There’s always that person in your friend group: The one who makes all the plans and the one who’s always late. The one who has the best ideas and the one who’s just along for the ride. A solid friend group has a good mix of personalities that complement one another.
Good writing, like a good friend group, is full of variety. Every punctuation mark has a role to play. But what if every punctuation mark had a personality? Which friend would they be?
Here we’ll look at punctuation through a different lens. Instead of thinking in terms of hard and fast rules and functions, we’ll explore the fun, crucial (and fictional) personalities of punctuation marks for another take on the important role they play in our writing.
The one who tells it like it is. The period is blunt. They don’t beat around the bush. If you need a simple yes or no answer, you can always depend on the period. They are a great coworker because they know how to keep their emails short, sweet, and to the point. The period is often misunderstood as harsh or cold, but once you get to know it, you realize that they are just honest. You know where you stand with the period.
The type A personality punctuation mark. Commas are hyperorganized. They love making plans for a specific date, time, and place. They are staunch rule followers, which can be hard to be around because they follow a lot of rules. They aren’t trying to be difficult; they just want to get things right the first time. Despite their love of order, they sometimes speak in long, complicated sentences and draw things out for longer than they need to just because they can.
The easily distracted one. The parenthesis is full of interesting stories and asides. They’re always interjecting into your conversation with a “fun fact!” or something they learned on Wikipedia. They have a broad set of interests and make a great teammate for trivia night—if they manage to make it to trivia on time. Because they are so easily sidetracked, parentheses are horrible at sticking to plans (but they usually come up with a good excuse).
Ellipsis . . .
The one who’s always up to something. Ellipses are always plotting their next move. They can be really exciting, an alluring friend to have, and full of innuendo. They often leave you guessing. But spending too much time with them can be nerve-racking. Before one thing’s finished, they’re ready to move onto the next . . .
The adventurous one. The colon challenges you, in a good way. It always wants to take things one step further. If you can get comfortable with the way the colon pushes you, then the payoff can be huge. But be careful what you suggest in front of the colon. Before you even finish the question, the colon is ready with its answer: Yes.
The one who looks before jumping. The semicolon has the same conversation-stopping power of the period if only it didn’t second-guess itself all of the time. You’ll typically find them hanging out with dash and colon—despite their differences, the three are pretty much inseparable. Sometimes you need to give the semicolon a little boost of confidence. The semicolon is really smart; it’s too bad it doesn’t recognize its own intelligence.
The one who jumps before looking. They don’t always know what’s going on; all they know is that they’re game! They’re a lightning bolt of a friend. They love good ideas and new information. They’re easily distracted by shiny things, but that’s part of their charm. They are always throwing surprise parties. The interrobang’s favorite phrase is: Can you believe it‽
The one you turn to for advice. Whenever you’re feeling a little lost, you can always lean on quotation marks for some expert advice. They’re filled with wisdom, guidance, and hilarious anecdotes. They can be storytellers, and they love to ramble, so it’s up to you to pick out their best tidbits and scrap the rest. But as wise as quotation marks can be, they’re not very open to advice from others. They tend to live by the Mark Twain phrase, “It is better to give than receive—especially advice.”
The one who is always looking for advice. The question mark is a hard one to pin down. They don’t commit to things easily, and they always want to know what everyone else thinks first. They are incredibly curious and make great interviewers. Because of this quality, question marks make really good scientists and journalists. Do you have any question mark friends? Do you feel like you know them well?
The one who keeps their promises. Brackets don’t like vagueness and ambiguity. They’re always looking for ways to help their friends achieve mental clarity, whether it’s about a work situation or a relationship. They aren’t great at giving advice like quotation marks are, but they’ll do their best to point [you] in the right direction.
‡ Reference mark
The know-it-all. The reference mark* is the snobbier version of your parenthesis friend. While parentheses always want to interject with fun facts, the reference mark wants to tell you all of the details. They’re really interested in history and have a backstory for everything. They’re also a huge gossip.
*Reference marks are always changing their clothes. Don’t invite reference mark out if you need to be there on time. Last time I went out with reference mark, they cycled through their entire wardrobe (*, †, ‡, §, ‖, ¶) before deciding.
The best friend from grade school. You don’t see asterism around much anymore. They used to hang with your crew—and did a great job making your group feel important and noticeable. But at some point they chose a different path in life and wandered off, and you don’t hear from them anymore. Wherever they are, you hope they’re doing well.
Which punctuation mark are you?
What do you think: Do you see yourself in any of these punctuation personality profiles? Maybe you’re a combination of a few. If you are always on the move or looking for the next exciting thing, you might be a bit of ellipsis, colon, and interrobang. Or maybe you’re more reserved and would rather see what others are doing before you make any commitments. In that case, you probably have some semicolon and some question mark in you.
Whatever the case, it’s important to surround yourself with a good mixture of punctuation personalities. Get to know them all (even dear asterism!) and you’re on your way to a fun and healthy writing practice.