Exclamation has always announced straightforward shouting, alarm, surprise, excitement, amazement, disbelief, exasperation, or even just helpless flustering. In the eighteenth century, readers could expect melodrama.
The punctuation mark that many of us know as the slash appears on standard computer keyboards. But even though it sits right there next to the period and the comma—and though it was once used as a form of sentence punctuation like those marks—the slash is comparatively uncommon today in ordinary prose.
We hate to do this, but the next paragraph is going to contain errors. Microsoft Word won’t catch any of them. How many can you count?
In the old days, authors wrote out their source citations from scratch, and editors checked them to make sure they were correctly formatted. Now there are tools that will do this for you, from online “Cite” buttons to full-featured citation management apps.
Dashes—specifically, en dashes and em dashes—are like hyphens, but longer. And though there’s some overlap in how hyphens and dashes are used, dashes play a role all their own.
I don’t like to dither over style choices. At the beginning of a sentence, it’s routine to start the next word with a capital letter. But when I type a colon within a sentence, I often have to stop and think about how to write the next word: whether to cap it isn’t always obvious.
Variant spellings take a toll on editors everywhere. The minutes tick away whenever we leave our documents (as we often do) in search of the answer to that age-old question: What’s the preferred spelling of this word?
Periods are small but powerful. Not only do they bring entire sentences to a stop with a single dot, they’re also commonly found in abbreviations and numbers.
Italics can be applied for various reasons, but it is always with the same goal: to mark text as different in some way. This difference can be a matter of emphasis, or it can indicate the title of a book or movie or other work, the scientific name of a species, or the name of a court case, among other things.
Commas play at least two main roles in ordinary prose. They can set off words, phrases, and clauses—including direct quotations, questions, and thoughts—from the surrounding sentence. And they can be used between coordinate adjectives and other items in a series.