Punctuation helps to clarify ideas. This tip sheet answers common questions about semi-colons, commas, periods, colons, quotation marks, parentheses and brackets. For more details or explanations, please visit the Writing Centre.
A: Semi-colons separate two independent clauses in one sentence, and at the same time, show that the clauses are related.
Lydia steals Antonius’ armour; he retaliates by stealing her sense of security.
Periods show the end of a sentence. It would also be correct to write the above example as two complete sentences; however, the emphasis on the connection between each part is lessened.
Lydia steals Antonius’ armour. He retaliates by stealing her sense of security.
Commas usually indicate a small break between different elements of a sentence. Correct comma usage clarifies the grouping of elements in a sentence. Incorrect comma usage confuses the message.
Correct Lydia steals Antonius’ armour, so he retaliates by stealing her sense of security.
Incorrect Lydia steals Antonius’ armour, he retaliates by stealing her sense of security.
The correct example shows two simple sentences joined by a comma and a transitional word.
The incorrect example is missing the essential transitional word, and is thus a comma splice. For information about comma splices and other structural problems, see the “Common Sentence Problems” tip sheet.
A: Colons can introduce a list following an independent clause, as well as direct quotations.
Before a list
Antonius forces Lydia to feel vulnerable in three ways: by infiltrating her security forces, by stealing the key to her private chambers, and by leaving threatening messages in her personal diary.
To introduce direct quotations
Lydia attempts to hide the extent to which she is intimidated by his efforts: “She would not give him the satisfaction of observing her torment, but for days she shook with fury and shivered with fear.”
Of course, if you are quoting directly from a text, you’ll need to include the source from which you took the quotation. Using MLA format, it might look like this:
Lydia attempts to hide the extent to which she is intimidated by his efforts: “She would not give him the satisfaction of observing her torment, but for days she shook with fury and shivered with fear” (215).
*note the space before the (parentheses) and the different placement of the period.
For more information about how to avoid plagiarism when citing quotations, check out the “Academic Integrity” tip sheet. For information about citation styles, contact the library.
A: When quoting speech within a direct quotation, replace the double quotation marks in the original text with single quotation marks (‘…’).
Lydia cried out in horror and disbelief.
“How does it feel?” Antonius asked, smirking with satisfaction. “How does it feel to be stripped of your armour?”
Far from feeling guilty about taking revenge, Antonius appears instead to take great pleasure in the act: “‘How does it feel?’ Antonius ask[s], smirking with satisfaction. ‘How does it feel to be stripped of your armour?’” (218).
A: Parentheses (…) can be used to insert a clarification of meaning, or citation information.
Cornelia (who is Antonius’ wife) appears torn between maintaining solidarity with her husband and feeling a kind of affinity with Lydia as a woman.
The clarification could have also been enclosed within commas:
Cornelia, who is Antonius’ wife, appears torn between…
Although the true culprit is never revealed to the reader, critics such as Stokes argue that it is probably Cornelia who ruins Antonius’ plan to have Lydia imprisoned (2001, 56).
Square brackets […] show that you have changed or omitted something in a direct quotation to make it more grammatical or relevant to your discussion.
As the months passed, and Antonius’ thoughts turned increasingly towards planning new ways to fuel Lydia’s paranoia, the realization that he actually enjoyed his scheming never crossed his mind.
Although Antonius initially plots revenge against Lydia for moral reasons, he gradually intensifies his efforts to torment her because “he actually enjoy[s] his scheming” (255).
A: No. Use the slash (/) to show that you are writing separate lines of poetry on the same line.
Pity not the death-rasp
Of an Empress defied
Who unfastened the clasp
On the basket of pride
And died by the asp
She herself placed inside
The song lyrics that close the novel reiterate the cycle-of-vengeance imagery prevalent throughout the work. Specifically, the final verse states that “[Lydia] died by the asp / She herself placed inside” (344). The song is intended to serve as a lesson to Roman subjects planning revenge, yet it also reminds the reader that Antonius’ brutal retaliation was itself a reaction to Lydia’s own heartlessness and “pride” (334).
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