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It’s National Punctuation Day… – ?;’.(!)

• Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D.

Proper punctuation is a necessity. It helps the reader understand you and helps you to make your meaning clear. Punctuation tells the reader where to pause, breathe, raise her voice, change her voice, etc. These little marks are powerful and should not be ignored. Relying on punctuation, rather than ignoring it, improves reading fluency and comprehension.

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation states, “The problem with poor punctuation is that it makes life difficult for the reader who needs to read and understand what you’ve written.”

The risks of inaccurate punctuation are numerous!

Inaccurate punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence.

A classic example given when teaching punctuation is A woman without her man is nothing. Now see the difference punctuation makes:

  • A woman, without her man, is nothing.
  • A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Inaccurate punctuation can be costly.

A Maine court case was decided based on the lack of use of an Oxford comma in a state statute resulting in a $5 million settlement to dairy farm drivers for unpaid overtime. Without an Oxford comma after the word shipment, this line in the statute, “packing for shipment or distribution,” could be referring to packing and shipping as a single act, or as two separate tasks. The drivers argued that it reads as a single act, and since they didn’t do any packing, they shouldn’t have been exempt from overtime pay. The Maine Legislature has since edited this exemption, replacing the ambiguous punctuation with semicolons.

Inaccurate punctuation can be embarrassing and dangerous!

Work with your kids on punctuation and encourage them to practice. Author Lynne Truss and Illustrator Bonnie Timmons have three entertaining children’s books emphasizing the importance of punctuation. Eats, Shoots & Leaves Why, Commas Really DO Make a Difference!, Twenty-Odd Ducks Why, EVERY Punctuation Mark Counts! and The Girl’s Like Spaghetti Why, You CAN’T Manage Without Apostrophes! Sharing these silly, memorable examples with kids will save them from awkward and embarrassing situations, especially with text messages!

Punctuation matters.

Don’t let kids learn the hard way. Teach them punctuation—so they only accept the invitations to go to lunch with friends who correctly text Let’s eat, Christy! and steer clear of those who text: Let’s eat Christy!

Note from ExcelinEd VP of Communications Jennifer Diaz: ExcelinEd follows AP Style and does not use the Oxford comma. Of course, we respect other viewpoints and styles…even when they are, well, incorrect. Seriously though, find out why your communications team uses AP Style in this great blog from the University of Minnesota, AP Style: Why We Use It.

About the author

Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D.

Christy Hovanetz is a Senior Policy Fellow for ExcelinEd focusing on school accountability policies. Dr. Hovanetz served as the Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education and Assistant Deputy Commissioner at the Florida Department of Education. She has worked in education policy for the state of Florida since 1999 serving as the Director of Evaluation and Reporting, Director of Reading First and a Policy Analyst for Governor Jeb Bush. She graduated summa cum laude from St. Cloud State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with a minor in mathematics and is a certified teacher in the state of Minnesota. She earned her Masters of Public Administration at the University of Minnesota and a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University.