Why Punctuation Matters

I have to admit to being one of those really horrible people who go around correcting punctuation mistakes wherever I see them. I'm the militant wing of the Apostrophe Protection Society. I'm a Lynne Truss groupie.

Recently a company posted on my Facebook wall suggesting I order some of its products for Easter. Their post read, "Easters coming, so order you're personalised gifts now." Naturally I felt obliged to point out to them that people might have more confidence ordering "they're" personalised gifts if they felt that someone at the company was actually literate enough to get the text right.

But it's not just online. Oh no. I don't consider it vandalism to correct the punctuation on official signs. There's a local pet shop where I am no longer welcome after being caught annotating a display (in my defence it read "Corn Snake's") and I took a long walk around Thundersley Common with a black permanent marker shortly after the council erected several signs saying, "Please pick up after your dog by not doing so you risk a fine."

Does it really matter, though? Am I just being pointlessly obsessive and annoying the heck out of people in the process?

Well, I think it does matter. How many times did you have to re-read the sign from the Common before you understood what it meant? Good punctuation conveys meaning. Bad punctuation obscures it and confuses the reader. It can even change the meaning entirely, as the Prudential Building Society discovered several years ago when they ran full-page adverts in the British press with the tagline, "Were here to help you."

My daughter learned the rules of apostrophes, commas, capital letters, etc. in year 1 at school. She's now in year 3, and she knows that "Corn snake's" is wrong. From this I conclude that the reptile shop owners have a lower level of intelligence than my eight-year-old.

At the very least I would suggest that if you are a public-facing business your grammar, spelling and punctuation needs to be perfect. If it isn't, go back to infant school and relearn the basics. Otherwise I will not be held responsible for my actions with a permanent marker.


  1. Bugs me too, though so far I've refrained from pulling out a permanent marker :) My theory is this: we all get taught correct grammar in school, but for some people, it comes naturally and becomes innate--that incorrect apostrophe just LOOKS SO WRONG, so it's easy to write correctly. Whereas for others, it's more a matter of having to mechanically remember this or that rule, so it's easier to forget. I'm grateful it comes easily to me--makes writing novels easier!

  2. I'm a lifelong grammar and spelling cop and proud of it. I have always enjoyed proper communication, and it bothers me to see that even many adults of my generation (I am 58) no longer care about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. I post many humorous grammar "corrections" on Facebook, and am often made fun of for caring. "It's just Facebook", they say. Unfortunately, their communication shortcomings transfer directly into their real lives; thus I say, "Bravo!" to those of us defending the language wherever we may be.

  3. I read somewhere that J K Rowling uses contractions during narration, 74% of the time.

    I wonder who found that interesting enough to do the counting.

  4. Your last paragraph in this post needs a permanent marker in three places where there are missing commas. The first is after "At the very least". The second is after "I would suggest that if you are a public-facing business". The third is that there should be a comma after "Otherwise".

  5. Sorry anonymous, reading it back again I disagree. Commas are subjective, and looking at that paragraph again I don't think the commas are necessary. I can be read as a full flow-through sentence without pauses, so I stand by my choice. For example, the comment by anonymous of 17th May (above) would be better without that comma after "narration" but neither is it incorrect.


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