Will you celebrate National Punctuation Day every year on September 24th? If not, is it because you think commas and semicolons are too insignificant to celebrate, or is it because you don’t want to blot your calendar with quotation marks? Are you someone who thinks punctuation doesn’t impact meaning?
If this is your attitude, or even if you see the necessity of punctuation but not necessarily how it affects meaning, two versions of a letter by John Shore might change your mind. The letters contain the exact same words; only the punctuation has been changed.
My Dear Pat,
The dinner we shared the other night—it was absolutely lovely! Not in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine anyone as perfect as you are. Could you—if only for a moment—think of our being together forever? What a cruel joke to have you come into my life only to leave again; it would be heaven denied. The possibility of seeing you again makes me giddy with joy. I face the time we are apart with great sadness.
P.S.: I would like to tell you that I love you. I can’t stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on earth.
Pat the dinner we shared the other night. It was absolutely lovely—not! In my wildest dreams, could I ever imagine anyone? As perfect as you are, could you—if only for a moment—think? Of our being together forever: what a cruel joke! To have you come into my life only to leave again: it would be heaven! Denied the possibility of seeing you again makes me giddy. With joy I face the time we are apart.
With great “sadness,”
P.S.: I would like to tell you that I love you. I can’t. Stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on earth.
Which of these two letters would you like to receive? The first one expresses John’s love, but a few misplaced punctuation marks transform the love letter into a loveless letter.
The contrasting messages of the two letters dramatically demonstrate how punctuation influences meaning. The way words are yoked together or set apart does make a difference, as you’ll discover in this lesson. Before you dash off, watch “Dots N Dashes,” an imaginative rap on punctuation brought to you by National Punctuation Day.