Apostrophes are just kinda basic. They don’t lend much in the way of added emotion or emphasis — they serve their purpose and get on with their lives. Snorefest. Next.
12. Quotation Mark
What can I say about the quotation mark that hasn’t already been said? Nothing, that’s what. Much like Snoozehead McGee the apostrophe, quotation marks have a specific purpose — to introduce and end quoted material — and it’s not one that’s particularly exciting. The quotation mark gets one extra point for being cute and fun because it travels in pairs.
11. En dash
Aside from copy editors and grammar historians, literally no one in the world cares about what the en dash is and how it functions. I mean…have you ever even heard of an en dash until now? Do you even know how long it is?!?! Sadly, there are too many dashes vying for space in this grim, crazy world o’ words, and the death of the en dash is something we simply must accept as imminent. (Sorry, lil’ guy. Say hi to the dodo for us.)
Gets a few extra points because in the U.K. (and presumably other areas of the world), it’s often used to function as an em dash, which is the coolest dash.
Colons are pretty OK. They build suspense, providing a teeny bit of excitement to help get you through those long days filled with otherwise ho-hum sentences. They also share a name with the thing that your poop passes through, so that’s funny. Heh heh heh. Colon.
Sure, the semicolon is a little stodgy — and, let’s face it, not nearly as chic as the em dash — but it’s elegant and it’s useful in very specific circumstances. It can also make your writing look totally legit and sophisticated when used properly (an art in and of itself, which is where the semicolon loses a few points). But I mean, the semicolon shouldn’t be blamed for the fact that most people don’t know how to use it correctly, I guess. Nonetheless, the semicolon can only take you so far when it comes to fun times in Punctuationville, and what’s the point of life without some fun? Sorry, semicolon: You are just all right.
Commas can be kind of assholes because they confuse the living crap out of everyone on earth — with the word “which,” with quotation marks (inside or outside?), with nonessential vs. essential clauses, and virtually any other situation that can and will arise in a sentence. When used properly, however, they lend plenty in the way of emphasis, emotion, and clarity.
Also, they’ve sparked the greatest punctuation debate of our time: to serial comma or not to serial comma? Much like cilantro, the comma has managed to evenly divide our world’s population into two fierce groups at battle — just by hanging out, being a silly lil’ comma. So that’s pretty cool.
Parentheses are cool because they make room for things that need further explaining — and for fun little jokes. And I like learning things and laughing at jokes and tangential thoughts. Also, like the quotation mark, the parenthesis always travels in pairs, which is cute. Also, look, a butt: ( | )
6. Question Mark
As Aristotle once said, “What is life if not but a series of endless questions?” JK, I totally just made that up. Sounds legit, though, right? Had I not fessed up, you probably would’ve never known otherwise — unless you had questioned it! Which is to say, we can’t learn or grow or become fully functioning human beings without asking questions, and questions involve question marks.
On a date with a hot babe? Without some questions in tow, it’ll be your last (unless you’re really hot too, in which case OK, maybe you’ll get one more). Trying to land that dream job? Good luck without an inquiry or two up your sleeve for the head honcho. There is no such thing as a stupid question — only a stupid punctuation mark. The question mark, alas, is not one.
The ellipsis is a true Multipurpose Marla: great for rambling, for appearing mysterious or flirtatious, and for eliminating useless information. What other punctuation mark do you know who can do all three things in one fell swoop? None of ‘em, that’s who. The modest, adorable ellipsis is a true jack of all trades. It loses points for not being super user-friendly since confusion about where to put spaces (before the ellipsis marks? after? in between?) runs rampant, and people who overuse ellipses are a little spooky, IMHO.
The hyphen clarifies stuff like “kick-ass woman” (hell yeah!) vs. “kick ass woman” (who’s ass woman and WHY in god’s name are you kicking her?). The hyphen is multifunctional, user-friendly, and always makes a sentence better when used correctly. That being said, it loses points for being a real stick-in-the-mud for deciding to be a part of words and terms (like stick-in-the-mud…and face-lift and half-and-half) seemingly at random. Also, our overreliance on hyphens has caused many a writerly human to use them erroneously after adverbs, which is a real bummer, but hey — things could be worse in this cold, cruel world.
I mean, duh. It’s the basic building block of our language, punctuation-wise; we’d be lost in a meaningless sea of words without it. Also, periods are great for being badass. Really need to lay down the law? Facilitate a major business deal? Not gonna happen if you end your email with that silly joker the exclamation mark.
Let’s be real. You could probably write an entire book using only periods and no other punctuation mark and it would still make complete sense. Also, it’s called a full stop in the U.K., which is very cool. This be-all end-all punctuation mark comes in third only because what it provides in functionality it lacks a bit in personality. I, personally, would be a little scared to hang out alone in a room with the period for too long.
2. Em Dash
The em dash comes in a close second. For starters, when you’re in the mood for a real good punctuation fix, it pretty much always works — (<—see what I did there?) and it’s essential for those times when you’re not sure what other punctuation mark to use and don’t want to consult your dusty old grammar books or your crotchety old copy editor. It’s multipurpose. Aesthetically pleasing. Not as creepy as the ellipsis but not as snoozy as the colon, it’s a peace-making, graceful gazelle in a dog-eat-dog world of rogue commas out to get you and your loved ones.
1. Exclamation Mark
Not too many punctuation marks are emotive, and for that reason, the exclamation mark is the best mark — simply because to feel is to be human. “Fuck you, numbskull!!!” just doesn’t convey the same conviction when finished off with a period. Coming in strong at No. 1, it’s also the only mark you can use, aside from the question mark, to express a higher magnitude of emotion simply by using more of them. When you’re pressed for time? Simply use a quick “!” to express your excitement about that baby bunny GIF or your friend’s new job. And they say life isn’t easy.
Bonus: Overuse of exclamation marks is a fun way to look like you’re out of your mind OR a really excitable great-aunt.
- Five people were arrested as protesters gathered in Chicago after the release of a dash-cam video of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. ›
- Brussels started reopening schools and the Metro Wednesday after a four-day security lockdown. The city remains on the highest terrorism alert. ›
- Pope Francis has arrived in Kenya. It's his first visit to Africa as pontiff. ›