I was flicking through an old school book of mine earlier and stumbled across this little poem, the original was written by Cecil Hartley in 1818. I have a feeling I now know where this insane idea of having a comma when the reader should take a ‘breath’ has come from:

The stops point out the length of pause

A reader needs between each clause:

For every comma, a count of one;

The count for two at a semicolon;

Each colon prefers a count of three;

A full stop, four we all agree.

 

Marvellous. With that kind of received intelligence it’s no wonder there are generations of confused writers! This dubious guide reminded me of another, slightly more useful poem (much of which I remembered all on my own *gold star).

 

THE PARTS OF SPEECH

Every name is called a NOUN,
As
field and fountain, street and town;

 

In place of noun the

PRONOUN stands
As
he and she can clap their hands;

The

ADJECTIVE describes a thing,
As
magic wand and bridal ring;

The

VERB means action, something done –
To
read, to write, to jump, to run;

How things are done, the

ADVERBS tell,
As
quickly, slowly, badly, well;

The

PREPOSITION shows relation,
As
in the street, or at the station;


CONJUNCTIONS join, in many ways,
Sentences, words,
or phrase and phrase;

The

INTERJECTION cries out, ‘Hark!
I need an exclamation mark
!


Through Poetry, we learn how each
Of these make up
THE PARTS OF SPEECH.

Here are some other little mnemonics that may actually help you remember some of those fiddly little rules:

  1. Another way to think of a colon (:) is to call it an explanation mark: you add more information that clarifies the point.
  2. A semi-colon’s handy when and has been banned.
  3. Hyphens hang words together – dashes divide them.
  4. Apostrophes show possession and omission.

 

Proofreader, copy-writer and copy-editor

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