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A Punctuation Tale

Last updated 4 years ago

We use commas, semicolons, and periods more often than any other punctuation marks in the English language. In spite of their being vital to clear communication, we have trouble with them all too often. Let's borrow a few ideas from the story of Cinderella to help us remember how to use them.

Periods don't give us much trouble in sentences. They are like the conclusion of most fairytales: The end.

Semicolons and Commas are more like Cinderella's two stepsisters:

  • Lots of people don't like them.
  • Some people can't tell the difference between them.

Semicolons join two independent sentences (clauses) that are closely related. They do this in two different ways:

1. They replace a conjunction - a joining word (and, but, or, so, for, yet, because).

Cinderella could not go to the ball last night because she had too much work to do.

Cinderella could not go to the ball last night; she had too much work to do.

The prince looked for her everywhere, but he could not find her.

The prince looked for her everywhere; he could not find her.

2. They are used along with conjunctive adverbs (words like however, then, instead, next), plus a comma.

They tried to make Cinderella miserable; instead, they made themselves unhappy.

Commas are more like the mice in the Disney film of Cinderella because they are good at doing a lot of things. If they try to do the wrong thing - like trying to separate two independent sentences alone - there may be trouble!

Commas can
- Set off introductory words:
When she arrived, everyone gazed at her.

- Separate two independent clauses, if a conjunction (and, but, or) is used.
She intended to watch the time, but she realized too late that it was midnight.

- Separate words in a series.
The fairy godmother created a coach, a coachman, and a footman.

- Set off a non-essential clause
The glass slipper, which was fragile, would fit only one foot in the kingdom.

You can find lists of comma rules with examples for kids and adults in a book or online.

By learning the rules and putting some humor - and maybe a little magic - into your attitude about punctuation, you, too, can have a ball!

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