While everyone’s heard of a period, question mark, and interrogation point, a lot fewer people have heard of their newest member: the interrobang. The interrobang is defined as “a punctuation mark designed for use especially at the end of an exclamatory rhetorical question” (Merriam-Webster). The interrobang is officially symbolized by ‽. However, since most keyboards do not have this specific key, it is also unofficially represented as ?! Or !?.
The interrobang was invented by Martin K. Speckter, an advertising executive, in 1962. He thought of it as “the typographical equivalent of a grimace or a shrug of the shoulders…when a writer wished to convey incredulity” (qtd in Martin K. Speckter). However, the meaning of this punctuation evolved over time. Rather than just a grimace or shrug, it is now used to show surprise and question. Quite literally, it became a mix of an exclamation point and a question mark. Sentences where an author may write ?! or !? can end with ‽. Some sentence examples are:
You did what ‽
Are you sure ‽
Why did the interrobang fall out of public use?
It is not an officially recognized punctuation mark- so use at your own discretion. A big point to consider is its relationship with modern keyboards and typewriters when thinking about its history. Was it not included because it was not widely used or was it not widely used because it was not included? The world may never know. Given the limited space available, it was more economical to include the exclamation point and question mark due to their prominence and simply use both of them when the situation calls for it instead of including a third key that was not as popular. Thus, the interrobang was lost and largely forgotten by the world.
Commas aren’t some piece of punctuation meant to aggravate you. They can actually be used as rhetorical tools, meaning that you can use them to emphasize information. Commas can also help you add clarity to your writing so you don’t confuse your readers.
Commas separate, introduce, and show information. While comma rules aren’t completely rigid, there are some comma guidelines that you should be familiar with. Once you get to know these, you can begin to mess with them to suit your rhetorical needs.
HOW TO USE COMMAS
There are four cases when you should really use commas:
1.To separate clauses. Commas often separate an independent clause (a phrase that can stand alone as a sentence) from a dependent clause (a phrase that can’t stand alone).
When the robot was first built,he didn’t have any legs.
2. To separate parenthetical phrases. Parenthetical phrases interrupt other phrases or clauses, and contain extra information that could be removed from the sentence without changing the sentence’s core meaning.
The robot,which had no name, was created to guard and protect the Writing Center.
3. To separate introductory phrases.An introductory phrase is a phrase at the beginning of the sentence (usually a dependent clause) that provides background information for the main sentence.
While the robot was painted silver, he had a heart of gold.
4. To balance two independent clauses (with a coordinating conjunction). Two independent clauses can be two separate sentences, or can be combined into one sentence using a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, yet, for, nor, so).
Students loved the robot,for he was kind and generous.
The robot enjoyed getting to see the students,but he was always sad when the Writing Center closed for the night.
The tutors realized how lonely the robot was becoming,so they built him a robot dog to keep him company.
HOW TO NOT USE COMMAS
Even though there is a lot of flexibility in what ways you can use commas, there are also cases when you should avoid using them:
1. Don’t separate the verb from its subject or its object.
The robot, danced when no one was looking. → The robot danced when no one was looking. (The robot is the subject, danced is the verb.)
The robot walked, his robot dog. → The robot walked his robot dog. (Walked is the verb, his robot dog is the object.)
2. Don’t use a comma between an adjective and a noun.
The cardboard, robot was always eager to help students with their writing. → The cardboard robot was always eager to help students with their writing.
3. Don’t use a comma before the first item in a series.
The robot likes, gummy worms, break dancing, and paper cranes. → The robot likes gummy worms, break dancing, and paper cranes.
4.Don’t use a comma after a coordinating conjunction.
The robot was large yet, gentle. → The robot was large yet gentle. *OR* The robot was large, yet gentle.
Note: You can use a comma before the coordinating conjunction if you want, but you don’t have to, since the two clauses are not independent clauses. Whether or not you put a comma before the coordinating conjunction in cases like this will depend on how much you want to emphasize the piece after the conjunction.
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We hope this rundown of good and not-so-good uses of commas is helpful for you. If you have any more punctuation questions, feel free to stop by the Writing Center or schedule an appointment here.
We also hope that you’ll stop by and check out our new giant cardboard robot—he still needs a name and we would love your input!
—Annie and Sarah, peer tutors
I hate reading work by Ernest Hemingway. I find his use of short, staccato sentences to be choppier than the water in The Old Man and the Sea, and I often find myself wondering, “Would it have killed this man to write a complex sentence?” Sure, the grammar rules would have been a little more tricky, but it would have made English class my sophomore year of high school much more bearable.
That being said, here are some tips for writing complex sentences:
1. Join less important sentences together.
This is usually done by joining different clauses together. There are two types of clauses that can serve this purpose: dependent and independent. A dependent clause, which does not include both a subject and a verb, does not need to be separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma. Contrastingly, an independent clause contains both a subject and a verb, so it has to be joined to the sentence with a comma or a semicolon.
“He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach.” (Hemingway)
The phrase “of the lions on the beach” is not a complete sentence, so it does not need to be joined to the rest of the sentence by a comma.
“He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. He never dreamed about the boy.” (Hemingway)
This block of text can be joined into a complex sentence because it consists of two independent clauses.
He dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach, yet he never dreamed about the boy.
2. Remember FANBOYS.
These coordinating conjunctions are easy tools for joining two independent clauses together. Below is an example of how complex sentences can give writing better flow.
Write drunk. Edit sober.
Authors should write drunk, but theyshould edit their work sober.
In the above sentence, the coordinating conjunction is bolded, and the subject and verb phrase of the independent clause are underlined.
**Please note that the writing tutors do not advocate doing your writing assignments while intoxicated. That is all Hemingway’s idea.**
3. Vary the structure of your sentences.
Not all sentences that consist of two independent clauses need to use a comma and a coordinating conjunction. Semicolons can also be useful.
“The fish moved steadily [as] they travelled slowly on the calm water. The other baits were still in the water but there was nothing to be done.” (Hemingway)
With a semicolon, the sentences above could look like this.
The fish moved steadily as they travelled slowly on the calm water; the other baits were still in the water, but there was nothing to be done.”
Writing that does not contain too many simple sentences is the easiest to read. Using different types of sentence structures can help a writer to achieve better flow, and make sure that a reader does not zone out while reading like I did in sophomore year English.
–Michelle, peer tutor
Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Scribner, 1952. Print.