What Trucks the Meaning From My Mind to Yours?
Well, it helps if you speak the same languageThis is not a guarantee.
What it really is, is a stealth introduction to hyphens.
Be still, your heart! .
Other than that? (Leaving politics strictly out of it and confining ourselves to the written word:)
Grammar used right and punctuated well.
Because, at that point—that is, your speaking the same language—your reader, being fully able to understand your words, is fully cognizant of being in agreement, or not in agreement, with you. (Maybe politics do count. No, because that seems to be more than a difference of opinion. It appears to be a different worldview. A different universe. Something along those lines.)
Grammar is covered—not all of it, just the low points—in the next section, Up for Grammars.
Warning. You are about to see ways not to write, examples of the worst sins of omission.
Beneath the surface we will barely scratch lurk denizens of deeper realms. These will be trapped, scrutinized, tamed, and released on a regular basis.
Contact me and suggest your own favorites.
It is here that we cover punctuation. You remember punctuation. Those little black marks that are left (or not left) on a page.
Which are the most abused, by being shunned, marks of punctuation? What comes to mind instead of many pages are apostrophes, commas, semi-colons, and hyphens.
Although the arbitrary reputation of punctuation holds some water (mainly because of well-meaning but misled usage), it may dispel a few of your darker feelings about the little tykes to think of them as useful primarily not for enraging readers but for conveying information. That is what they're for—the conveyance of information or, if you prefer, the dispelling of ambiguity. Fine qualities in an array of little black marks!
I have an answer for those who complain that punctuation use is confusingIt is! .
It is, of course, but that is because usage is contingent on the syntaxAn arrangement of words in sentences;
this arrangement is assumed to be grammatical and, if that assumption is correct, then good syntax has been observed. of the to-be-punctuated words.
Consider the word west.
Is it a noun, an adjective, or an adverb?
The answer is yes.
The word west can be any one of the three—noun, adjective, or adverbBut only one at a time ... — depending on usage.
So we need to know a little. Usage. Don't worry—you already know more than you realize. As to the complaint of messy from the leading paragraph, all I can say is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I lied; I can say something else as well: That when verbiage is all working together, properly punctuated, language flowing, the words set down in a righteous rhythm, punctuation becomes invisible.
Yes, that should seem familiar; I've said it before.
But, really, is righteous punctuation an art? Of course not. Like a wayward child (or most of them, anyway), all that is required [passive-construction (not passive-aggression) alert!] to bring punctuating into line and onto page is a little consideration.
How about an example from real life:
The Effect of Health Compromising Behaviors on Preterm Births
Did you know that health can compromise behaviors?
Well, come to think of it, I suppose it could. Health might, for example, compromise such behaviors as drinking vodka for breakfast, amputating one's own appendages, and running with scissors and cigarettes, all of them lit. [Deliberate!]
And this brings us to that poster-child of the shunned punctuation mark, that most misunderstood and dissed, even feared and hated, mark, the lowly but not low hyphen. Never fear; I get into much more detail about them in other places. Just to touch upon the topic, however, here I will hypothesize that some of the rampant confusion I sense undoubtedly arises from the fact that
hyphens are found in two distinct grammar situations: In compound words
(state-of-the-art), as well as in two-word pairs
(two-wormed pears) that modify a noun.
Feast your eyes upon the following: The oyster starved foundling tucked into the steaming plateful. How many times did your eyes stop? Just once is still too much!
The oyster didn't starve the foundling; what the writer probably meant was that the foundling was oyster-starved (and could probably have used some other nutrients as well).
How much more smoothly does this go down: The oyster-starved foundling tucked into the steaming plateful. All that lacks is a steaming and savory garlic broth.
You see? Already we have covered the two major hyphen-requiring situations that
you will (now) recognize: In compound words (in-the-know)
in two-word pairs that modify a noun (health-compromising
Maybe some questions continue to lurk about you like senseless, burnt-out wraiths of mortals Part of the greeting of the shade Teiresias, once-famous seer now of Hades, on catching sight of the visiting hero, his old pal Odysseus, leaving you no rest, scant appetite, falling hair, red-rimmed eyes ... We can't have that, can we?
To get down to the real substance of hyphenation rules and regulations (even as I strenuously strive to avoid ze dry patches of pedantrytoo much like your grim old eighth-grade teacher
(apologies again, Ms. Metzler)), leap to this island, where you won't believe your luck with these titillating sections on general rules, hyphens in compound words, hyphens with pre/post-ixes (eh?), and finally, for a light dessert, hyphenation exceptions.
And as to the remainder of the neglected bunch? (Punctuation marks, oh yes.) Reduce and abolish your confusion about semi-colons, apostrophes, and grammar; when you've got that down, nail down the distinction between that and which and how to declense the verb lie, and prepare to amaze if not your friends at least, perhaps, your teachers!