Two Good Reasons to Read “Eats, Shoots & Leaves”

Image Courtesy: Camilla Hoel

Image Courtesy: Camilla Hoel

Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves has long been lauded as the premier grammar story for those who wish to learn more. Upon beginning to read the “Airs and Graces” chapter, I found myself laughing out loud at some of Truss’ mockeries of the colon and semicolon bashers. When I was in high school, I got into heated arguments with several teachers who merely regarded those marks as “fluff” and “weak writing.” I always and still beg to disagree.

As a creative writer, they’re useful for conveying exactly how you want a character or narrator’s speech cadence to be read; therefore, you further enhance their development. As an academic writer and journalist who often needs to write long complex lists, the semicolon and colon come in handy when with their ability turn a sloppy, unreadable mess into a clear sentence. For those who may not be as much of a fan of these marks and grammar humor as I am, listed below are two uses you may not have known the colon and semicolon are for and maybe – just maybe – it will convince you to read Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Here’s a grand discovery about the colon: they have multiple uses. I had mostly used colons to begin a list or rename something. I didn’t realize colons can take so many forms, including annunciatory, “Yes-type,” and “Ah-type.” Colons are essentially used to “introduce the part of a sentence that exemplifies, restates, elaborates, undermines, explains or balances the preceding part,” (Truss, 120). It is wonderful to know how many ways a colon can be used. The book dispelled a rumor for me as well: colons are not just used to connect two complete sentences.

In fact, colons can be used to connect bits and pieces and parts. Really, it is the semicolon that needs two complete sentences to function properly. It is great a colon can be properly used to “Man proposes: God disposes,” (Truss, 119). Another fine example is “Later in life, Kerry-Anne found there were only three qualities she disliked in other people: Britishness; superior airs; and a feigned lack of interest in her disgusting freckles,” (Truss, 120). There are so many ways to use a colon I am shocked I don’t see them more.

The second “ah-ha!” moment: There is more than one right way to use a semicolon. But here’s a common one that’s missed:

I love you, however, I cannot marry you.

For years I’ve written sentences with linking words such as “however” and only set them off with commas. After reading Truss’ book, I know that that is incorrect. The proper way to punctuate that sentence is with a semicolon:

I love you; however, I cannot marry you.

The reason being, “I love you” and “however, I cannot marry you” are two, separate complete sentences. Therefore, a semicolon is the proper mark to connect the two, related but separately complete sentences.

Whether this post helped or confounded even more, I hope I have somewhat convinced you that Lynne Truss’ book is a good read for anyone wishing to work in media, education, literary arts or numerous other professions.

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