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Punctuation: a broader view – Businessday NG

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Punctuation is the use of special marks or signs to delimit units of statements, either to show their grammatical relationships or to give them some emphasis. Punctuation is the pauses and tonal changes in speech. Therefore, it supports writing by preventing misreading and ensuring clarity. In view of this, I present and discuss the absolutely crucial ones below.

Full stop (.):

It performs the following functions:

1. It is used to mark the end of a sentence: Gani likes to teach.

2. It is used to indicate abbreviations (initials, degrees, titles, etc.), for example, Feb., Rev., Prof., Ph.D., Bamgbose GA

Note: When the first and last letters of a word are used to form an abbreviation, you can either put a period or omit it. That is, from “Doctor” we have “Dr” or “Dr.”

The period should not be used for acronyms or initials that are abbreviations of professional, commercial and governmental organizations: NBA, INEC, UNESCO, PHCN, etc.

Comma (,):

It performs the following functions:

1. It is used after a formal greeting or a laudatory closing: Dear Sir, Yours faithfully, etc.

2. It is used in addresses, dates and numbers: 2, Bello Road; July 29, 2015; 46,000; etc

3. It is used to separate a group of words: handsome, tall, blond Nigerian man.

4. It is also used to show a short pause in a statement: for the first time, really, surprisingly, etc.

5. It is used to separate a direct quote: “Don’t say a word,” ordered his father.

6. It is used to separate names of business partners, degrees and other qualifications: Bamgbose GA, BEd (LASU), MA (University of Ibadan).

7. It separates the words that are used in apposition (possible replacements) to the names: Vincent Enyeama, the Nigerian keeper, is assiduous.

Two points (:) :

The colon performs the following functions:

1. It is used after the name of a speaker in a dialogue, especially in a written piece, as in:

Lakunle: A very good morning to you, sir!

2. It is used to introduce a formal list.

I found the following in the bag: his wallet, a passport, a bunch of keys and some cash.

3. It is used to introduce a formal citation.

According to Fakoya (2008): “The only variety of English available to Nigerians is Nigerian English.”

4. Colons are used to separate chapters from verses in Bible references, as in: John 3:16.

5. It is deployed to indicate the time, as in: 9:25 a.m.

6. It is also used to separate a title from a subtitle of a book, as in: Everyday English: A Compilation of Common Errors.

Also Read: The State of English Education in Nigeria

Semicolon (;): The semicolon performs the following functions:

1. Use a semicolon instead of a period to separate sentences where a conjunction has been omitted: Call me tomorrow; I’ll give you my answer then.

2. Use a semicolon to separate units in a series when the units contain commas: This conference has people who came from Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles, California; and Nashville, Tennessee.

3. Use the semicolon between two sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction (eg “and”) when one or more commas appear in the first sentence: If she can, she will attempt this feat; and if her husband can, he will be there to see her.

Hyphen (-):

The hyphen performs the following functions:

1. The hyphen is used in compound adjectives, as in: a three-man committee, a four-year-old boy.

To determine whether a compound name is two words, one word, or a hyphen, you may need to look it up in a dictionary. If you can’t find the word in the dictionary, treat the name as separate words. Here are the three forms mentioned: eyewitness (composed of one word), eye fatigue (composed of two words), eye-opener (compound composed of a hyphen).

2. The hyphen joins certain prefixes to the main words: co-education, anti-climax, etc.

3. It is used to split a word at the end of a line so that the part that cannot be contained goes to the next line. It is important to break a word at the end of a line on a syllable and not just between a syllable: housing (right); bullying (false).

4. A hyphen is also used between compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.

Dash (-):

This is often confused with a hyphen. The hyphen and the dash are not the same. The hyphen is longer than the hyphen and they perform different functions. Here are the functions of the dash:

1. It is used to introduce a list: The business group deals with so many things – housing, furniture, cosmetics and agriculture.

2. It is also used to mark a break or additional information in the line of thought of a speaker: My brother-in-law – the owner of Tendermate School – advocates quality education.

3. It is also introduced before a repeated word: The University of Ibadan – the first and best university in Nigeria – was founded in 1948.

Quotation marks or quotation marks (‘ ‘ or ” “):

Single quotes are British oriented while double quotes are associated with American. However, both are allowed, provided that one is consistent with his choice. Here are the functions of quotation marks:

1. It is used to mark or indicate a quotation: Achebe once said, “Proverbs are the oil with which words are eaten.

2. To show words used in a special or technical sense, slang, vernacular, etc. : So you mean you didn’t come up with ‘kola’ for ‘oga’, and you want to do what you want? Note: “Kola” is either money or a gift in this sense.

3. Include song names, as well as titles of poems, essays, stories, articles, etc. : My recent article is titled “A Critical Analysis of the Oyo State Governor’s Debate Speech”.

Ellipsis (…): Used when omitting a word, phrase, paragraph or more from a quoted passage. There are many ways to use ellipses. The three-point method is the simplest and is suitable for most general work and many scholarly works. The three or four point method and the even more rigorous method used in legal works require more complete explanations than can be found in other reference books.

Caret (^):

It is used to show that something is missing in a sentence or text. It is used instead of having to cancel or cross an entire line or sentence because of a single omission.

This treatise has considered the most important punctuation marks, so it can always be a reference material for the correct deployment of these signs.