overlook such a simple error in grammatical
  construction, we must look more closely for a meaning of the language
  that will justify the use of “they.” Such meaning is found in the
  relation between “_i. e._” and “_that is_.” As “_i. e._” (_id est_)
  is the Latin abbreviation for “_that is_,” the _or_ relation exists
  between only these particulars in the list. The comma before “or”
  follows the punctuation exemplified in Sentence 17. This meaning of
  the language ends the series with “_i. e._”; and the relation between
  the items of the series is the _and_ relation, which requires the
  plural pronoun “they.”

  The use of the conjunction “and” after “namely” would correct
  the fault; but the meaning of the sentence might not be easily
  apprehended by all readers.

  These relations can best be revealed by recasting the language. It
  may be done thus:

  97-1. A semicolon is put before _as_, _viz._, _to wit_, _namely_, and
  _i. e._, or its English unabbreviated equivalent, _that is_, when

  If we attempt to remedy the fault by putting “_that is_” in
  parentheses after “_i. e._,” we take “_that is_” out of the list of
  words enumerated, making it simply an explanation of “_i. e._”

  A confusion in grouping, and consequently in meaning, due to the
  absence of the proper conjunction or the proper mark of punctuation
  at the end of a series, is very common.

This use of the semicolon and a comma is without reason, so far as
we can determine; but it is very firmly fixed conventionally. The
objection to it is, that it makes the semicolon a mark of apposition,
along with the colon, the comma, and the comma and dash; and its use
for such purpose detracts from its more common use of grouping when
the _and_ or _or_ relation exists, whether expressed or understood, as
exemplified in Sentences 7 and 20-1.

Mr. De Vinne uses a comma before such an introductory particle, and a
colon after it; but he makes no reference to the established usage, nor
does he give any reason for such punctuation. The reason is simple:
the particle is slightly parenthetical, thus requiring to be set off
by commas; but the relation between what precedes and what follows is
clearly the _colon_ relation. When particulars are formally enumerated,
this relation requires a colon on one side of the particle; and the
colon will supersede one of the commas. On which side of the particle
does the colon belong?

Although Mr. De Vinne, in his own work, puts the colon _after_ the
particle, the Century Dictionary, which is issued from the De Vinne
Press, puts it _before_ the particle when introducing illustrative
examples. The position of the colon in either place is easily
explained: if after the particle, the particle is more closely
connected with the general term than with the particulars, which
follow the colon; if before the particle, the particle is more closely
connected with the particulars.

These relations will appear more clearly in examples:

  98. The student failed in three studies, namely: spelling, grammar,
  and history.

  98-1. The student failed in three studies: namely, spelling, grammar,
  and history.

If we substitute “by name” for “namely,” the sense relation between
“namely” and “studies,” in one sentence, and between “namely” and
the items following in the other sentence, is unmistakable. We can
therefore put any such particle where it seems best to reveal the

We think “by name” is closely associated with “studies,” just as the
word “named” or “called” would be, if used in the place of “by name.”
This relation therefore requires the colon after the particle.


The mark of interrogation has three uses:

1. It is used after a word or group of words asking a question, whether
or not such word or words indicate by their form that a question is
asked. This usage has already been illustrated. (Page 2.)

2. Enclosed in the proper marks (parentheses, if in the writer’s own
language; brackets, if in quoted language), it is placed at a point in
a sentence to indicate that the writer questions the accuracy of what
immediately precedes it.

This use of the mark of interrogation is not in good taste unless it is
for a serious, and not a frivolous, purpose. A foot-note is, in most
cases, a better means of expression:

  99. He said he was born in 1840(?).

  100. He was asked for an exact statement of his age. He replied: “I
  was born in 1840[?].”

3. It is used by an editor in the margin of a manuscript, or by a
proof-reader in the margin of a proof, to question the accuracy of
a statement or the correctness of the form of language at the point
indicated by the editor or proof-reader. When thus used it is not
necessarily enclosed in other marks.


This point is used in two ways:

1. It is used after a word or group of words to express command,
surprise, or emotion.

2. Enclosed in brackets, it is used in a quotation to express surprise,
irony, or contempt.

  101. Wake up! Something is going wrong!

  102. Oh, how hard my lot[!]

The practice of using two or three exclamation-points together is not
now followed.


When one, for the sake of brevity or otherwise, omits a word, a group
of words, or one or more sentences from a quotation, such omission,
or _ellipsis_, is indicated by either periods or stars. Periods are
generally preferred on the ground that they look better on the printed
page than stars. Unfortunately, the number of periods used for an
ellipsis is not definitely fixed by convention. Some writers and
printers use three, and others use four; we prefer three.

If words are omitted from the end of a sentence, the end-mark of
the sentence, if an exclamation-point or an interrogation-point,
is retained, and follows the three periods. If the end-mark of the
sentence is a period, and one or more sentences following are omitted,
there will be four periods at this point. There will be the same number
if words are omitted from the beginning of a sentence following a
sentence ending with a period.

If stars are used, the closing period is retained.

If one or more paragraphs, or if, in poetry, one or more lines, are
omitted, a full line of periods or stars is used.

A dash or stars are used in the place of letters omitted from a word,
and the dash in place of figures omitted from a number of figures.
Stars were formerly much used for omitted letters.

Examples will illustrate the punctuation under consideration. Our
first example is taken from the current issue of a well-known weekly

  103. Who commissioned them, a minority, a less than minority ...?...
  Some of them are misguided, some of them are blind, most of them are
  ignorant. I would rather pray for them.... They do not tell me what
  they are attempting.

How shall we interpret the marks indicating the three ellipses in the
above sentence?

The first three periods stand for words omitted from the end of an
interrogative sentence, whose end-mark follows such periods.

The second group of three periods indicates an ellipsis of one or more
entire sentences. If they indicated an ellipsis of only a part of the
next sentence, “Some” would not begin with a capital.

The next group of four periods is composed of three periods for the
ellipsis and one period for the end-mark of the sentence.

It should be noted that ellipses from quotations are of only such
matter as can be omitted without affecting the sense of the language

Marks of quotation will include the marks of ellipsis that begin or end
the quoted matter.

The use of stars in the first part of No. 103 will convey no more
definite information than the periods give the reader; but their use in
the second part of the sentence, accompanied by a period, will at once
show that they stand for the ellipsis of one or more sentences:

  103-1. I would rather pray for them. * * * They do not tell me what
  they are attempting.



Quotation-marks are either single or double. The former consist of one
inverted comma and one apostrophe; the latter, of two inverted commas
and two apostrophes.

The double marks are very generally used in this country for a single
quotation; but some writers and some printing-offices follow the
English style of using the single marks.

Quotation-marks are used by a writer to identify as the exact language
of another writer a word or group of words which the first writer uses
within his own language.

They are sometimes used by a writer to enclose a quotation from his own
printed or spoken language. The fact that such quoted matter is his own
language is practically always shown by the text.

If the quoted language contains a quotation, such quotation is
identified by the quotation-marks (single or double) not used for the
main quotation.

If the subordinate quotation begins the main quotation, three marks
(one double and one single) are used at the beginning; if the
subordinate ends the main, three marks are also used at the close.

Illustrations of the three uses above defined are found in the
following examples:

  104. In appreciation of Mrs. George Ripley, Mr. Frothingham says,
  “Theodore Parker made the following entry in his journal: ‘Mrs.
  Ripley gave me a tacit rebuke for not shrieking at wrongs, and spoke
  of the danger of losing our humanity in abstractions.’”

If a quotation consists of two or more paragraphs appearing
_consecutively_ in the work quoted from, quotation-marks are used only
at the beginning of each paragraph and at the end of the last one. If
two or more paragraphs are printed consecutively in the quotation, but
do not appear consecutively in the work quoted from, each paragraph is
identified as a whole by marks at its beginning and end.

If only a part of a sentence or of a paragraph is quoted, and it is
desirable to show this fact, the omitted part or parts are indicated by
periods or stars. If such marks of omission come at the beginning or at
the end of the quoted matter, the marks of quotation are so placed as
to include them.

If the quoted matter is a letter or document with place-and date-lines
preceding it, and with a complimentary closing-line and one or more
signatures following it, each of such lines and names is treated as a
paragraph, and takes its proper marks before or after it, or both.

It is much better practice in printing to put such matter in smaller
type than the type of the main text; or, if in type-written manuscript,
to identify it by less space between its lines than is used between
the lines preceding and following it, or by indenting the lines of the
quotation more than the regular paragraph indention. Quotations thus
identified need no quotation-marks.

It was formerly the practice to put quotation marks at the beginning
of every line of a quotation however long; and occasionally this style
is now followed, especially in legal documents.

The practice in many newspaper offices furnishes, we think, a
satisfactory solution of the problem. When quoted matter is given
close grammatical relation to the text, the marks of quotation are
used before the first word of the quotation and before each line, with
the proper closing marks at the end of the quotation. Such a quotation
should not exceed ten or twelve lines in length. Larger quotations
should be put in smaller type, and without the marks. Even short ones
may be so treated.


A word or group of words is sometimes enclosed in quotation-marks to
give to such word or group of words a meaning somewhat different from
its usual meaning. This use of the marks has a very wide range; and
it is difficult to define the full scope of it. Its significance will
appear in illustrative examples:

  105. A drop-folio is generally used on a page on which a chapter
  begins or on a page containing an illustration extending to its top.

  105-1. A “drop-folio” is a page-number that is put at the bottom of
  the page.

In No. 105-1 “drop-folio” is singled out as an uncommon word, as if
quoted; and this fact is shown by the marks. In No. 105 it is used as
is any other word in the sentence.

  106. He received “big wages,” $1.00 a day.

In No. 106 we put “big wages” in quotation-marks to imply that some one
has used this familiar expression in a boastful way without telling the
whole truth, which is exposed in the small sum that follows.

  107. She was very fond of “five-o’clocks.”

In No. 107 the writer implies that the afternoon teas of society are
frivolous things. This is perhaps a purely conventional use of the
marks, without an underlying reason for the meaning thus given.

In the next sentence the writer groups, by means of the marks, certain
words into a title, which are identified by quotation-marks. Italics
would answer the same purpose; but the former marks are preferred:

  108. This fundamental work might be called, “An Introduction to the
  Study of Literature”; or, “The Elements of Literature.”

The above sentence is quoted from an educational magazine of high
standing, printed by a Press that gives much attention to style. The
use of the semicolon and comma in the sentence is the conventional
style of punctuating compound book-titles, as illustrated in Sentence
96. But the quotation-marks show that this is not a compound title, but
alternative titles. The real meaning would be more clearly expressed by
the use of “either” after “called”; and this shows that the punctuation
is wrong. Either the semicolon and the comma or the quotation-marks
must be omitted. The meaning to be conveyed will determine which marks
to omit.

If the semicolon and comma are not the proper marks here, how shall
we determine what mark, if any, should precede “or”? Simply by the
degree of liability to error in making a wrong combination of words at
this point. The quotation-marks before “or” close the first quotation,
making a complete group of words; and the quotation-marks following
“or” open a new group of words. As there is here no liability on the
part of the reader to make a wrong grouping out of some words that
precede and some that follow “or,” a mark before “or” can serve no
purpose. Each group is bound up in its own marks of quotation, and is a
name; and the two names are alternatives. With this interpretation of
the meaning of the language as determined by the quotation-marks alone,
the sentence would be punctuated as follows:

  108-1. This fundamental work might be called, “An Introduction to the
  Study of Literature” or “The Elements of Literature.”

The use of the comma after “called” in the above sentence is purely
conventional. It is somewhat like the use of the comma before “that”
following “is,” as treated elsewhere. Or, we may say, it is a purely
rhetorical use, as the reading of the somewhat long title seems to
require a pause after “called,” in order to identify the group to
follow. The omission of the comma could not be called poor punctuation.

Quotation-marks are used in the report of a conversation or dialogue
in which the names of the speakers are not printed at the beginning
of their respective remarks, as is done in the printing of a drama.
However, some writers do not use quotation-marks for this purpose, and
none are used in the frequent conversations in the Bible.

If the language of a quotation is broken off by a writer for the
purpose of inserting words not a part of the quotation, each of the
two parts into which the quoted matter is thus broken, is enclosed in

  109. “We shall start,” he said, “at early dawn.”

Words to which special attention is called, otherwise than for
emphasis, are put in quotation-marks:

  110. The words “virile,” “psychological,” “strenuous,” etc., are
  useful words in their proper places, but weak words when out of place.

The titles of books, plays, songs, poems, and the like, when referred
to in one’s text, are put in quotation-marks by some writers and in
italics by others. The former seems to be the more common usage. Mr.
De Vinne says “italic is preferred by bookish men.” Most writers make
an exception to the above rule in the case of the titles of well-known

The same rule applies to periodicals, including transactions and
proceedings issued, at least, quarterly. In most journal offices there
is a well-established convention: the journal puts in italics the
name of another periodical, and in caps and small caps its own name
appearing in its own text.

When the closing marks of quotation follow a word or group of words
that is also followed by another mark of punctuation, the positions
of the two marks are determined by the relation such other mark
of punctuation bears to the quoted matter. If it belongs to, and
is therefore required by, the quoted matter, it goes within the
quotation-marks. The comma and the period always precede the
final quotation-marks, and do so simply because they appear better
thus arranged on the printed page. The semicolon, the colon, the
interrogation-point, and the exclamation-point follow or precede the
closing marks of quotation according to their relation to the quoted
matter. The comma and period also precede marks of reference (superior
figures, stars, etc.) and the degree mark, while the semicolon, colon,
the interrogation-point, and the exclamation-point follow them. On page
3, above, a superior figure follows a colon. It does so because it
refers to the colon, not to what precedes the colon.


1. “Movies” showing war scenes that arouse the martial spirit are
objectionable to all pacifists.

  The above sentence contains two words treated as they are found
  today in practically all periodicals and books using them. The words
  _movies_ and _pacifists_ (also written _pacificists_) are newcomers
  in English, and are not found in any dictionary. Why is the former
  put in quotation-marks and the latter not? It is probably because
  all editors recognize “movies” as a word of doubtful propriety, and
  therefore give it the conventional marks. On the other hand, the
  word “pacifist,” whose meaning is so apparent and whose form is so
  regular, has not been regarded as of doubtful propriety, generally
  recognized as a stranger, and so has been accepted without the
  introduction of the conventional marks of quotation.

3. Portrait of Major-General Henry Dearborn. By Gilbert Stuart.

4. “Our Boatman.” By John La Farge.

  The above legends (inscriptions) appear under two pictures in a
  well-edited current magazine. Why does the title in No. 4 take marks
  of quotation, while that in No. 3 does not?

  Two reasons may be given for the use of the marks in No. 4, while one
  reason is sufficient for their absence in No. 3. “Our Boatman” is the
  title of the painting, and is treated as a quotation, and therefore
  requires the quotation-marks. Secondly, the words “Our Boatman” are
  not used in their literal sense as descriptive of a man who acts as
  our boatman,—that is, the picture is not a photograph of John Smith,
  our boatman, but is an idealization of a man of his class. To give
  the words other than a literal meaning, the marks are used.

  In No. 3 the language is taken in its literal meaning, and even may
  be that of the editor of the magazine, thus requiring no marks.
  Probably no painter would put upon his canvas “A Portrait of John

5. “Justice,” said Webster, “is the great interest of man on earth”;
and Mr. Root laid it down as a rule, when Secretary of State, that we
should not only observe justice in our relations, but that we should be

6. Professor John Finley, in “The French in the Heart of America,”
insists, with pardonable enthusiasm, that we got our finest democratic
ideals from the French settlers in the Mississippi Valley, and that
here was nourished

  a national democracy founded on the equalities, the freedoms, and the
  fraternities of the frontier so vital, so powerful, that it became
  the dominant nationalistic force in a continent-wide republic.



The principal use of brackets is to show that a bracketed word or group
of words in a quotation is inserted by the writer using the quoted
language, and not by the author of such language. Parentheses, on the
other hand, are used by a writer, as we have already seen, to enclose a
parenthetical word or group of words in his own language.

Some examples that furnish apparent exceptions to these general
statements considered as rules, may serve to emphasize the principle of
this punctuation.

The following examples (Nos. 112-115) are taken from the “Style Book”
of the Government Printing-Office.

  NOTE.—We follow in the examples the capitalization and
  punctuation of the original. For this reason we do not use a hyphen
  in writing the quoted title (Style Book), above.

These examples are given in this style-book for the guidance of
type-setters in their work in the Government Printing-Office. They
appear to be extracts from the _Congressional Record_:

  112. Mr. SPEAKER. Is there any objection to the consideration of this
  bill at this time? [After a pause.] There is no objection.

  113. Mr. SPEAKER (after a pause). If no gentleman claims the floor,
  the Clerk will proceed with the reading of the bill.

  114. Mr. HEALD. The gentleman from Kentucky [Mr. SHERLEY]
  stated that he would support the measure.

  115. Mr. HEALD. The gentleman from Kentucky, Col. SHERLEY,
  stated that he would support the measure.

In these examples the names of the persons speaking are so manifestly
inserted by the reporter that they need no identification marks.

In No. 112 three words are inserted within the text by the reporter,
and take brackets for identification as matter inserted in the language
of another.

In No. 113 the same three words, manifestly inserted by the reporter,
take parentheses. They do so because they clearly belong to what
precedes, which is not a part of the text, but is the reporter’s
language. The use of brackets here would be bad punctuation.
The parentheses are used because the words enclosed are purely
_parenthetical_ in their relation to the preceding word, which is the
reporter’s language.

In No. 114 the words “Mr. SHERLEY” are inserted by the
reporter, and therefore take brackets. In No. 115 the words “Col.
SHERLEY” are the language of Mr. Heald, and therefore take the
usual punctuation (commas).

Another apparent exception to the above rule is found in the various
modes of printing stage directions in dramatic composition. As such
directions have no reference to the meaning of the language of the
text, it is desirable, in printing them, to show this fact by their
form. In the main, such directions are either centered lines shorter
than the text, or are indented more than the usual space of the
paragraph. They may be enclosed in brackets or parentheses, and be
printed in either italic or Roman type, or in italics without the
brackets or parentheses.

If a direction precedes, as it does sometimes, the speech to which it
belongs, and is in the opening line of such speech, it necessarily
is enclosed in brackets. If it follows and ends the last line of the
speech, it takes a single bracket at the beginning of the direction. If
it follows, and is put below, the last line, it takes a single bracket,
or is printed in the style of the direction preceding the speech.

Thus we see that the variety of style in printing stage directions
grows out of the fact that they are sometimes identified as stage
directions by their location and the style of type (italic),
and therefore do not necessarily require brackets for further

We shall not take space to illustrate the above varieties of
punctuation. Examples can readily be found in almost any library.

We have dwelt perhaps more at length upon this varied punctuation than
its importance may seem to justify; but, it seems to us, we may see in
it a principle underlying even conventional punctuation.

Our next sentence illustrates a very common use of brackets. In this
sentence we make the first enclosure (_sic_), the second being that of
the writer who made the quotation:

  116. In one of John Smith’s quaint letters to the Royal Council of
  Virginia, sitting in London, he says: “And I humbly entreat you
  hereafter, [_sic_] let us know what we [are to] receive, and not
  stand to the sailors’ courtesy to leave us what they please.”

When inserted in a quotation, the Latin word “_sic_,” meaning _thus_,
signifies that what immediately precedes it is found in the original.
By thus calling attention to it, the writer who makes the quotation
implies that an error exists at this point. Our own insertion of
“_sic_” is meant to say that the comma preceding it is in the original,
and to question its correctness. The position of the comma makes
“hereafter” qualify what precedes, as if it read, “I hereafter entreat
you.” The evident meaning is, “hereafter let us know.”

The words “are to,” enclosed in the next brackets, were inserted by the
writer who quoted from John Smith’s letter.

“Sic” is put in italics because this is the conventional way of
writing most words from a foreign language. The words “are to,” being
a suggested part of the text, are put in the text letter. Words thus
supplied by the translators of the Bible are put in italics, simply
to show their character, as is explained in the preface or elsewhere.
Brackets are not used in the Bible text.

Sometimes a line of poetry is too long for the type-measure in which
the poem is set. If one or more words of such line are carried forward
to make a new and very short line, the space between the full line
above and the full line below such short line may be as wide as the
space between two verses, and thus present a bad effect to the eye. To
avoid this the extra word or words may be put in the line above, if the
space permits, and at its end, with a single bracket at the left to cut
it off from the preceding words in the same line.

It is a common practice in legal and commercial work to enclose in
parentheses Arabic figures corresponding to the preceding number
expressed in words. This practice often gives rise to a mistake that,
when pointed out, is plain enough to anyone:

  117. Pay to John Smith or order twenty-five ($25.00) dollars.

The matter in the parentheses should be simply “25,” to correspond with
what precedes; or the sentence should be written thus:

  117-1. Pay to John Smith or order twenty-five dollars ($25.00).

When a woman signs her name to a letter, especially a letter to a
stranger, and wishes to give other information than the name conveys,
or to indicate how she should be addressed in a reply to her letter,
parentheses are used for the purpose:



If she wishes simply to convey information as to whether she is a
married or an unmarried woman, she uses the proper title, enclosed in
parentheses, before her name:

  119. (Miss) MARY LOUISE BROWN.

  119-1. (Mrs.) MARY LOUISE BROWN.

In Sentences 99, 100, and 102 we saw a purely conventional use
of parentheses and brackets for enclosing interrogation-and
exclamation-points to express doubt and surprise, respectively.


Matter within parentheses or brackets refers to what precedes these
marks, which may be a mark of punctuation, a single word, a group of
words forming part of a sentence, an entire sentence, or two or more

We cannot show by the punctuation how much of the preceding matter is
referred to; but a conventional treatment of the punctuation for this
purpose is helpful, even though such treatment is not uniform.

The enclosed matter either falls between the parts of a sentence or
follows a sentence. When within a sentence the enclosed matter does
not begin with a capital letter, even though a full sentence, unless
the first word is a proper noun; nor does it take a period at its end.
If, however, the language is either interrogative or exclamatory, it
takes the proper mark to show this; and such mark is placed within the
parentheses or brackets.

When the enclosed matter follows a sentence, it may refer to a word
or to a small group of words within such sentence, to all of the
sentence, or to two or more preceding sentences. It is at this point
that a conventional treatment of the subject may be helpful, the
object of such treatment being to show, at a glance, how far the
reference extends. If the enclosed matter refers to the last word of
the sentence, or to a short group of words near the end, it receives
the same treatment given it when wholly within the sentence. If
such enclosed matter refers to a larger part of the sentence than
above described, to the entire sentence, or to two or more preceding
sentences, it is regarded as an independent sentence. As such it is
separated from the preceding sentence by the space usually put between
sentences; it begins with a capital letter; and the proper end-mark is
put within the parentheses, with no mark following outside.

We believe there is only one mark used within parentheses with
reference to a mark outside. The English practice, which is followed by
a number of high-class periodicals in this country, is as follows: if
a comma is required where a parenthesis is to be inserted, a comma is
placed before the first enclosing mark, and is repeated at the end of
the language within the parentheses.

We prefer to use only one mark when required by the text without
reference to the parenthesis, and to put it after the parentheses, thus
more clearly confining the parenthesis to what precedes.

Our illustrative examples will show these points more clearly.


1. The Senator [Davis] may strongly condemn the measure, but I shall
vote for it. [Applause.]

  As the above example is quoted matter, the two interpolated words
  take brackets.

2. [a-b-(c-d)].

  In the above algebraic expression brackets and parentheses are used
  conventionally to group the letters (algebraic symbols) which they
  respectively enclose.


[To himself]

  Indeed an exceedingly gifted man;
  Almost all he says is beyond comprehension.

  [Looks around.]

4. Let every one of us please _his_ neighbor for his good to
edification.—Romans xv, 2.

5. “Yours of the 14th has just arrived, and I hasten to reply to it.

“Here is a list of the six best novels in the English language:

  “Tom Jones. (Fielding.)
  “Tristam Shandy. (Sterne.)
  “David Copperfield. (Dickens.)
  “Henry Esmond. (Thackeray.)
  “The Cloister and the Hearth. (Reade.)
  “The Egoist. (Meredith.)

“I don’t know whether ‘Tristam Shandy’ can strictly be called a novel.
If the rules of your game cut it out, then I would replace it by

  “Kenilworth, (Scott,)

to my mind the most perfect of Scott’s novels.”

  While we have not used quotation-marks with our illustrative
  sentences and examples, practically all of which are quoted, we do so
  with the above examples, in order to exhibit their use.

  The punctuation of this example illustrates the following points:

  1. The use of marks of quotation at the beginning of every paragraph,
  or group of words put in paragraph form, with like closing marks
  after the last line, informs the reader that the paragraphs quoted
  appear consecutively in the original.

  2. The titles of the books named, with one exception, are not
  enclosed in marks of quotation in the original. If they were so
  enclosed, each title in our example would be enclosed in single marks
  of quotation, in addition to the double marks at the beginning.

  3. The name of each novel (Tom Jones, etc.) is treated as a complete
  sentence, and so takes a period after it. The matter following each
  sentence (name of a novel) refers to the entire sentence, thus
  requiring a period within the marks of parenthesis enclosing the name
  of the author.

  4. The treatment of the last-named title (Kenilworth) is somewhat
  unusual. It is put in paragraph form, probably to conform to the
  paragraph form above; but it lacks the usual introduction of
  particulars that calls for the paragraph form.

  The commas before and within the parentheses follow the English
  style. As a comma is required between “Kenilworth” and the
  explanatory group of words following the parenthesis, we should use
  only one, putting it after the marks of parenthesis.

  Those who adopt the English style apparently always use the commas
  when the matter within parentheses or brackets falls within the
  sentence, even though the relation between what follows and what
  precedes the parentheses or brackets does not require a comma. We
  consider such punctuation bad, for it appears to treat the matter
  so enclosed as both _slightly_ and _wholly_ parenthetical. Our next
  example (No. 6), a quotation, illustrates this point.

  5. We do not know why “Tristam Shandy” takes marks of quotation
  (single marks in the example), while the names of the other books
  take none.

6. I permitted myself, [he said,] the prophecy that their prejudices
were destined to vanish.

  While we use a comma, as in the paragraph (No. 5) preceding Example
  6, after parentheses or brackets when required by the language
  outside of the parentheses or brackets, and use no comma unless
  so required, we think the English practice poor punctuation. This
  conventional use of two commas ignores the sense relation between the
  groups of words preceding and following the parentheses or brackets,
  which sense relation may be determined by the presence or the absence
  of a comma.



We shall not attempt to treat the subject of abbreviations exhaustively
or even fully, for it goes beyond the subject of punctuation; but its
importance seems to justify its consideration at some length.

In the best printing-offices, if their expert copy-readers prepare
the manuscript, few abbreviations are permitted in book-work; and it
is well to follow their rules in all formal, if not in all business,


The abbreviations in forms of address accepted by the printing-offices
issuing three works on punctuation and style, especially mentioned in
our preface, are the following:

By the De Vinne Press, _Mr._, _Mrs._, _Messrs._, _Jr._, and _Sr._

By the University of Chicago Press, _Mr._, _Messrs._, _Mrs._ (French,
_M._, _MM._, _Mme_, _Mlle_), _Dr._, _Rev._, _Hon._, _St._ [Saint], and

By The Riverside Press, _Mr._, _Mrs._, _Messrs._, _M._, _Mme._,
_Mlle._, _Jr._, _Sr._, _Dr._, _Esq._, _Rev._, _Hon._

These lists are somewhat misleading. Although not uniform, it is
probable that the practice of the three offices from which they come,
is uniform, with one exception. In the list from the “Manual for
Writers” (University of Chicago Press), _Mme_ and _Mlle_ are not
written with periods, as, we think, they should be.

It is a matter of course that the plural form _MM._, given in only one
list, and the plural forms _Mmes._ and _Mlles._, not given at all, are
treated the same as the abbreviations of the singular forms of the same.

  NOTE.—We are unable to interpret the parenthesis in
  the above list from the University of Chicago Press. The terms
  within the parentheses are only remotely, if at all, explanatory
  of the preceding terms; and, although they belong in the list of
  abbreviations, they are taken out of the list by being put in
  parentheses. Moreover, “Mlle,” which is within the parentheses, has
  no reference to any term outside of the marks.

While the above and other points in abbreviations discussed herein,
are closely to be observed in the text of a book and in formal
correspondence, abbreviations of technical terms, in tabulated work, in
foot-notes, indexes, etc., are used freely.


In business correspondence courtesy requires that abbreviations adopted
in a firm or a corporation name be carefully observed by others,
regardless of the in elegance of such forms.

_Bro._, _Bros._, and _Co._ are used in firm names following _&_, but
not otherwise. They should always be spelled out when preceded by a
proper adjective.

_John Smith & Bro._; _Brown, Smith & Co._, and like forms are used.

In _Smith Brothers_, _Smith Company_, and like forms the final word is
not abbreviated.

While the “short and” (&) is commonly used in firm names, “and” is
frequently seen:

_Armour and Company_.

It is very rare that a comma is used before the final “and” or “&” in
firm names of three or more words constituting a series. If a firm
prefers so to punctuate its name, others who write the name should not
insert a comma.


As there are few fixed conventional uses for figures, we shall give
simply our preferences.

In ordinary reading matter, spell out all round numbers, and numbers
of one or two digits, unless of a technical character. When several
numbers occur close together, and are to be compared, they may be
expressed in figures:

  120. Admission, one dollar.

  120-1. Admission, fifty cents.

  120-2. Admission: Men, $2; women, $1.50; children, 50 cents.

In No. 120-2 we use “50,” instead of “fifty,” because figures are used
to express other numbers in the sentence.


The time of day is generally spelled out in ordinary reading matter:

  121. We shall start at four o’clock this afternoon.

But with A. M. and P. M. (these abbreviations are
best set in small capitals) figures are always used:

121-1. We shall start at 4 P. M.


Figures are used to express temperature, specific gravity, and like
technical matter.

  122. The specific gravity of gold is 19.27. Its melting-point is
  1947° F. (1064° C.)

The letters “th,” “st,” and “d” (“d” is preferable to “nd” or “rd”)
should not be used with the number expressing the day of the month,
except when preceding the name of the month:

  123. We left on July 9, 1915.

  123-1. We left on July 9.

  123-2. We left on the 9th of July.

Many good writers would use “th” in No. 123-1, probably because it
expresses the usual oral form of the date.

In printing consecutive numbers, like dates, numbers of pages, etc.,
certain omissions may be indicated by the dash; but the exact meaning
of this and another mode of writing these numbers should be understood.
Examples will illustrate this:

  124. He was in England in 1914-15.

  124-1. He spent the winter of 1914-15 in England.

  125. Further information will be found on pages 25-27.

  125-1. Further information will be found on pages 25, 26, 27.

  125-2. Further information will be found elsewhere (pp. 25, 26) in
  this work.

  125-3. Further information will be found on pages 25 to 40.

No. 124, strictly interpreted, means _all_ of the two years indicated;
but it may be an indefinite portion of the last of 1914 and a like
portion of the first of 1915. In No. 124-1 the latter meaning is
specifically given by the word _winter_.

No. 125 means that the subject is treated continuously on the pages
mentioned; but it may not occupy _all_ of pages 25 and 27.

No. 125-1 means that the subject is referred to on each of the pages
numbered, but not to the exclusion of other matter.

In No. 125-2, in order to save space, the comma takes the place of
“and” between two numbers, just as the dash takes the place of “to”
between “25” and “27” in No. 125. Such omission of “and” is found in
the text only when the figures are enclosed in parentheses; but it is
common without the parentheses in foot-notes, tables, and indexes.

In No. 125-3 we use “to” instead of a dash. “To” is generally used when
a considerable number of pages is named. No definite rule can be given
for such usage.

An apparent exception to the interpretation of the numbers in No. 125
is not infrequently found in the manner of writing the street numbers
of a building, especially as found on letter-heads:

  126. John Smith & Co.

  25-27 Water Street


As buildings on one side of a street take the odd numbers, and on the
other side the even numbers, we know that John Smith & Co. are located
at 25 _and_ 27 Water Street.

An accepted form of shortening an address which contains the words
_street_ and _avenue_ is to write “avenue” first with its number
expressed in words, followed by the street with its number in figures:

  127. He resides at the corner of Tenth Avenue and 52d Street.

If a house number precedes the spelled-out name of the street, the
former takes figures, in order readily to distinguish it from the name
of the street:

  127-1. He resides at 34 Tenth Avenue South.

If it is desirable to begin a sentence with a number, such number
should be spelled out, and not expressed in figures:

  128. Two thousand people met in the park.


As the forms of Bible references are very numerous we shall give only
two, which, we think, represent the best modern usage:

  129. Matt, iv, 4; 1 Cor. i, 29.

  130. Gen. 2:3-6, 9; 3:17.

As the Roman numerals were formerly, and still are to some extent,
followed by a period, this usage would give the following in the place
of No. 129:

  129-1. Matt. iv. 4; 1 Cor. i. 29

We think No. 129 the better style.


The style in foot-notes is so varied that we shall consider only one or
two points involved.

Superior figures in the text have taken the place almost altogether
of the star, dagger, etc., both because they are less conspicuous and
because they can be extended in number.

The lower-case superior italic letters are sometimes used instead of,
or together with, superior figures, as in the Bible.

In ordinary work, the superior figures or letters follow the word or
group of words concerning which the reference is made. In the Bible the
figures and letters precede such word or words.

The figures before the notes corresponding to the figures in the text
are generally superior figures; but the ordinary figures are sometimes
used, because, as each number begins a paragraph, the superior figures
are too small to look well.

The punctuation of foot-notes, and other details of their composition,
are treated differently by different writers. A single illustration
will serve to show a well-recognized style of composing such notes:

  130. 5 Morris Schaff, “The Battle of the Wilderness,” _Atlantic
  Monthly_, June, 1909.

  130-1. 5 Morris Schaff, The Battle of the Wilderness, Vol. ii, p. 204.

No. 130 specifies foot-note No. 5, and refers to an article in a
magazine, which is named.

No. 130-1 refers to a book, the volume and page being indicated.

These foot-notes often appear in the following form:

  130-2. 5. Schaff, Morris: The Battle of the Wilderness.

Foot-notes are often extensively used in scientific periodicals and
books; and the larger establishments that print such matter usually
have their style-cards, which should be followed by authors submitting
manuscripts to such establishments.

The lower-case italic letters, “_a_,” “_b_,” and “_c_,” and sometimes
the superior letters, are used to indicate the first, second, and third
parts of a verse, paragraph, or page referred to by an accompanying
figure. For instance, Romans vi, 5a means the first part of verse 5 of
Romans vi.


Because of the clumsy appearance of these marks, and because of the
inconvenience they cause in the mechanical make-up of printed matter,
they are used sparingly; but they are quite indispensable in tabulated
matter, scientific works, etc.

If several of these marks are required on a page, they follow the
following order: star, dagger, double dagger, section, parallel lines,


The word _cent_ in _per cent_ is now generally written without a period.

_Etc._ is preferable to _&c._ when used for “and others” or “and so
on”; but not a few good writers use the latter for this purpose.

The terms _4to_, _8vo_, _12mo_, etc., used to denote the sizes of
books, are not abbreviations, and so do not take periods after them.
Each number stands for a suppressed part of the word in which it

The abbreviations _i. e._, _e. g._, _vs._, _viz._, etc., are often
printed in italics. The words for which they stand are generally
preferred to the abbreviations.


There are but few uses of the apostrophe, and they are well settled, as

1. To indicate the omission of letters or figures in contractions:
_ne’er_, _don’t_, _it’s_ (it is), _’t_ will, class of _’83_, the
gold-seekers of _’49_, etc.

2. To indicate the possessive case of nouns, but not of pronouns:
_Henry’s_, _man’s_, _Jones’s_, a _boy’s_ task, the _boys’_ play-ground,
for _conscience’_ sake, etc.

3. To indicate, with _s_, the plurals of letters, figures, symbols, and
certain unusual or peculiar names: _i’s_ and _t’s_, _6’s_ and _7’s_,
four _t’s_, several _D.D’s_, the _stay-at-home’s_, etc.


In the absence of a better place to note the conventional form of
printing and punctuating the above words and what follows them, we
consider the subject here. Two illustrations are sufficient to show
the best usage. We prefer the first style. The second is that of the
Century Dictionary, and is good style:

130A. WHEREAS, Our neighbors have suffered great loss ...

_Resolved_, That we give them immediate financial assistance ...

130B. _Whereas_, Our neighbors have suffered great loss ...

Resolved, that we give them immediate financial assistance ...

If the words “therefore be it” are used, they are put at the end of the
line preceding “Resolved,” and set in Roman, with or without a dash

130C. WHEREAS, Our neighbors have suffered great loss;
therefore be it

_Resolved_, That ...



We add this chapter on compound words to a work on punctuation simply
to record our high estimate of the value of the subject, and our
protest against its complete neglect by high schools and colleges, as
well as by very many good writers.

As in spelling, a few rules may be helpful; but, also as in spelling,
only continuous reference to a dictionary or to a good list of compound
words, will enable a writer to attain any degree of perfection in their

We believe there is only one fairly complete work on the subject, and
that is by Mr. F. Horace Teall, who was a department editor of the
Standard Dictionary, having in charge especially the matter of compound
words. His work is entitled “English Compound Words and Phrases.”

We shall discuss only two illustrative examples; and they are selected
for the purpose of emphasizing the importance of the subject, and the
value of common sense in the application of principles governing the
determination of the form words take to express different meanings.

Our first example may seem to be a somewhat commonplace one, but it
may be a helpful illustration. It has been submitted to a large number
of suitable persons as a test of the general knowledge extant on the
subject among printers, proof-readers, teachers, and writers. The
result revealed almost complete ignorance of the subject.

Which of the following forms is correct, and why?

  131. (1) back bone, (2) back-bone, (3) backbone.

The three forms are correct, but each has a special meaning:

1. In the form “back bone,” the word “back” stands in the position of
an adjective, and is to be interpreted as we interpret any adjective
standing before a noun. If we know the meaning of a word thus used, and
the meaning of the word it precedes, we know the meaning of the two
words. “Back” here designates one of two or more bones in a row, say,
lying on a table.

2. In “back-bone” we have an illustration of a process of the growth
of language. Professor W. D. Whitney, the distinguished philologist,
says that the composition of words out of independent elements, is more
important than any other process in the development of language. The
stage of development may determine the word’s form.

“Back-bone” means the bone of the back, or the spinal column. It is
a type of a large class of hyphenated compounds which are merely
elliptical inversions; in this case, the word is such an inversion of
_bone of the back_.

3. “Backbone” is an example of words whose meanings are traceable,
sometimes readily and sometimes with difficulty, to their parts. It is
easy to understand that a man with a real “back-bone” has _grit_, which
is one meaning of “backbone” written as a solid word.

  NOTE.—Webster’s New International Dictionary does not give
  the hyphenated form of these two words; notwithstanding this, we
  believe this form has the sanction of reason and of convention.

The principles involved in determining the above forms are very simple,
and seem self-evident.

The process of language-development is rapidly going on; and, as every
corrector of manuscript knows, incorrect forms of words are exceedingly
numerous. Often they are made in attempts at short cuts in language.
When they may not be changed by the corrector, the hyphen is often
useful in revealing their meaning. The use of the hyphen must be based
upon reason. Usually, the purpose is to tie together two words to form
one adjective or one noun.

The words in our next two illustrative sentences were frequently
seen some time ago when almost the entire press of the country was
discussing a subject calling for the use of these words. The words
were invariably printed improperly; and we shall print them so in the
illustrative sentences:

  132. Dr. Keene is the medical school inspector of Minneapolis.

  133. Mr. Flexner is the medical school inspector of the Carnegie

What is the meaning of the language of these sentences? To the careful
reader “Dr.” and “Mr.” connote quite different things, and thus suggest
different relations between the words “medical school inspector.”

Let the hyphen answer the question:

  132-1. Dr. Keene is the medical school-inspector of Minneapolis.

  133-1. Mr. Flexner is the medical-school inspector of the Carnegie

In other words, the sentences say that Dr. Keene does _medical_
inspection of schools, and that Mr. Flexner simply inspects medical
schools. As a matter of fact, Mr. Flexner investigated the adequacy of
their methods and means of teaching.

Whether one uses a hyphen in “to-day” or “to-morrow,” or writes
“cannot” as one word or as two words (can not), is a matter of little
importance; but no educated person should be ignorant of the meanings
of words conveyed by the forms in which they are written.

The fundamental principles of compounding words, especially when the
meaning of such words is involved, should be understood by pupils
in our grade schools. This knowledge is easily acquired; and, once
acquired, the pupil will soon form the habit of consulting the
dictionary or a list of words to ascertain the present-day usage in
compounding. The fundamental principles will tell him that all such
combinations as “present-day” when used as adjectives take the hyphen.

A few examples will serve to show the beauty and value of compounding
words upon the principles illustrated above.


1. More than once he was on the verge of breaking down; but he held,
duty-true, to his task until he had spent his last ounce of strength in
the service.

2. . . . Some take from the shelves
      Of the volumes a-row
    Those legends of goblins and elves
      That we loved long ago.

3. Between flood-and ebb-tide there is a period of rest called

4. The speeches were generally reported in _Handels- und Machtpolitick_
(politics of trade and power).

  In No. 3 “tide” is omitted from the first of two compound hyphenated
  words connected by a conjunction. In No. 4 the common ending
  (_politick_) is omitted from the first of two compound solid words, a
  hyphen taking its place.

  We know of no author who deals with the somewhat inconsistent use of
  the hyphen in No. 4; but we believe such usage is to be recommended.

5. Truffles grow in calcareous soils, usually under birch-or oak-trees.

6. Mr. So-and-so asserted that the present-day practices are wrong.

7. The president of the society is a member of several committees ex
officio; but the secretary is not an ex-officio member of any committee.

  In No. 7 the first “ex officio” is formed of a preposition and a
  noun, and means _by virtue of office_. The second “ex-officio” is a
  compound adjective, as is “present-day” in No. 6.

  Many writers prefer to put in italics all foreign expressions, such
  as “ex-officio.”



We shall deal with this subject somewhat as we dealt with compound
words, endeavoring simply to point out the relative values of the
“open” and “close” styles of punctuation.

Almost all writers on punctuation refer to a close open styles
of punctuation, but they make no attempt clearly to define or to
differentiate these terms. In general, the _close_ style of today is
characterized by a free use of marks where they determine the meaning
of the language, or assist the reader in determining it easily and
quickly; the _open_ style omits most marks not actually needed to
determine the meaning of the language. The close style may call for too
many marks, and the open style for too few, each causing confusion to
the reader.

It is mainly the comma whose use or omission determines the style of
punctuation; but the use of a semicolon instead of a comma, may also
differentiate the open from the close style. For instance, the need
of a mark before “and” in Sentence 1 is so unmistakable that the use
of a comma in such sentence cannot be called close punctuation; but
the use of a semicolon in that sentence, as suggested in Chapter 7,
may properly be called close punctuation. The use of a comma in the
sentence (see Sentence 1-1) may be considered open punctuation; its
omission would be poor punctuation, but many open punctuators would
omit it.

While we must recognize the fact that for some years there has been a
tendency among good writers to use fewer marks, we should disregard any
such tendency based upon a lack of appreciation of the value of marks
or, more specifically, upon ignorance of the fine sense relations of
language so easily overlooked when not indicated by marks with meanings.

When two groups of words which, standing alone, take, at least
conventionally, a comma, or even a semicolon, stand together in some
relation to another group or to a single word, this relation may
appear more readily if no mark is used between the two groups. We have
already discussed such omission between intermediate groups, which are
very numerous in both complex and simple language. The principle is
illustrated in our next sentence:

  133. The Lord my Shepard is;
       I shall be well supplied:
       Since He is mine and I am His
       What can I want beside?

In the third line of the stanza “and” so manifestly groups the two
clauses between which it stands that a comma is not needed to avoid a
wrong grouping by the reader; and, as each clause is connected in sense
with “since,” the omission of a comma between the clauses more readily
ties them as a single group to “since.” Of course, the use of a comma
before “and,” which would be good punctuation, would require one at the
end of the line.

A good close punctuator omits commas from all such groups of words;
and a poor open punctuator does the same, but also improperly omits
commas and semicolons in many other places.

One doing serious composition, or studying punctuation, may well
punctuate closely as he writes, and afterwards remove all marks whose
omission will improve the grouping and not violate good convention. The
close punctuator who studiously omits a mark only when he has a reason
to do so will rarely fail to use marks helpfully; the open punctuator
who omits marks too freely will write much obscure language and much
more whose meaning is not readily obtainable by the reader.

With this general principle established, the punctuator can readily
determine what marks may be omitted; and, far more important, he can
adapt to his own language the style of punctuation he prefers to follow.

The punctuation of our next sentence, taken from an editorial in a
recent issue of the _New York Times_, has interest for both the close
and the open punctuator. It contains _seven_ commas, only one of which
can safely be omitted, while two more are needed. The comma after
“divisions” may be omitted, but its use is good punctuation. One is
needed after “music,” in order to show that “and” is followed by the
closing word of a series; and one is imperative after “exhibition,” to
show that what follows is an _explanatory_, and not a _restrictive_,
adjective modifier:

  134. There are in this issue eight separate sections, including,
  besides the twelve pages of timely pictures, beautifully executed
  in roto-gravure and half-tone, and the ample news and editorial
  divisions, and those devoted to sports, social affairs, music and
  the stage, a twenty-page section given up entirely to the development
  of the motor car in view of the yearly automobile exhibition which
  receives so large a share of public attention.

The punctuator who follows the fundamental principles we have
endeavored to set forth, will be neither a _close_ nor an _open_
punctuator: he will be a judicious punctuator.


  The following selections, copied from the first edition of this book,
  show the value of good punctuation, which, in this instance, is
  fairly close punctuation.

  The first selection is an extract from Macaulay, picturing Burke’s
  knowledge of India; the second is from an article by Mr. Rowland
  E. Robinson, in the _Atlantic Monthly_ for December, 1895. The
  punctuation of the first is our own; the punctuation of the second is
  either the author’s or the editor’s.

  A careful study of these selections, with a view to comparing at what
  points the punctuation is open and at what points close, cannot fail
  to be of interest. For instance, what is the meaning of the language
  in the first paragraph of the second extract (A New England Woodpile)
  with a comma after “certainty,” and what would be the meaning without
  the comma? Wherein does the punctuation of this extract depart from
  the principles we have been discussing?


India and its inhabitants were not to him, as to most Englishmen, mere
names and abstractions, but a real country and a real people. The
burning sun; the strange vegetation of the palm and the cocoa-tree;
the rice-field and the tank; the huge trees, older than the Mogul
Empire, under which the village crowds assemble; the thatched roof
of the peasant’s hut, and the rich tracery of the mosque, where the
imaum prayed with his face to Mecca; the drums, and banners, and gaudy
idols; the devotee swinging in the air; the graceful maiden, with the
pitcher on her head, descending the steps to the river-side; the black
faces, the long beards, the yellow streaks of sect; the turbans and
the flowing robes; the spears and the silver maces; the elephants with
their canopies of state; the gorgeous palanquin of the prince, and the
close litter of the noble lady—all those things were to him as the
objects amidst which his own life had been passed—as the objects which
lay on the road between Beaconsfield and St. James’s Street.

  The value of punctuation will appear in comparing this passage, as
  above printed, with the same passage as it appears in a work on
  composition edited by a university professor:

... the rice-field; the tank; ... the thatched roof of the peasant’s
hut; the rich tracery of the mosque where the imaum prays with his
face to Mecca; ... the graceful maiden, with the pitcher on her head
descending the steps to the riverside; the black faces; the long
beards; the yellow streaks of sect; the turbans and the flowing robes,
the spears and the silver maces; ...

  By such punctuation the _tank_ is taken out of the _rice-field_; the
  contrast between _hut_ and _mosque_ is lost; the absence of the comma
  before “where” makes the imaum pray at a particular mosque; not the
  maiden, but her head, is descending the steps; beards are separated
  from faces, and yellow streaks of sect may be on fence posts for
  aught the reader knows; and turbans and flowing robes, emblems of
  rank, are put on spear-and mace-bearers.

  And by such punctuation the beauty of the picture is entirely lost in
  a mere catalogue of things seen in India—and this is not literature.


When the charitable mantle of the snow has covered the ugliness of
the earth, as one looks towards the woodlands he may see a distant
dark speck emerge from the blue shadow of the woods and crawl slowly
houseward. If born to the customs of this wintry land, he may guess
at once what it is; if not, speculation, after a little, gives way to
certainty, when the indistinct atom grows into a team of quick-stepping
horses or deliberate oxen hauling a sled-load of wood to the farm-house.

It is more than that. It is a part of the woods themselves, with
much of their wildness clinging to it, and with records, slight and
fragmentary, yet legible, of the lives of trees and birds and beasts
and men, coming to our door.

Before the sounds of the creaking sled and the answering creak of the
snow are heard, one sees the regular puffs of the team’s breath jetting
out and climbing the cold air. The head and shoulders of the muffled
driver then appear, as he sticks by narrow foothold to the hinder part
of his sled, or trots behind it beating his breast with his numb hands.
Prone like a crawling band of scouts, endwise like battering-rams, not
upright, with green banners waving, Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane to
fight King Frost.

As the woodpile grows at the farm-house door in a huge windrow of
sled-length wood or an even wall of cord wood, so in the woods there
widens a patch of uninterrupted daylight. Deep shade and barred and
netted shadow turn to almost even whiteness, as the axe saps the
foundation of summer homes of birds and the winter fastnesses of the
squirrels and raccoons. Here are the tracks of sled and team, where
they wound among rocks and stumps and over cradle knolls to make up a
load; and there are those of the chopper by the stump where he stood
to fell the tree, and along the great trough made by its fall. The snow
is flecked with chips, dark or pale according to their kind, just as
they alighted from their short flight, bark up or down or barkless or
edgewise, and with dry twigs and torn scraps of scattered moss.

When the chopper comes to his work in the morning, he finds traces
of nightly visitors to his white island that have drifted to its
shores out of the gray sea of woods. Here is the print of the hare’s
furry foot where he came to nibble the twigs of poplar and birch that
yesterday were switching the clouds, but have fallen, manna-like,
from skyward to feed him. A fox has skirted its shadowy margin, then
ventured to explore it, and in a thawy night a raccoon has waddled
across it.

The woodman is apt to kindle a fire more for company than warmth,
though he sits by it to eat his cold dinner, casting the crumbs to the
chickadees, that come fearlessly about him at all times. Blazing or
smouldering by turns, as it is fed or starved, the fire humanizes the
woods more than the man does. Now and then it draws to it a visitor,
oftenest a fox-hunter who has lost his hound, and stops for a moment
to light his pipe at the embers and to ask if his dog has been seen or
heard. Then he wades off through the snow, and is presently swallowed
out of sight by gray trees and blue shadows. Or the hound comes in
search of his master or a lost trail. He halts for an instant, with a
wistful look on his sorrowful face, then disappears, nosing his way
into the maw of the woods.

If the wood is cut “sled length,” which is a saving of time and also
of chips, that will now be made at the door and will serve to boil the
tea-kettle in summer, instead of rotting to slow fertilization of the
woodlot, the chopper is one of the regular farm hands or a “day man,”
and helps load the sled when it comes. If the wood is four foot, he is
a professional, chopping by the cord, and not likely to pile his cords
too high or long, nor so closely that the squirrels have much more
trouble in making their way through them than over them; and the man
comes and goes according to his ambition to earn money.

In whichever capacity the chopper plies his axe, he is pretty sure to
bring no sentimentalism to his task. He inherits the feeling that was
held by the old pioneers toward trees, who looked upon the noblest of
them as only giant weeds, encumbering the ground, and best got rid of
by the shortest means. To him the tree is a foe worthy of no respect
or mercy, and he feels the triumph of a savage conqueror when it comes
crashing down and he mounts the prostrate trunk to dismember it; the
more year-marks encircling its heart, the greater his victory. To his
ears, its many tongues tell nothing, or preach only heresy. Away with
the old tree to the flames! To give him his due, he is a skillful
executioner, and will compel a tree to fall across any selected stump
within its length. If one could forget the tree, it is a pretty sight
to watch the easy swing of the axe, and see how unerringly every blow
goes to its mark, knocking out chips of a span’s breadth. It does not
look difficult nor like work; but could you strike “twice in a place,”
or in half a day bring down a tree twice as thick as your body? The
wise farmer cuts, for fuel, only the dead and decaying trees in his
woodlot, leaving saplings and thrifty old trees to “stand up and grow
better,” as the Yankee saying is.

There is a prosperous and hospitable look in a great woodpile at
a farmhouse door. Logs with the moss of a hundred years on them,
breathing the odors of the woods, have come to warm the inmates and all
in-comers. The white smoke of these chimneys is spicy with the smell of
seasoned hard wood, and has a savor of roasts and stews that makes one
hungry. If you take the back track on a trail of pitchy smoke, it is
sure to lead you to a squalid threshold with its starved heap of pine
roots and half-decayed wood. Thrown down carelessly beside it is a dull
axe, wielded as need requires with spiteful awkwardness by a slatternly
woman, or laboriously upheaved and let fall with uncertain stroke by a
small boy.


  No effort is made in this index to refer to the complete details of
  treatment of the principal marks, for the treatment of such marks is
  almost continuous throughout the book. The table of contents will
  make up, in some measure, for this deficiency.

  References are to pages.

  Abbreviations and miscellany, 194.

  Accordingly, 96.

  Address, abbreviations in forms of, 169;
    forms of, in a letter, 194.

  Adjective in natural position, 10;
    two or more before a noun, 147.

  Adverb out of natural position takes a comma or commas, 10.

  Afterthought, 42.

  Again, 102.

  Alford, Dean, 152.

  Although, 96.

  A. M., P. M., how written, 196.

  And, in a series, 21;
    between two quoted groups of words, 62;
    between like-formed coördinate groups, 103;
    preceded by a comma, a semicolon, a colon, or a period, 107.

  Apparent and real relations, 10.

  Appositives, 44.

  Apostrophe, the, 201.

  As, 171, 172.

  Atlantic Monthly, vi.

  Avenue, street and, how written in an address, 198.

  Because, 94, 96, 97.

  Bible, examples of punctuation in the Common and Revised Versions,
      59, 70;
    punctuation of Bible references, 199.

  Bigelow, Marshall T., vii, 75.

  Brackets and parentheses, 185.

  Bro., Bros., and Co., 195.

  But, a colon before; the extent of the _but_ relation, 18, 60.

  Capital letters mark main divisions, 164.

  Century Dictionary, its use of a colon, 173.

  Co., Company, 195.

  Colon, meaning of word, 16;
    follows formal introduction of matter, 63;
    indicates an amplification, expansion, or contrast, 67;
    its differentiation from other marks, 107;
    follows closing marks of quotation, 183;
    conventional uses of, 169;
    improperly used after a verb, 170;
    in Bible references, 199.

  Comma, meaning of word, 16;
    a _disjunctive_, 7;
    after adverb out of natural position, 10;
    before “and” in a series, 21;
    differentiation from other marks shown diagrammatically, 107;
    differentiation from semicolon, 121;
    differentiation of commas from dashes and parentheses, 131;
    differentiation from parentheses, 136;
    precedes closing marks of quotation, 183.

  Compound words, 203.

  Conventional uses of marks, 163.

  D, preferable to “nd” or “rd” with the day of the month, 197.

  Dash, meaning of, 74;
    some uses of, 74;
    with comma, 80;
    a rule for its use, 85;
    a paragraph-mark, 87;
    differentiation of dashes from commas and parentheses, 131;
    differentiation from parentheses, 137;
    indicates an ellipsis, 175.

  De Vinne, Theodore L., vii, 74, 75, 153, 167, 172, 194.

  Double object takes no mark, 147.

  Doubtful modifiers, 150.

  Dr., 194.

  E. g., 201.

  Either—or, 104.

  Ellipsis, 175.

  End-marks characterize sentences, 2.

  Esq., 194.

  Etc., proper mark before, 20;
      preferable to &c., 201.

  Exclamation-point, 174.

  Explanatory and restrictive terms, 30.

  Ex-officio, 207.

  Figures, how punctuated, 14;
    use of Arabic in enumerations, 164;
    conventional uses of, 196;
    not to begin a sentence, 199.

  Firm or corporation names, 195.

  First, second, when, now, because, etc., 94.

  Foot-notes, 199.

  For and _but_ relations, 57.

  Format of books, 201.

  For relation, the, 56.

  Fortunately, 100.

  Garrison, Phillips, vi, 131.

  Gray’s Elegy, a sentence from, 83.

  Grouping by commas, semicolons, and colons, 17.

  Grouping the fundamental purpose of punctuation, 14.

  Held, followed by a comma or a dash, 93.

  Hence, 96.

  Hon., 194.

  However, 96.

  I.e., punctuation of, 171;
    sometimes in italics, 201;
    generally written out, 201.

  In conclusion, 101, 102.

  Intermediate restrictive groups, 152.

  Interrogation-point, 174.

  Italics, a conventional use of, 141.

  Jr. and Sr., 194.

  Legal phraseology, 150.

  Letters, capital, place in enumerations of, 164.

  Letter, the salutatory phrase of, 169.

  Like, 10.

  “Manual for Writers,” a, 145.

  Marks, conventional uses of, 163.

  Mark of punctuation, a disjunctive, a sign-brand, 4.

  Marks, the function of, and how performed, 1;
    the names of the principal, 15;
    the relative values of, 16;
    miscellaneous uses of, 147.

  M., Mme., Mlle., 194.

  Mr., Mrs., Messrs., 194.

  Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, 24.

  Myself, I myself, 148.

  Namely, 171, 172, 173.

  Neither—nor, 104.

  No, 102, 106.

  Not—but, 157.

  Now, an adverb or an expletive, 12, 13, 94, 100.

  Number, a, beginning a sentence, should be expressed in words, 199.

  Numbers, how punctuated, 14.

  O and oh, 159.

  Only, improperly used, 98.

  Open and close punctuation, 208.

  Or, and, their relations, 44.

  Or, comma before, 41; between groups not coördinate, 110.

  Parentheses, meaning of, 30, 132;
    a modified parenthesis, 30;
    how used by some writers, 41;
    differentiated from commas and dashes, 131;
    how differentiated from commas, 136;
    when used to enclose enumerating letters and figures, 166;
    brackets and parentheses, 185;
    punctuation within, 183.

  Per cent, how written, 201.

  Period, meaning and relative value of, 16;
    differentiation from other marks, 107;
    conventional uses of, 164;
    precedes the closing marks of quotation, 183.

  Perhaps, 95.

  Punctuation, grouping the fundamental purpose of, 14;
    by reason and convention, 15, 91.

  Quotation-marks, 177.

  Resolved, how printed and punctuated, 202.

  Restrictive and non-restrictive groups, 38.

  Restrictive groups, intermediate, 152.

  Restrictive terms, explanatory and, 30.

  Rev., 194.

  Riverside Press, The, viii, 168, 194.

  Roman capital numerals, use of in enumerations, 164.

  Salutatory phrase, the, 169.

  Semicolon, meaning of the word, 16;
    grouping by, 19;
    grouping by semicolon and colon, 50;
    differentiation from other marks, 107;
    three conventional uses of, 171;
    follows the closing marks of quotation, 183.

  Sentences, declarative, interrogative, and exclamatory,
      how punctuated, 2.

  Series, comma before the final “and” in a, 21.

  Sic, in brackets, its meaning, 187.

  Sr., 194.

  St., 194.

  Stage directions, 187.

  Stars, 175, 176, 201.

  St., its position when used with the day of the month, 197.

  Street and avenue, how written in an address, 198.

  Street numbers, how punctuated, 14.

  Subject, a “long,” followed by a comma, 148;
      ending in verb, 149.

  Syllabus, a, treatment of headings in, 165.

  Teall, F. Horace, vii, 40, 98, 135, 136, 148, 170.

  Temperature, 196.

  That is, 171, 172.

  That, preceded by a comma, 93.

  Thence, 96.

  Therefore, 96.

  Th, its position when used with the day of the month, 197.

  Th, st, and d, position when used with the day of the month, 197.

  Time of day, how expressed, 168, 169, 196.

  Title-page, how punctuated. 164, 169.

  Tomorrow, 100.

  To wit, 171, 172.

  University of Chicago Press, Manuals of, viii, 25, 145, 194.

  Viz., 171, 172, 201.

  Vocatives, 45.

  Vs., often in italics; generally printed in full, 201.

  Wendell, Professor, 82.

  When, 94, 99, 100.

  Where, 99.

  Whereas—resolved, 202.

  Wherefore, 96.

  Wilson, John, vii, 40, 56, 75, 94, 98, 135, 145, 155, 157, 171.

  Yes, 102, 106.

  Yet, 96.

  &, “short and,” 195.

  &c., sometimes used for etc.


[1] For the sake of brevity, we shall frequently use herein the term
_printed_ language to include _written_ language.

[2] In order to avoid the too frequent use of a formal word (thus, as
follows, etc.), to introduce our illustrative examples, we use the
colon, thus indicating that the _colon_ relation exists between what
precedes and what follows the mark. This somewhat uncommon use of the
colon is explained on another page.

[3] Sentences herein numbered by hyphenated figures are modifications,
with some exceptions, of preceding sentences designated by the first
figures of the hyphenated numbers,—for example, Sentence 1-1 is a
modification of Sentence 1 in its punctuation.

[4] A comma at this point does not appear in the original. We insert it
because what follows is clearly explanatory.

[5] As Sentence 22 is a quotation, we retain its two-word form of
“for-ever,” which is the English style; but in No 22-2. which is our
own language, we use the one-word form, which is the American style.

[6] No mark is used here before “and” because it connects two groups of
words, each used as a whole, as indicated by marks of quotation.

[7] See page vi.

[8] The use of this comma is wrong, for what follows “sentence” is
clearly restrictive.

The following pages contain extracts from a few press notices of the
first edition of this book.




(Published anonymously in 1896)


The well considered contents of “Why We Punctuate” should work a
reform in the manner of using points. The author proposes no startling
innovations, but approaches his subject from the plane of pure reason,
substituting carefully-thought-out principles for the empirical rules,
which have too long governed American printing offices, and giving us
for the first time a rationale as foundation for the entire system.

The work itself shows that practically nothing has been done to advance
the science of punctuation for many years, the entire subject having
apparently crystallized after the publication of Wilson’s book and
the compendium of it prepared by Bigelow. How much these last lacked
has not been apparent until this author took up the cudgels for less
arbitrary rule and more distinctions based on good judgment. He throws
light into dark places and makes it possible at last for a student to
acquire a number of broad principles in place of the interminable rules
and exceptions of the earlier writers.

The book is to be welcomed as a much needed contribution to a much
neglected topic of universal interest.—_Chicago Tribune._

No student of English should be without this book.—_The Globe_ (Boston).

The work is valuable, not only to the learner, but also to the
scholar.—_Baltimore American._

The author has undoubtedly gone to the root of the matter in his
fundamental theory.—_The Beacon_ (Boston).

Though I have read proof twenty-five years or more, I find I can learn
some valuable things from this book.—_Henry R. Boss_, _Editor of the
Proofsheet_ (Chicago).

With journalistic instinct the author has sought the reasons for the
use of all marks; and instead of copying what previous authors have
said, he has simply told _why_ marks are used.—_Philadelphia Press._

This book unquestionably has a mission, and it seems to us that the
author has performed his task with exceptional intelligence. The book
may be said to represent the best American usage of our day.—_Review of

The author is a painstaking and intelligent writer, and the line
of reasoning followed by him is original and convincing, while his
explanations and illustrations make the subject of punctuation both
interesting and easy to learn.—_Philadelphia Telegraph._

It is philosophical, clear, simple, and teaches the intimate relation
between punctuation and the meaning of language. It shows plainly that
we must punctuate to suit our meaning. An excellent text-book for the
schools and for practical reference.—_The Union-Signal_ (Chicago).

The subject of punctuation seldom receives sufficient attention in
our schools and colleges, and its importance is so great that such an
intelligent discussion of it as that contained in these pages deserves
commendation. It is surprising how much even educated persons, and even
those accustomed to composition, may gain from such a treatise.—_The
Congregationalist_ (Boston).

The whole problem is reduced to the fundamental principles which
control it. They are easily grasped, and the numerous examples and
illustrations collected and arranged by the author, instead of
scattering the impression of the book, only concentrate the reader’s
attention on the few principles which control the subject. The book is
one to be commended.—_The Independent_ (New York).

The author takes the ground that the use of a mark of punctuation is
determined by its meaning, and the meaning of the language it governs.
He elucidates these meanings clearly, concisely, and logically. The
book may be said to be the only one available which gives an exhaustive
treatment of the reasons and rules of proper punctuation, plainly and
intelligently set forth.—_The Free Press_ (Detroit).

It is one of the most rational works ever issued on the subject, and
will be of incalculable value as a guide to proper punctuation. The
author departs from the usual set rules commonly taught in text-books,
and simplifies the process by classifying the marks according to the
necessity, or relative length of pause, required to give our language
its proper meaning, not only as appears to the writer, but also as will
appear to the reader.—_The Bee_ (Omaha).

The author knows how to punctuate himself, and he knows how to make the
principles that guide him clear to others.

“Why We Punctuate” is a valuable addition to the literature of
punctuation. Its examples are, as a rule, particularly happy. Some
of them make plain at a glance the reasons for rules which have
been disputed by many authorities, but which are based on common
sense.... It is a practical guide to punctuation, and any one who
masters it thoroughly ought to be able afterward always to punctuate
correctly.—_The Writer_ (Boston).

The distinctive feature of the book is that it is not a mere collection
of cut-and-dried rules. It goes into the reasons for the use of the
several marks, and deals with the logical relations of language. It
is a book that helps to clear thinking on the part of the writer who
employs it.—_The Buffalo Express._

Punctuation is treated as based upon the science of language and not
altogether upon grammatical construction. The author’s examples are
all good and new and his ideas original. Some latitude is allowed,
according to construction of sentences, and common sense is permitted
to depart, if clearness of meaning is desired, from arbitrary
rules.—_Baltimore Sun._

The author of this work has not copied from previous authors, but
has drawn largely upon current literature for illustrative examples,
and has brought together several hundred short quotations of great
interest, beyond the use of examples of correct punctuation. His
reasoning is original. His theories, as explained and illustrated, make
the subject both interesting and easy to understand.

The book is valuable to the learner, and the scholar, as well,
and it cannot fail to attract the attention of students of the
English language, and it merits the commendation of all competent
judges.—_Journal of Education_ (Boston).

If the author’s name were on the title-page of his book we would know
whom to thank for the best and most sensible work on this subject that
has yet been published.

The student of this book, if he masters its teachings, will not fall
into the absurdities and obscurities of mechanical punctuation on the
one hand, or of slovenly punctuation on the other, but will punctuate
in such a way as to make his meaning clear—which is one essential art
in good writing.

“Why We Punctuate” should be in the hands of every newspaper
man and author, and it ought to become a text-book in advanced
schools.—_Democrat and Chronicle_ (Rochester, N. Y.).

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Why We Punctuate - or Reason Versus Rule in the Use of Marks" ***

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