Book Review: Punctuation..?

Punctuation..? by User Design (Thomas Bohm) is a short handbook on how to use the most common punctuation marks, plus some of the not-so-common ones. Illustrated with simple, yet intriguing line drawings, the book covers British stylistic practice, not North American, and is aimed at the novice writer who is looking to improve their use of common punctuation marks.

While the book covers the basics, it is no substitute for a good style manual, and is better suited as light refresher rather than a reference. It omits some of the subtle uses of the various marks it covers, and at times it presents the information somewhat inaccurately, although it would not be fair to say that it gets anything “wrong.” For example, the book states that the possessive singular is formed with just < 's >, but does not address the question of singular words that end in the letter < s >, which can use either the < 's > or simply the apostrophe¬—it’s a question of style which you use. The book also fails to distinguish between the uses the em dash and the en dash, stating that the difference is a regional one between the North America and Britain, while in actuality the two marks are used in different contexts on both sides of the ocean. The em dash is used to separate a related thought from the main clause—and to do so with emphasis. The en dash is used to link numbers in a continuing series, e. g., 1066–1492.

Perhaps the book’s biggest failing is in the most commonly used mark, the comma. The book fails to address the issue of the serial (or Oxford) comma, the most commonly raised question regarding comma use. It also states that the comma is used to separate clauses “when there is a change in the subject.” But more accurately it should be said to be used to separate independent clauses joined by a conjunction. This often entails a change in subject, but not always. And its description of the use of the semicolon is correct, but not particularly helpful in describing where one might want to use it.

On the positive side, the book presents one of the clearest and most succinct descriptions of how to use quotation marks (British style, of course) that I have seen. And the inclusion of some more obscure or non-English punctuation marks, like the European Guillemet and the Latin interpunct, is a nice touch.

All in all, Punctuation..? is a nice little book for the non-professional who just wants to brush up on her style and avoid the most common errors in punctuation.

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