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A Barrel of Periods,

A Thimble of Everything Else


Kids get tripped up on punctuation. It's almost as if they believe the more complicated they can make their sentences, the smarter they'll sound. Sadly, it's the other way around.


But how to make them believe that, so that they'll quit using - and misusing - so many punctuation marks?


Two ways:


First, teach your child the meaning of "punctuate," the root word of "punctuation." It means to "interrupt" or "give emphasis to." You can punctuate a point you're making in a conversation by waving your finger. But if you overdo it, all the other person will remember is your finger, not your point.


We're supposed to use punctuation to help the reader understand our written ideas. It's best to have mostly simple sentences without a lot of convoluted clauses and pauses. So stringing together lots of simple sentences that end in periods makes for easy reading. And that's good writing.


But we can use the more exotic forms of punctuation, too, to guide the reader to what's important, who's speaking, what's an exclamation, what's a question, how thoughts are connected or not, and many other solid purposes. But so many times, an unskilled writer will use too much of the various punctuation marks. It interrupts the flow of the ideas. The writing gets overcomplicated and confused.


Therefore, our second tip is to paint a simple word picture that can guide your child to use restraint. Teach your child that he or she has a great, big, giant, bottomless, 55-gallon barrel of periods, and only a tiny little thimble full of all the other punctuation marks.


There's an ample supply of periods, in other words, but only so many commas, colons, semicolons, question marks, quotation marks, ampersands, dashes and all the other marks that we can use in our writing.


Like many other good things in life, such as frosting, makeup, gravy and jewelry, just a little bit of the more exotic punctuation is great. But too much is a bad thing.


By Susan Darst Williams Grammar Granny 040 2006


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