What is Punctuation?

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What is punctuation? The answer seems obvious. But is it?

The standard definition is that punctuation is the act, practice, or system of using standardized marks in writing. These marks—such as a period, comma, apostrophe, and question mark, among others—are used primarily to make the meaning more easily understood.

But is that all there is to punctuation? How about the phrase “punctuated equilibrium”–does it refer to punctuation? Is a hetera (❦) punctuation? And are those marks only used in writing?

Punctuation comes from the Latin puncium, which means “a point.”  Since your time is valuable, and you want to be punctual, let’s get to the point.

So What is Punctuation?

We know it when we see it, but how do we define it?  We could say that punctuation is a set of symbols used in writing to clarify meaning, indicate pauses, and emphasize certain words or phrases. 

But what about the exclamation mark that lights up on a car’s dash? It is a standardized mark that alerts the driver to a potential problem. According to that definition, it still counts as punctuation.

Are emojis punctuation marks? There is no simple answer because the rules for emoji usage fluctuate. According to the Emojipedia’s blog

“The rules are still up in the air.”

Emoticons, which many consider a precursor to emojis, were created using punctuation marks, with 🙂 perhaps the most common emoticon, followed by ;).  Even emoticons are not consistent. Which one should I use for a smile 

 : )  or : – ) 

Although you might think emoticons are a modern invention, they can be traced back to the 19th century. For example, these early emoticons were published in 1881 in the Polish newspaper Kurjer Warszawski.

What Are the Different Punctuation Marks?

Periods (.), commas (,) and exclamation marks (!) are the most commonly used punctuation marks used at the end of a sentence. An apostrophe (‘) is used to show possession or omission, and quotation marks (“) surround what a person has said.

The parenthesis I used are punctuation marks, as are a colon (:) and semicolon (:). In addition, the other symbols on a keyboard (@, # $, %, ^, &, *) are also punctuation marks.  And don’t forget hyphens, dashes, and em dashes. We have three types of brackets as well:  ( ), [ ], { }.

Bullet points are standardized marks used for a list.  If the items in the list should be in a specific order, we use numbers. So, it could be argued that the numbers in a list are also punctuation. 

What is an Interrobang?

If you are asking a question in an exciting manner, you might want to use an interrobang, which is a combination of a question mark and an exclamation point:  ‽ 

On a phone, creating an interrobang is easy—press down on the question mark, and it should be an option.  In Unicode, U + 203D is the interrobang, and if you want your interrobang inverted, use U + 2E18. Windows has an interrobang as a special character. There must be ways to type an interrobang in Google Docs, but you can also copy and paste an interrobang.

What is a Hedera?

A hedera is an elegant mark that resembles an ivy leaf with a floral heart shape. It was initially used to indicate paragraph breaks. Early Latin and Greek writings served as the foundation for the hedera ❦, a punctuation mark.  Its meaning is unchanged by whether it is horizontal (❦) or vertical (❧).

What is Full Stop Punctuation?

Full stop punctuation is what the British call a period. Or, a period is what Americans call a full stop. Although the concept of a full stop at the end of a sentence makes sense (the period marks the stop of that sentence), a period isn’t only used in a sentence.

  • Money: $10.45
  • Abbreviations: Dr.,, e.g. , Emily G. Smith
  • Ellipses:  three periods, sometimes referred to as dots, indicate something is missing, either in the middle … sentence, or at the end of a ….

When using an ellipsis at the end of a sentence, add a fourth period (or dot).

What is Punctuated Equilibrium?

Punctuated equilibrium is a scientific theory. According to the hypothesis of punctuated equilibrium, the process of evolution starts with brief bursts of change, followed by long periods of stability or equilibrium. The theory suggests that change occurs very quickly, and when that time ends, evolution of the species stops. It has nothing to do with punctuation or grammar.

What Does Punctuate Mean?

A writer punctuates when inserting or using punctuation marks. However, a speaker can punctuate their speech with words or phrases to emphasize a point. A listener can also punctuate a speech by interrupting.

  • This article is punctuative because it pertains to punctuation.
  • If you use punctuation, you are a punctuator.
  • People who want to be on time are punctual.
  • And punctualist is an obscure word for someone who is very exact in observing forms. Is that the same as a grammar nerd? Not according to our article on grammar nerds.

Bottom Line

Punctuation isn’t always used in writing. The post What is a Semicolon Tattoo? explains that the tattoo is used by suicide survivors and those who support survivors. The semicolon signifies that your story is not over; you can always write a new one.

A period, comma, question mark, and exclamation point are examples of punctuation. But so is a % , $, and #.

What is your favorite punctuation mark?

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