Punctuation and I (or should that be Me?)

Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.

Do you use said or asked after a ? or tag your interruptions? Any punctuation that bugs you? What’s the hardest for you to get right?

I have to be honest here, written English is a total mystery to me, I’ve learned to spell and punctuate as I’ve gone along. I failed English at school (twice) and there’s a very simple reason, apart from the fact that I couldn’t be bothered (that’s another story, the result of what happened first).

So before I get to this weeks prompt, here’s a bit of background. It also explains why nobody is more surprised than me that I can produce novel-length fiction that people seem to enjoy.

Between the ages of 11 and 13, I moved school three times. Due to the vagaries of the education system in England back in the 1960s and early 1970s, each school that I went to had a different local authority and their own, unique, curriculum.

Because of that, I sampled three different systems in quick succession. The result was that I missed out on a lot of subjects as I moved from school to school. Either I never got to learn them before I left, or they had already been covered when I arrived.

English grammar was one such casualty of my wanderings. I picked up a few of the basics but the bulk of it was never formally taught. When I said that I didn’t know something, my attempts to explain WHY I didn’t know were met with disbelief from the teachers. I just got told that I was stupid, lazy and useless. Everyone else in the class laughed.

Which was where the apathy came in. And the failed exams.

I actually wrote a short story about my school experiences, called (unsurprisingly) School, so in the end, I guess the experience was useful for something.

The teacher’s attitude to my missing knowledge, on the other hand, still causes me issues to this day.

Anyhow, dragging the subject back, Punctuation. This could easily be replaced by the phrase, why I employ an editor.

Seriously, the first manuscript I sent her came back with 5,000 corrections to the basics, full stop, commas – the dreaded semi-colon (shouldn’t that be a medical term?).

And that was before we got to the spellings and the rest.

I’m getting better now, thanks to seeing how she has corrected my work over the years and copying her suggestions as well as I could. But I still don’t know the rules. They seem confusing and arbitrary, with so many exceptions.

The good thing is that the voices in my head have sharpened their act up and now dictate a much cleaner version of the story to me. You can tell the difference between their work and mine, this blog post has taken me twice as long to write as a chapter of a novel and is made readable mainly by the power of Grammarly.

Oh yes, the question that started this post. I have spent a while looking back at various samples of my corrected work and I see that I tend to insert the ? and leave it at that, no tags and no capital letter on the next word if it’s in the middle of a longer passage of speech.

I assume that’s right, it’s certainly so according to the expert I have come to rely on.

Let me know what you think about this week’s subject.

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I’d love to get your comments, please leave them below. While you’re here, why not take a look around? There are some freebies and lots more content, about me, my writing and everything else that I do. You can join my newsletter for a free novella and more news by clicking this link.


10 Responses

  1. Jack Eason

    After almost twenty-six years, I still get it wrong. Like you, I never learnt a damned thing about punctuation. At high schoold my English teacher Kevin Pound only taught us Shakespears works. Fat lot of good that was!

    • Richard Dee

      There are many I’ve spoken to who say the same about their schooldays. Some teachers have a lot to answer for.

  2. phil huston

    I’m not sure I understand the ? in the middle of a longer passage. A ? is a phrase ender. Even in dialogue, even if it’s a rhetorical question. If you get a minute, post an example.
    As far as school, I took three college level English courses my senior year of high school because I was curious about lit criticism (dissection) and mechanics. Oh, here’s a way to get this or that rolling. How different authors built their work. Which is all fine and dandy but if you don’t hear the music, you’ll write exercises your entire life.
    Grammarly caught all your introductory clauses. Something I argue with it and Pro Writing Aid about. “Goddammit, the first three words of every sentence are not a $#@^ing introductory clause!” But it missed the possessives. And that drives me nuts because I learned, and promptly forgot, the rules. Is it week’s, weeks’? It can’t be weeks because that’s plural…
    I agree, the rules are a headache looking for a place to happen. I transcribe what the characters say and do, next.

    • Richard Dee

      OK, I admit it, you lost me at introductory clauses. As I said somewhere else, just when I congratulate myself on understanding a rule, I find an exception to it. And having failed English twice, I decided that going to sea was a much better way to spend my days. Strangely, once I was there, teachers actually wanted to help me learn.

    • Richard Dee

      I still think semi-colon makes a better medical term than a grammatical one.

  3. Steven Smith

    I used to consider myself a bit of a grammar Nazi. To some extent I still am. Should of, would of, could of – to the gallows!! You shall swing for your crimes! But other elements and rules really do seem so petty or outright confusing to me. Who knows, one day I may possess that grammatical knowledge, along with the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail!

    • Richard Dee

      I like it to be right, all credit for that goes to my editor. I’d hate to spoil the enjoyment of a good story for the sake of observing at least some of the rules.

  4. Roberta Eaton Cheadle

    We did so much grammar when I was at school, it just about came out of my ears. All I remember from my mid primary school years is rewriting passages with the correct punctuation. It does change from time to time, so I have learned about some changes since I started to write. As far as I’m concerned, so long as you get your work edited, it doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure or make mistakes.

    • Richard Dee

      My school life was such a mess, I never really learned anything until I managed to get an apprenticeship. There I found people who acted as if they wanted me to succeed.

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