Punctuation may be called the art of dividing written language by points, in order that the relations of words and clauses may be plainly seen, and their meaning be readily understood.
In spoken language, these relations are sufficiently indicated by the pauses and inflections of the voice; but as written language has no such aids, it is necessary to supply the deficiency with arbitrary marks.
The ancients originally wrote their manuscripts without marks or divisions of any kind. Points are said to have been first used about 200 b. c., by Aristophanes, a grammarian of Alexandria, but did not come into general use for several centuries. The modern system of punctuation was invented by Manutius, a learned printer who flourished in Venice at the commencement of the sixteenth century. To him we are indebted for developing the leading principles of the art, though in some of their details they have since that time undergone considerable modification. As there is no man at whose hands business or friendship does not require an occasional letter, so there is none that need be unable, by a proper use of points, to make his meaning intelligible.
Good usage differs widely in regard to punctuation ; it is therefore impossible to lay down any fixed rules on the subject. Let the following general principles with regard to punctuation be constantly borne in mind.
The principal use of points is to separate words and clauses, and indicate the degree of connection between them. Thus, clauses between which the connection is close must be separated by commas ; those in which it is more remote by semicolons.
(2) They perform another office by showing to what class a sentence belongs. Thus,
"George is well," followed by a period is a declarative sentence, asserting that George is in good health ; followed by an interrogation-point, it is an interrogative sentence, and implies belief that he is well together with an inquiry whether it is not so; in other words, it is equivalent to " George is well; is he not?" This important difference of meaning can be conveyed in no other way than by the use respectively of the period and interrogation-point.
(3) Points are also employed to indicate a sudden transition or break in the construction or meaning. Thus, where a sentence is suddenly interrupted or broken off, a dash is placed ; as, "Woe to the destroyer ! woe to the-----"
(4) Finally they are used to denote the omission of words. Such is the office of the commas in the following sentence: "Reading maketh a full man ; conference, a ready man; writing, an exact man." The verb maketh being left out in the last two clauses, commas are inserted to denote the omissions.
(5) Never introduce a point unless you have some positive rule for so doing. Whenever there is any reasonable doubt as to the propriety of employing a comma, do not use it. The tendency of punctuators at the present day is to introduce too many points.
The characters used in punctuation are as follows:
The period should be used, (I) After every declarative and imperative sentence; as, "Honesty is the best policy."-"Fear God."
(2) After every abbreviated word; as, Dr. Geo. F. Johnson, F. R. S.
(3) After Roman capitals and small letters when used for figures; as "Charles I.' was the son of James I."
The colon is used to separate sentences which are only slightly connected and not completely separated as in the case of the period.
It is placed before a formal enumeration of particulars, and a direct quotation when referred to by the words thus, following, as follows, this, these.
The semicolon is used to separate sentences which are closely-related in memory. (1) When several long clauses occur in succession, all having common dependence on some other clause or word, they must be separated by semicolons ; as, " If we neglected no opportunity of doing good ; if we fed the hungry and ministered to the the sick; if we gave up our own luxuries, to secure necessary comforts for destitute; though no man might be aware of our generosity, yet in the applause of our own conscience we would have an ample reward."
A semicolon must be placed between the great divisions of sentences, when minor subdivisions occur that are separated by commas; as, "Mirth should be the embroidery of conversation, not the web ; and wit the ornament of the mind, not the furniture."
When a colon is placed before an enumeration of particulars, the objects enumerated must be separated by semicolons.
The comma is used in various ways to separate the parts of the sentence, and to facilitate the reader's comprehension of the sense. The rules for the employment of the comma are many, and as employed in letters, business forms, and in ordinary composition, only the more important of the rules are observed. Examples of its use are so frequent on this and other pages that special ones need not be given here.
(1) A comma is placed between the particulars mentioned in a succession of words all in the same construction.
(2) A comma is placed before and one after every parenthetical expression.
(3) A comma is placed after each pair of words, when each pair is in the same construction.
(4) A comma is used before a quotation closely connected with the preceding words.
(5) A phrase or clause which explains, in any degree, the meaning of any other phrase or clause is separated from it by a comma.
(6) A comma is placed where a word is understood, unless the connection is close.
(7) A comma must be used in sentences which would otherwise be misunderstood.
(8) Expressions repeated must be separ-ated by a comma.
(9) All modifying expressions, unless closely connected with the rest of the sentence, are separated by commas.
(10) Use the comma in all places where its use will tend to make the sense clearer, and where no other mark of punctuation is applicable.
The use of Exclamation and Interrogation points is governed by a very few rules of easy application.
(1) An exclamation point is placed after every sentence, clause, phrase or word expressing sudden or violent emotion.
(2) Where special emphasis is required, several exclamation points may be used.
(3) An exclamation point, enclosed in parenthesis, is used to denote surprise.
(4) An interrogation point is placed after every sentence, phrase, clause, or word, which asks a direct question.
(5) An interrogation point enclosed in parenthesis is often used to denote doubt.
(1) Quotation marks are placed before and after words or passages quoted from another author, or represented in narratives as used in dialogue.
(2) Quotations consisting of more than one paragraph have the first quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph, but the second is used only at the end of the last paragraph.
(3) When a quoted passage requires special attention, the first quotation mark may be used at the commencement of each line.
(4) When one quotation includes another, the latter has but half the first quotation mark before it, and half the second mark after it.
(5) The Parenthesis encloses matter not actually connected with the sentence.
(6) Brackets are chiefly used to enclose corrections.
(7) The Hyphen is used to separate the syllables of a word.
(8) A sudden turn in a sentence and the omission of a word, or part of a word, are denoted by a Dash.
(9) A Dash is usually placed before the answer to a question, when they both belong to the same line.
(10) A Dash is often used instead of the parenthesis marks, and commonly used before an expression repeated for special emphasis.
(11) The; Apostrophe; denotes a contraction by the omission of a letter, and also is used as the sign of possessive case.
(12) The Caret is used to show the omission of letters or words.
The following are marks of reference, and are generally used to call attention to words, sentences, or notes placed at the bottom of the page :
1. The Asterisk,*. 4. And sometimes the Section,
2. The Dagger, 5. The Parallel, ||.
3. The Double Dagger, . 6. And the Paragraph, \.
Small letters or figures also are used to call attention to notes at the foot of the page.
The Section (§) is generally used for subdividing a chapter into lesser parts.
The Paragraph () denotes the beginning of a new subject, and in manuscript it is often inserted upon a revisal of the matter to denote that a paragraph should commence in a certain place.
The Index () is used where special attention is desired to be called to something of importance.