What better time than now to prepare yourself for a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year? So let’s lay the foundation for your extraordinary success and unsurpassable accomplishments by reviewing … you guessed it, correct punctuation!

Contain yourself. I know you know this is going to be fun.

Here’s the game.

I’m going to give you seven punctuation marks for you to place in the following sentences for emphasis and stylistic effect. The idea is for you to put all seven marks to good use. In other words, don’t just place them anywhere. Put them where they’ll produce the best stylistic effect.

You may use four of the seven punctuation marks only once. You may use three of the seven punctuation marks more than once.


Don’t worry; it’s easier than you think. (Did you like that semicolon?) I’ll give you some clues along the way. Here are the seven marks for you to place for maximum stylistic effect:

In the sentences below, use (1) a period to punctuate, (2) a colon to introduce, (3) a semicolon to both separate and link two thoughts, (4) five commas to separate, (5) two dashes to produce a dashing effect, (6) an exclamation mark to exclaim and (7) four ellipses to indicate a pause or a trailing off of thought. (In case you’re wondering what an ellipsis is, it’s three or four dots … like those.) Delete other punctuation marks and capitalize as needed.

Got it? Here you go:

1. Use periods to punctuate your thoughts, like this.

2. Use colons to introduce or create anticipation. Here’s how.

3. Use semicolons to suggest a connection, don’t use semicolons to introduce.

4. Use commas to separate the parts of a sentence like this and to separate the parts of an address as in “Minneapolis Minnesota is a beautiful city.”

5. Use dashes to produce a dashing I mean a really cool, attention-getting and somewhat abrupt effect.

6. Like, wow.

7. Use ellipses to to I don’t know I just don’t know anything anymore I guess to pause or trail off, like this

Did you place a period after thoughts, a colon after anticipation, a semicolon after connection, five commas after sentence, this, address, Minneapolis and Minnesota, two dashes after dashing and abrupt, an exclamation mark after wow and four ellipses after to, know, anymore and this?

Now, if you’re wondering about the sentence fragment you created in number 1 above, don’t worry about it. This is an exercise in style, not grammar. Besides, you can break any rule you like — as long as you break it for stylistic effect. (I hope you liked how I used that dash for dashing effect. Nice, eh?)

On a more serious note, I do wish you a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year. I also apologize for the omission of a paragraph in my December 28 column. You can read my complete holiday message by googling “Wilbers Star Tribune holiday message.” Just write down the third word in the 10 sentences that contain a word choice error. Have fun.


Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.