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What part of speech is that?

To use a comma or an exclamation point or no punctuation at all, that is the question.

Less punctuation is a trend that is popular with modern writers. Quotation marks are becoming obsolete. Editors slice superfluous words, including words they think are superfluous but might not be (Microsoft Word’s grammar check is notorious for this).

I think I first noticed leaving out quotation marks in the works of Cormack McCarthy. I find that in context I usually don’t even realize when the quotation marks are not there. I was halfway through All the Pretty Horses before it dawned on me that there were no quotation marks. It really doesn’t matter. For example: Billy said,“Go for it.” Or Billy said go for it. Is there any doubt that Billy is being quoted in the second sentence? Of course not. So if you want to dispense with quotation marks, go for it.

Semicolons are not popular either, nor are exclamation points. I’m on board with no exclamation points. In a great article by Stephen Spector called “On Our Love-Hate Relationship with Punctuation”  that was posted on Lit Hub, the writer quoted Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: “the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets overexcited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.” In my fiction writing I avoid exclamation points, working on the assumption that if I need a punctuation mark to let the reader know something is important or exciting, I might need to recast my sentence. In newspaper articles I avoid them even more stringently. It drives me crazy when I ask someone for a quote, say the director of a play I’m writing about, and she sends me two paragraphs filled with exclamation points, ellipses, ALL-CAPS and marks that I can’t even identify—all of which I then have to convert into normal language.

Another thing: Look back at the opening sentence in the second paragraph above: “Less punctuation is a trend that is . . .” An increasingly popular modern trend is to leave out the that in sentences like that. What part of speech is that anyway? A demonstrative pronoun? Do we need them? Probably not. I’m ambiguous on that. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Spector quoted William Strunk Jr., co-author of Elements of Style. He said punctuation is “governed two-thirds by rule and one-third by personal taste.”

I guess what it comes down to is so long as the meaning is clear, write it so that the words land pleasantly on the ear.

For further thoughts on the subject read Spector’s article. I think you’ll enjoy it.

 

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