My 4 Fundamental Laws of Punctuation

The very basics of punctuation.

Here it is, punctuation. That complex and scary dragon that I’m about to slay with four simple rules and some comments. Are you ready to learn how to use simple punctuation? Me too, so let’s get started!

1st Fundamental Law of Punctuation

Use a single period (.) to terminate a sentence. Yes, it really is that simple. Begin a sentence with a capitalized word and terminate it with a period. If you’re following along, go ahead and write several sentences in your journal or word processor window.

The first rule is simple: terminate a sentence with a single period (.).

2nd Fundamental Law of Punctuation

Use commas to insert pauses into sentences. Before beginning to use commas, note that it’s better to use too few commas than too many (comma-itis). It’s also best to read your work out loud to hear the pauses, which are the commas, in your writing.

I’ll have a great deal more to say about commas in the remainder of this document and series. For now, let’s suffice it to say that you’ve learned your second rule:

The second rule is vaguely defined: use commas to insert pauses into sentences.

3rd Fundamental Law of Punctuation

Use a single question mark (?) instead of a period (.) to terminate a sentence that asks a question.

Do you understand this rule?

I certainly hope so, otherwise, you’re not very perceptive.

4th Fundamental Law of Punctuation for Fiction

Use double quotes (“”) to enclose dialog. This rule applies mainly in fiction since people are rarely quoted in non-fiction.

Notice how Microsoft Word inserts smart quotes (quotes that angle toward each other) at the beginning and end of a quote by default.

“Hi, Carol.”

I’ll be discussing dialog in greater detail in a later chapter.

For now, that’s it! These are the basic four laws of simple punctuation.

Brian’s Guiding Principle of Punctuation

Keep it simple.

I can write compelling and persuasive prose using no punctuation other than a period and a comma (okay, and a question mark too). Of course, you’ll have to include the double-quote for dialog if you want me to write fiction. The exclamation mark can come in quite handy as well.

Four shape punctuation. That’s what I’m promoting. Begin simple, then use the remainder of this guide to add complexity to your well-formed sentences.

Now that we’ve established them so beautifully, let’s go break a few rules…