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spake, is he yet alive ? ” wherein the natural order of things is violated; it being natural to ask first whether a man is alive or not, and afterwards as to his health.
It is not enough, in order to the clear enunciation of what is meant, that words should be so arranged as to violate no acknowledged principle of grammatical construction. Written language and spoken may be so written and spoken as to mislead, not inform. The order in which words should follow each other has been touched on in the introductory remarks on Syntax. Not less important than this, is that department of grammar called Punctuation, (from punctum=a point or mark,) which treats of the manner in which sentences should be subdivided by marks indicating the necessity of a pause on the part of a reader or speaker, as well as in the works of a writer, in order that the proper connection of the several parts of what is spoken or written, and the bearing and dependence of one member of a sentence on another, should be readily understood by him who reads or hears.
Of what essential importance Punctuation is to the due expression of the sense intended, one example will suffice to shew. "If you be industrious in a few years you will be beyond the reach of poverty.” No one can determine the sense of this passage as it is written. And that the ambiguity results from a want of punctuation appears from the fact, that the words are accurately arranged, and require not to be altered in any manner; the only alteration, or rather addition required, being the punctuation of the sentence; which shews that punctuation has been rightly called a department of grammar, which treats of the manner in which words should be arranged and employed in order to serve as a medium for the transmission of thought.
Let it not be thought, therefore, that punctuation is a matter of trivial importance. No department of grammar is more important; indeed, in many instances it is more important than any other, as the presence or absence of a comma not unfrequently obscures the sense, where no violation of syntactical or etymological principles could do so. If the foregoing passage were thus written, “ If you be industrious in a few years, you will be beyond the reach of poverty;" it would convey the idea that the person addressed, by becoming industrious in a few years after the time at which he is spoken to, would be beyond the reach of poverty at some point of the future not definitely fixed. Written thus, “ If you be industrious, in a few years you will be beyond the reach of poverty;" it would convey the idea that the party admonished, by becoming industrious at the time at which he is addressed, would be beyond the reach of poverty at a point of the future time definitely fixed, viz. a few years. The principal points or stops made use of in language
-the Comma, marked thus (,), the Semicolon (;), the Colon (:), and the Period, or full stop, (.). Rules to determine the proper place in which to use each are impossible, because fixed rules in this matter have never been agreed on, different writers claiming the privilege of determining for themselves when one should be used and not the other. Still, there are general principles acknowledged and acted on by all; and these may be laid down : in addition to which, the reflection of the writer, as to the meaning which he may wish to convey, and proper care and caution used to convey it, will be amply sufficient to enable him to avoid all errors in regard of the matter of punctuation.
The Comma (from kopto=I cut, because cuts or di. vides the members of a sentence from each other,) is used
1. When the pause necessary to be made is but very slight, and the members of the sentence thus separated are most intimately connected; thus, “ Plants, whether regarded as individuals, or as grouped in the garden,
the field, and the landscape, are objects of universal interest."
2. After the subject of a verb, when the verb and subject are separated by some intervening clause, generally introduced for the purpose of explanation. Thus-" Nitrogen, called also azote, is a gaseous body;" "Men, before they found out a material for clothing, must have been far advanced in the observation of nature."
NOTE 1.-If the subject and verb be not so separated, the comma should not be used after the subject; thus-" Men must have been far advanced in the observation of nature, before they found out a material for clothing."
NOTE 2.-If the subject, placed as referred to in Rule 2, have a prepositional phrase annexed to it, the comma is not used after the subject, but at the end of such phrase; thus"The excellence of silk, as a material for clothing, consists in its strength, lightness, lustre, and readiness in taking dyes."
3. When several nouns are used under the same link, that is, similarly situated as to government, the comma should be placed after each one thereof except the last; thus-"He visited Rome, St. Petersburg, Constantinople, Aleppo, and Damascus, in one year."
NOTE 1.-In this Rule it is said, "except the last :" the attentive student will object that, in the Example given, the last noun, Damascus, has a comma after it. Let him observe, however, that the rule has reference to the comma as separating the nouns in the same link from each other; the comma after Damascus does not separate that noun from Aleppo, as the comma after Aleppo does Aleppo from Damascus; the comma in question is intended to cut off all the nouns used from the following phrase, in one year, which, by such stopping, is directly connected, as it ought to be, with the phrase, " He visited."
NOTE 2.-Rule 3 applies equally to several adjectives qualifying the same noun, and several verbs predicated of the same subject; thus-"He is a good, wise, industrious, and useful citizen;" ;" "Cæsar wrote very laconically of himself in saying that he came, saw, and conquered."
NOTE 3.-Many writers do not place a comma after the
penultimate adjective and verb; that is, the verb or adjective connected with the last one by the word and. If we consult the ear, which is sometimes the best judge of such matters, the writers spoken of would certainly appear. to be right; no necessity existing for a pause in such cases ; indeed, the very use of and as a copula would indjcate the absurdity of separating, even in appearance, words thereby directly connected.
4. All phrases which cause any break whatever in the expression of the ideas which are naturally connected, should be stopped off by themselves, and isolated, as it were, from every other clause by a comma at the commencement and end thereof. Thus—“A portion of the sap, he said, is conveyed to the flower ;”. “He came, I believe, yesterday ;" “ The juice, it is true, cannot be so carried from a lower to a higher level.”
NOTE.—Words such as, however, notwithstanding, should be stopped off with a comma before and after, when they suggest something which, if expressed, would form a clause which, according to the principles already enunciated, would be so stopped. Thus—“ You did not transact the matter judiciously; if, however, you now somewhat retrace your steps, it is not yet too late :" “ however” and “notwithstanding" not so used, should not be so stopped; thus“ However wet the day, he takes his usual exercise.”
5. The several members of a complex sentence are all separated from each other by a comma ; thus—“Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt, thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.'
6. Two words of the same class, coupled by a conjunction, are not separated by the comma; as, “ James and John were the beloved disciples ;" “ He is an industrious and frugal man ; “He called and asked for you.”—[This Rule may be considered as supplementary to Rule 3, and Note 2 under that Rule.]
7. Nouns in apposition are separated by the comma; and names of individuals addressed take it before and after them ; thus, “ Alexander, the son of Philip, was a great warrior; I understood, Sir, that you would arrive at five o'clock ;” “I tell you, William, you must not go out to-day.”
NOTE.-The latter part of this Rule has reference to the names of individuals directly addressed, no others. In the expression, “I told William not to go out to-day,” there should be no comma after William.
8. In a complex sentence, where the predicate of a former subject is understood with the latter, that latter must have a comma after it; thus—“Esau delighted in hunting ; Jacob, in tending flocks."
NOTE.-The words each other are written without a separating comma; as, “ They killed each other.” They are frequently, however, separated by the word the, and then each must have a comma after it; as, “ Brutus and Aruns Tarquin killed, each, the other." The necessity for the comma after each is determined by Rule 8; each being the subject of the verb killed, understood.
9. All relative clauses, and explanatory clauses of any kind, have a comma before and after them; as, “ Copper, which is found in a great variety of forms, is the most sonorous, and, except iron, the most elastic metal ;” “Light is thrown off or reflected, when it falls on a looking-glass or a piece of polished metal.”
On the Semicolon no more general rule can be laid down than the following :-“The semicolon is used, not to separate single words, but the several members of a complex sentence, which, though they are related to each other in sense, are yet less so than members or clauses which are separated by the comma.”
The use of the semicolon, as distinct from that of the comma, will be clearly discerned in the following quotation: “By a series of criminal enterprises, the liberties of Europe have been gradually extinguished; and we are the only people in the eastern hemisphere, who are in possession of equal laws and a free constitution. Freedom, driven from every spot on the Continent, has sought an asylum in a country, which she always chose for her favourite abode; but she is pursued even here, and threatened with destruction. The inundation of lawless power, after covering the whole earth, threatens to follow us here; and we are most