Punctuation in order

While teaching a business writing seminar last week, I decided to start our punctuation section with a simple list:

, comma--Used within sentences to help the reader distinguish additional phrases from the main sentence components: Subject-Verb-Object.

; semicolon--Used within sentences to connect two complete sentences/ideas: S-V-O; S-V-O.

: colon--Used within sentences after a complete sentence/idea when what comes after explains what came before: S-V-O: S-V-O/x, y, and z.

. period--Used to indicate that the sentence is complete and over.

? question mark--Used to express the tone of inquiring, as in a question.

! exclamation point--Used to express the tone of excitement, as in an exclamation.

These are our punctuation marks from weakest to strongest. As I explained what each one does, the group I was working with started to say that this list, this arrangement of punctuation marks, was one of the most useful things they had ever seen. Suddenly, punctuation seemed to make sense.

I hope that it has the same effect on others.