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Punctuation Riddles
Did you know / 11 August 2020

Punctuation Riddles

What do you call a full stop with a tail? → A COMMA

What do you call a full stop sitting on a comma? → A SEMI-COLON

What do you call a full stop sitting on top of a full stop? → A COLON

Three punctuation marks that cause confusion among natives and language learners alike! Let’s take a look …



The Comma

The comma may seem straightforward. We put it in between words in a list:

  • Last night I ate chicken, potatoes, peas and broccoli for my dinner.
  • The monster was big, scary and hairy!


The functionality of the comma doesn’t stop there though – it’s far more versatile than that! Here are a few examples of comma use:


Independent Clauses

  • I met Mike on the corner, we walked to work together, and then he went into his meeting.


Non-defining Relative Clauses

  • He was talking to the lady, who comes from Russia, when he heard the first clap of thunder.


Tag Questions

  • You were born in Manchester, weren’t you? 


The Colon

The colon is what you need when a list needs an introduction:

  • I used to collect all sorts of things when I was young: key-rings, stamps, pennies and buttons.  


Adding in ‘such as’ or ‘like’ would also work here, but a colon also does the trick.


The Semi-Colon

The semi-colon is sometimes used when a full-stop seems too final, but a comma just isn’t right. It can also avoid having to use a conjunction (such as ‘because’):

  • I love New York; it’s full of variety!


It’s also useful in lists that get a little complicated. Lists aren’t always made up of individual words – each item can have multiple words and even contain commas themselves:

  • The meeting was full of local business owners: John, the baker; Tiffany, the butcher; Samuel, the florist; and Jeffrey, the policeman.


If we just used commas here,
the sentence would be very difficult to understand.


Do you want to know a secret? A huge proportion of native speakers would not be able to explain the use of commas, colons and semi-colons to you, let alone use them. While you can’t get by without using commas, you could happily write at length without using a colon or semi-colon. Why settle for this though when you could develop writing skills that impress!

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