User Tools

Site Tools


« Dictionary Index « Definitions under P


The Greeks and Romans were unacquainted with grammatical punctuation. With them it was for the most part only oratorical, since it referred, excepting a point at the end of a sentence and at some pauses, almost only to the elocution and pronunciation of the words. The first very imperfect beginning of our punctuation occurs in the time of Charlemagne, when a period of three points, and a stroke, were made use of, yet without following any definite rule. About the end of the fifteenth century, punctuation obtained a greater compass and a more settled character through the learned Venetian printer Manucci, so that he may be considered as the author of it. But still much time elapsed before the marks of punctuation collectively came generally into use as at present.

Through the introduction of these marks it has become possible to read a book with facility, and to recite a poem with a musical cadence. But still we feel too often, that our grammatical marks are far from sufficient for the purposes of declamation, seeing that we are sometimes obliged to make oratorical pauses where no grammatical points are applicable, and sometimes to double the pause for one and the same grammatical mark. Thus we read this passage in Wieland's “Goldene Spiegel,” pt. 1. p. 121.: —

“ Diese Methode bildete gleisnerisehe Schurken, welche ausgelernte Meister in der Kunst waren, ihre Leidenschaften zu verbergen, ihre schlimmen Neigungen in schöne Masken zu vermummen, die Unverständigen durch eine Tugend und Religion tödtende Phraseologie zu täuschen.” — “This method created hypocritical rascals, who were accomplished masters in the art of dissembling their emotions, of disguising their evil propensities under fine masks, and of deceiving the heedless by a virtue and religion killing phraseology.”

Here we readily perceive that after the word Methode, and also after eine, a pause must be made in reading, although no grammatical point is employed. And we have for this purpose no other mark than the dash ( — ). In like manner, every reader will perceive that the grammatical pause after Schurken must be made much longer than after waren, because this last is so closely connected with the word immediately following, that the voice glides over it rapidly. Heinsius, German Grammar.

The knowledge of punctuation being essential equally to the master printer, the reader, and the compositor, I have extracted this article from Murray's English Grammar, as being perspicuous, and of high authority.

“Punctuation is the art of dividing a written composition into sentences, or parts of sentences, by points or stops, for the purpose of marking the different pauses which the sense, and an accurate pronunciation require.

“The Comma represents the shortest pause; the Semicolon, a pause double that of the comma; the Colon, double that of the semicolon; and the Period, double that of the colon.

“The precise quantity or duration of each pause cannot be defined; for it varies with the time of the whole. The same composition may be rehearsed in a quicker or a slower time; but the proportion between the pauses should be ever invariable.

“In order more clearly to determine the proper application of the points, we must distinguish between an imperfect phrase, a simple sentence, and a compound sentence.

“An imperfect phrase contains no assertion, or does not amount to a proposition or sentence: as, 'Therefore; in haste; studious of praise.'

“A simple sentence has but one subject, and one finite verb, expressed or implied: as 'Temperance preserves health.'

“A compound sentence has more than one subject, or one finite verb, either expressed or understood; or it consists of two or more simple sentences connected together: as, 'Good nature mends and beautifies all objects;' 'Virtue refines the affections, but vice debases them.'

“In a sentence, the subject and the verb, or either of them, may be accompanied with several adjuncts: as, the object, the end, the circumstance of time, place, manner, and the like: and the subject or verb maybe either immediately connected with them, or mediately; that is, by being connected with something which is connected with some other, and so on: as, 'The mind, unoccupied with useful knowledge, becomes a magazine of trifles and follies.'

“As sentences themselves are divided into simple and compound, so the members of sentences may be divided likewise into simple and compound members: for whole sentences, whether simple or compounded, may become members of other sentences, by means of some additional connexion; as in the following example: 'The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people do not consider.' This sentence consists of two compounded members, each of which is subdivided into two simple members, which are properly called clauses.

Of the Comma

“The comma usually separates those parts of a sentence, which, though very closely connected in sense and construction, require a pause between them.

Rule I. With respect to a simple sentence, the several words of which it consists have so near a relation to each other, that, in general, no points are requisite, except a full stop at the end of it: as, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of, wisdom.' 'Every part of matter swarms with living creatures.'

“A simple sentence, however, when it is a long one, and the nominative case is accompanied, with inseparable adjuncts, may admit of a pause immediately before the verb:. as, 'The good taste of the present age, has not allowed us to neglect the cultivation of the English language:' 'To be totally indifferent to praise or censure, is a real defect in character.'

Rule II. When the connexion of the different parts of a simple sentence is interrupted by an imperfect phrase, a comma is usually introduced before the beginning, and at the end) of this phrase: as, 'I remember, with gratitude, his goodness to me:' 'His work is, in many respects, very imperfect. It is, therefore, not much approved.' But when these interruptions are slight and unimportant, the comma is better omitted; as, 'Flattery is certainly pernicious;' 'There is surely a pleasure in beneficence.'

“In the generality of compound sentences, there is frequent occasion for commas; as will appear from the following view of the different occasions to which they are adapted.

Rule III. When two or more nouns occur in the same construction, they are parted by a comma: as, 'Reason, virtue, answer one great aim:' 'The husband, wife, and children, suffered extremely:1) ' 'They took away their furniture, clothes, and stock in trade:' 'He is alternately supported by his father, his uncle, and his elder brother.'

“From this rule there is mostly an exception, with regard to two nouns closely connected by a conjunction: as, 'Virtue and vice form a strong contrast to each other:' 'Libertines call religion bigotry or superstition;' 'There is a natural difference between merit and demerit, virtue and vice, wisdom and folly.' But if the parts connected are not short, a comma may be inserted, though the conjunction is expressed: as, 'Romances may be said to be miserable rhapsodies, or dangerous incentives to evil;' 'Intemperance destroys the strength of our bodies, and the vigour of our minds.'

Rule IV. Two or more adjectives belonging to the same substantive are likewise separated by commas: as, 'Plain, honest truth, wants no artificial covering;' 'David was a brave, wise, and pious man;' 'A woman, gentle, sensible, well-educated, and religious;' 'The most innocent pleasures are the sweetest, the most rational, the most affecting, and the most lasting.'

“But two adjectives, immediately connected by a conjunction, are not separated by a comma: as, 'True worth is modest and retired;' 'Truth is fair and artless, simple and sincere, uniform and consistent.' 'We must be wise or foolish; there is no medium.'

Rule V. Two or more verbs, having the same nominative case, and immediately following one another, are also separated by commas: as, 'Virtue supports in adversity, moderates in prosperity:' 'In a letter, we may advise, exhort, comfort, request, and discuss.'

“Two verbs immediately connected by a conjunction, are an exception to the above rule: as, 'The study of natural history expands and elevates the mind;' 'Whether we eat or drink, labour or sleep, we should be moderate.'

“Two or more participles are subject to a similar rule, and exception: as, 'A man, fearing, serving, and loving his Creator;' 'He was happy in being loved, esteemed, and respected; ' 'By being admired and flattered, we are often corrupted.'

Rule VI. Two or more adverbs immediately succeeding one another, must be separated by commas: as, 'We are fearfully, wonderfully framed;' 'Success generally depends on acting prudently, steadily, and vigorously, in what we undertake.'

“But when two adverbs are joined by a conjunction, they are not parted by the commas as, ' Some men sin deliberately and presumptuously;' 'There is no middle state; we must live virtuously or vitiously.'

Rule VII. When participles are followed by something that depends on them, they are generally separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma: as, 'The king, approving the plan, put it in execution;' 'His talents, formed for great enterprises, could not fail of rendering him conspicuous; ' ' All mankind compose one family, assembled under the eye of one common Father.'

Rule VIII. When a conjunction is divided by a phrase or sentence from the verb to which it belongs, such intervening phrase has usually a comma at each extremity: as, 'They set out early, and, before the close of the day, arrived at the destined place.'

Rule IX. Expressions in a direct address, are separated from the rest of the sentence by commas: as, 'My son, give me thy heart;' 'I am obliged to you, my friends, for your many favours.'

Rule X. The case absolute, and the infinitive mood absolute, are separated by commas from the body of the sentence: as, 'His father dying, he succeeded to the estate;' 'At length, their ministry performed, and race well run, they left the world in peace;' ' To confess the truth, I was much in fault.'

Rule XI. Nouns in apposition, that is, nouns added to other nouns in the same case, by way of explication or illustration, when accompanied with adjuncts, are set off by commas: as, 'Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, was eminent for his zeal and knowledge;' 'The butterfly, child of the summer, flutters in the sun.' “But if such nouns are single, or only form a proper name, they are not divided: as, 'Paul the apostle; ' 'The emperor Antoninus wrote an excellent book.'

Rule XII. Simple members of sentences connected by comparatives, are for the most part distinguished by a comma; as, 'As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so doth my soul pant after thee; ' 'Better is a dinner of herbs with love, than a stalled ox and hatred with it.'

“If the members in comparative sentences are short, the comma is, in general, better omitted: as, 'How much better is it to get wisdom than gold' ' Mankind act oftener from caprice than reason.'

Rule XIII. When words are placed in opposition to each other, or with some marked variety, they require to be distinguished by a comma: as,

'Tho' deep, yet clear; tho' gentle, yet not dull;
Strong, without rage; without o'erflowing, full.'

'Good men, in this frail, imperfect state, are often found, not only in union with, but in opposition to, the views and conduct of one another.'

“Sometimes when the word with which the last preposition agrees, is single, it is better to omit the comma before it: as, 'Many states were in alliance with, and under the protection of Rome.' “The same rule and restriction must be applied when two or more nouns refer to the same preposition: as, 'He was composed both under the threatening, and at the approach, of a cruel and lingering death;' 'He was not only the king, but the father of his people.'

Rule XIV. A remarkable expression, or a short observation, somewhat in the manner of a quotation, may be properly marked with a comma: as, 'It hurts a man's pride to say, I do not know;' 'Plutarch calls lying, the vice of slaves.'

Rule XV. Relative pronouns are connective words, and generally admit a comma before them: as, 'He preaches sublimely, who lives a sober, righteous, and pious life;' 'There is no charm in the female sex, which can supply the place of virtue.'

“But when two members, or phrases, are closely connected by a relative, restraining the general notion of the antecedent to a particular sense, the comma should be omitted: as, 'Self-denial is the sacrifice which virtue must make;' 'A man who is of a detracting spirit, will misconstrue the most innocent words that can be put together.' In the latter example, the assertion is not of 'a man in general,' but of 'a man who is of a detracting spirit;' and therefore they should not be separated.

“The fifteenth rule applies equally to cases in which the relative is not expressed, but understood: as, 'It was from piety, warm and unaffected, that his morals derived strength.' 'This sentiment, habitual and strong, influenced his whole conduct.' In both of these examples, the relative and verb which was, are understood.

Rule XVI. A simple member of a sentence, contained within another, or following another, must be distinguished by the comma: as, 'To improve time, whilst we are blessed with health, will smooth the bed of sickness.' 'Very often, while we are complaining of the vanity, and the evils of human life, we make that vanity, and we increase those evils.'

“If, however, the members succeeding each other, are very closely connected, the comma is unnecessary: as, 'Revelation tells us how we may attain happiness.'

“When a verb in the infinitive mood, follows its governing verb, with several words between them, those words should generally have a comma at the end of them: as, 'It ill becomes good and wise men, to oppose and degrade one another.'

“Several verbs in the infinitive mood, having a common dependence, and succeeding one another, are also divided by commas: as, 'To relieve the indigent, to comfort the afflicted, to protect the innocent, to reward the deserving, is a humane and noble employment.'

Rule XVII. When the verb to be is followed by a verb in the infinitive mood, which, by transposition, might be made the nominative case to it, the former is generally separated from the latter verb, by a comma: as, 'The most obvious remedy is, to withdraw from all associations with bad men.' 'The first and most obvious remedy against the infection, is, to withdraw from all associations with bad men.'

Rule XVIII. When adjuncts or circumstances are of importance, and often when the natural order of them is inverted, they may be set off by commas: as, 'Virtue must be formed and supported, not by unfrequent acts, but by daily and repeated exertions.' 'Vices, like shadows, towards the evening of life, grow great and monstrous.' 'Our interests are interwoven by threads innumerable;' 'By threads innumerable, our interests are interwoven.'

Rule XIX. Where a verb is understood, a comma may often be properly introduced. This is a general rule, which, besides comprising some of the preceding rules, will apply to many cases not determined by any of them: as, 'From law arises security; from security, curiosity; from curiosity, knowledge.' In this example, the verb 'arises' is understood before 'curiosity' and 'knowledge;' at which words a considerable pause is necessary.

Rule XX. 'The words, way, so, hence, again, first, secondly, formerly, now, lastly, once more, above all, on the contrary, in the next place, in short, and all other words and phrases of the same kind, must generally be separated from the context by a comma: as, 'Remember thy best and first friend; formerly, the supporter of thy infancy, and the guide of thy childhood; now, the guardian of thy youth, and the hope of thy coming years.' 'He feared want, hence, he over-valued riches.' 'His conduct may heal the difference, nay, it may constantly prevent any in future.' 'Finally, I shall only repeat what has been often justly said.' 'If the spring put forth no blossoms, in summer there will be no beauty, and in autumn, no fruit; so, if youth be trifled away without improvement, riper years may be contemptible, and old age miserable.'

“In many of the foregoing rules and examples, great regard must be paid to the length of the clauses, and the proportion which they bear to one another. An attention to the sense of any passage, and to the clear, easy communication of it, will, it is presumed, with the aid of the preceding rules, enable the student to adjust the proper pauses, and the places for inserting the commas.

Of the Semicolon

“The semicolon is used for dividing a compound sentence into two or more parts, not so closely connected as those which are separated by a comma, nor yet so little dependent on each other, as those which are distinguished by a colon.

“The semicolon is sometimes used, when the preceding member of the sentence does not of itself give a complete sense, but depends on the following clause: and sometimes when the sense of that member would be complete without the concluding one: as in the following instances: 'As the desire of approbation, when it works according to reason, improves the amiable part of our species in every thing that is laudable; so nothing is more destructive to them when it is governed by vanity and folly.'

”'Experience teaches us, that an entire retreat from worldly affairs, is not what religion requires; nor does it even enjoin a long retreat from them.'

”'Straws swim upon the surface, but pearls lie at the bottom.'

”'Philosophers assert, that Nature is unlimited in her operations; that she has inexhaustible treasures in reserve; that knowledge will always be progressive; and that all future generations will continue to make discoveries, of which we have not the least idea.'

Of the Colon

“The colon is used to, divide a sentence into two or more parts, less connected than those which are separated by a semicolon; but not so independent as separate distinct sentences.

“The colon may be properly applied in the three following cases.

  1. When a member of a sentence is complete in itself, but followed by some supplemental remark, or further illustration of the subject: as, 'Nature felt her inability to extricate herself from the consequences of guilt: the gospel reveals the plan of Divine interposition and aid.' 'Nature confessed some atonement to be necessary: the gospel discovers that the necessary atonement is made.'
  2. When several semicolons have preceded, and a still greater pause is necessary, in order to mark the connecting or concluding sentiment: as, 'A divine legislator, uttering his voice from heaven; an almighty governor, stretching forth his arm to punish or reward; informing us of perpetual rest prepared hereafter for the righteous, and of indignation and wrath awaiting the wicked: these are the considerations which overawe the world, which support integrity, and check guilt.'
  3. The colon is commonly used when an example, a question, or a speech is introduced; as, 'The Scriptures give us an amiable representation of the Deity, in these words: “God is love.” 'He was often heard to say: “I have done with the world, and I am willing to leave it.” '

“The propriety of using a colon, or semicolon, is sometimes determined by a conjunction's being expressed, or not expressed: as, 'Do not flatter yourselves with the hope of perfect happiness: there is no such thing in the world.' 'Do not flatter yourselves with the hope of perfect happiness; for there is no such thing in the world.'

Of the Period

“When a sentence is complete and independent, and not connected in construction with the following sentence, it is marked with a period.

“Some sentences are independent of each other, both in their sense and construction: as, 'Fear God. Honour the king. Have charity towards all men.' Others are independent only in their grammatical construction: as, 'The Supreme Being changes not, either in his desire to promote our happiness, or in the plan of his administration. One light always shines upon us from above. One clear and direct path is always pointed out to man.'

“A period may sometimes be admitted between two sentences, though they are joined by a disjunctive or copulative conjunction. For the quality of the point does not always depend on the connective particle, but on the sense and structure of sentences: as, 'Recreations, though they may be of an innocent kind, require steady government, to keep them within a due and limited province. But such as are of an irregular and vicious nature, are not to be governed, but to be banished from every well-regulated mind.'

”'He who lifts himself up to the observation and notice of the world is, of all men, the least likely to avoid censure. For he draws upon himself a thousand eyes, that will narrowly inspect him in every part.'

“The period should be used after every abbreviated word: as, 'M.S. P.S. N.B. A.D. O.S. N.S.' &c.

Of the Dash, Notes of Interrogation and Exclamation, &c

The Dash,. — The Dash, though often used improperly by hasty and incoherent writers, may be introduced with propriety, where the sentence breaks off abruptly; where a significant pause is required; or where there is an unexpected turn in the sentiment: as, 'If thou art he, so much respected once — but, oh! how fallen! how degraded!' 'If acting conformably to the will of our Creator; — if promoting the welfare of mankind around us; — if securing our own happiness; — are objects of the highest moment: — then we are loudly called upon, to cultivate and extend the great interests of religion and virtue.'

” 'Here lies the great — False marble, where?
Nothing but sordid dust lies here.'

“Besides the points which mark the pauses in discourse, there are others, which denote a different modulation of voice, in correspondence to the sense. These are,

  • “The Interrogative point, ?
  • “The Exclamation point, !
  • “The Parenthesis, ( )

Interrogation. — A note of Interrogation is used at the end of an interrogative sentence; that is, when a question is asked: as, 'Who will accompany me?' 'Shall we always be friends?'

“Questions which a person asks himself in contemplation, ought to be terminated by points of interrogation: as, 'Who adorned the heavens with such exquisite beauty?' 'At whose command do the planets perform their constant revolutions?'

“A point of interrogation is improper after sentences which are not questions, but only expressions of admiration, or of some other emotion.

”'How many instances have we of chastity and excellence in the fair sex!'”

”'With what prudence does the son of Sirach advise us in the choice of our companions!'”

“A note of interrogation should not be employed, in cases where it is only said a question has been asked, and where the words are not used as a question. 'The Cyprians asked me, why I wept.' To give this sentence the interrogative form, it should be expressed thus: 'The Cyprians said to me, “Why dost thou weep?'”

Exclamation. — The note of Exclamation is applied to expressions of sudden emotion, surprise, joy, grief, &c. and also to invocations or addresses: as, 'My friend! this conduct amazes me!' 'Bless the Lord, my soul! and forget not all his benefits!'
”'Oh! had we both our humble state maintain'd.
And safe in peace and poverty remain'd!'”

”'Hear me, O Lord! for thy loving kindness is great!'”

“It is difficult, in some cases, to distinguish between an interrogative and exclamatory sentence; but a sentence, in which any wonder or admiration is expressed, and no answer either expected or implied, may be always properly terminated by a note of exclamation: as, 'How much vanity in the pursuits of men!' 'Who can sufficiently express the goodness of our Creator!' 'What is more amiable than virtue!'

“The interrogation and exclamation points are indeterminate as to their quantity or time, and may be equivalent in that respect to a semicolon, a colon, or a period, as the sense may require. They mark an elevation of the voice.

“The utility of the points of interrogation and exclamation, appears from the following examples, in which meaning is signified and discriminated solely by the points.

” 'What condescension!'
” 'What condescension?'
” 'How great was the sacrifice!'
” 'How great was the sacrifice?'

Parenthesis. — A parenthesis is a clause containing some necessary information, or useful remark, introduced into the body of a sentence obliquely, and which may be omitted without injuring the construction: as,

”'Know then this truth; (enough for man to know,)
Virtue alone is happiness below.'
”'And was the ransom paid? It was; and paid
(What can exalt his bounty more?) for thee.'

”'To gain a posthumous reputation, is to save four or five letters (for what is a name besides?) from oblivion.' 'Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?'

“If the incidental clause is short, or perfectly coincides with the rest of the sentence, it is not proper to use the parenthetical characters. The following instances are therefore improper uses of the parenthesis. 'Speak you (who saw) his wonders in the deep.' 'Every planet (as the Creator has made nothing in vain) is most probably inhabited.' 'He found them asleep again; (for their eyes were heavy;) neither knew they what to answer him.'

“The parenthesis marks a moderate depression of the voice, and may be accompanied with every point which the sense would require, if the parenthetical characters were omitted. It ought to terminate with the same kind of stop which the member has, that precedes it; and to contain that stop within the parenthetical marks. We must, however, except cases of interrogation and exclamation: as, 'While they wish to please, (and why should they not wish it?) they disdain dishonourable means.' 'It was represented by an analogy, (Oh, how inadequate!) which was borrowed from,'” &c.

First PagePrevious Page

As a considerable pause in pronunciation, is necessary between the last noun and the verb, a comma should be inserted to denote it. But, as no pause is allowable between the last adjective and the noun, under Rule IV., the comma is there properly omitted. See Walker's Elements of Elocution.