Beautiful punctuation

I’m a proofreader, and that means it’s my job to think about punctuation (so you don’t have to!). Fortunately, I’m a punctuation geek, so I don’t mind this at all.

In fact, today I thought I’d share three of my favourite punctuation marks with you. I know, punctuation probably doesn’t get your heart racing, but hey—it might interest you to know what appeals to this particular proofreader!

punctuation nerd
Nerd and proud.

Ellipsis (…)

These three little dots are often overused, especially in dialogue, but done right they can immediately change the tone of your writing and indicate so much. You can use ellipses when you’re quoting text to indicate that you’ve missed something out (e.g. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man … must be in want of a wife”), to indicate a trailing off in speech (e.g. “Oh,” he said, “I was wondering…”), or best of all, for dramatic effect. Just compare these two short examples of dialogue—which one feels more tense and loaded to you?

“Will you marry me?” he said.
“Yes,” she said.

“Will you marry me?” he said.
“…Yes,” she said.

Semicolon (;)

David Mitchell calls the semi-colon “the bow-tie of punctuation”, which I think is absolutely delightful. It can be difficult to understand when to use semicolons, but I guarantee that once you get the hang of them you’ll want to put them everywhere. Semicolons are used to join together two ideas that are closely connected but are expressed as two different phrases/clauses. Essentially they provide a stronger break than a comma and a weaker break than a full stop. Here are a couple of examples:

She didn’t want to go on a diet; she liked cake too much.

He looked out over the fields; there was a unicorn in one of them.

Unspaced em-dash (—)

Easily my favourite punctuation mark, the em-dash (—) is the longest of the dashes, compared to the en-dash (–) and the hyphen (-). It can be used to indicate a pause or interruption, or to replace a colon or parentheses (brackets). You can add spaces on either side of it, but I much prefer it unspaced—just a nice smooth transition from one idea to another. Here are some examples of the unspaced em-dash in action:

To indicate an interruption:
“Can I just—”
“Shut up!” he yelled.

To replace a colon:
There are four Harry Potter houses—Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.

To replace parentheses:
The woman—who had had enough of partying—decided to go home.

grammar punctuation
Agreed, Meryl!

So there you go—my favourite punctuation marks! Do you have any punctuation marks that you find yourself using all the time? I’d love to hear about them in a comment down below.


Do you need anything proofread? Feel free to get in touch, and I’ll be happy to help.

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