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The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  658 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
At long last, The New Well-Tempered Sentence rescues punctuation from the perils of boredom, with wholly original explanations of the rules of punctuation, whimsical graphics, and utterly unforgettable characters (yes, characters in a grammar book). Gordon teaches you clearly and simply where to place a comma and how to use an apostrophe. Gradually, as you master the elusi ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published September 19th 2003 by Mariner Books (first published 1983)
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Kelly H. (Maybedog)
I read grammar and punctuation books every few years just to make sure I'm current and haven't taken up some weird habit without knowing it. So most books are a fast read for me and easy to understand. There are generally only a couple of places where I go, "oh, I didn't know that" or "oh, that's why that is." In this instance, while the idea of this book is entertaining, the execution is not so good because even I, in places, had to think twice before I understood an example.

The reason is that
Seth T.
Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who NEED to know how to properly ellipsize
I am not by any means a grammar-Nazi.

I do enjoy the use of language in ways that convey meaning and intent both clearly and beautifully, but I'm not gonna make a big deal when someone uses a hyphen instead of an en dash when they say they work 8–5. I just can't see getting upset about something like that. I may pick on poor word-choice occasionally and come off more prescriptivist when it comes to vocabulary—but that's really just when it suits my needs.

Still, as a not-small portion of my job i
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pithy pastiche on punctuation, not as entertaining as her sequel, The Transitive Vampire. I wonder if she’s still biting?
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Grammar stuff was okay, the examples and illustrations were what really made this book though. Where can I get a T-shirt with one of the images?
Nov 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The grammar of punctuation is delved into fairly thoroughly here with eloquent and entertaining example sentences. Gems such as "We gave ourselves over to an interregnum of discord, mockery, and delight" [The Serial Comma] and "There is always room for improvement; moreover, in this case that's all the room there is" [The Semicolon] make what is often treated as the drudgery of learning proper composition into a book that's hard to put down, as well as a handy reference for when you need to doub ...more
Frances Sawaya
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-our-library
Actually, I can't say that I have read this cover to cover, "per se." I have had it on my bookshelf for decades to use as a reference and, sometimes, to prove a point when I am confronted with glaring errors in English. Love the humor enclosed!
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Pretty great guide with amusing examples.
Maya Neal
Eager? That's me. Doomed? Quite possibly. But innocent? Don't be silly, thought I. As a published writer in my field, I thought for sure I was already somewhat punctuation savvy. Let's just say that reading this book (cover to cover in one long evening) was as humbling as it was edifying. There's an updated version of this book to be had, but I opted to finally read this one from circa 1985 since it was sitting on my bookshelf threatening to morph into petrified wood. My motive? I'm wanting to t ...more
Willow L
Dec 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A book about punctuation that is fun and literary. That sounds impossible, I know, but this is it. Forget Liz Truss and read this (yes, it's American, but for Britons many rules here still apply). Absent: pedant's intemperate ranting, intended to be endearing but really a bore; spasms of reactionary opinion, adding nothing to the topic at hand; anecdotes like 'when I was an editor at...', 'I once saw a grocer's sign that read...'; and un-amusing wordplay. Instead gothic microfiction liberally em ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it liked it

This book is a fun way to brush up and learn about punctuation. It reads more like a story than an instruction book and has many examples. Some of the examples are a little out there, which make you pause as you try to figure them out – and not in a good way. I understand that the author was trying to inject humor and have fun with a subject that is, let’s face it, pretty bland for most of us.
Fun times with punctuation, though this book is old enough that some of the so-called rules have shifted, and not enough attention is paid to the roles of power and privilege in shaping these rules. However, it is a whimsical and witty approach to how fundamental punctuation can be in effecting sense. Curious to compare this book to Pinker's Sense of Style.
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Probably about as fun as a manual on punctuation and grammar can be. That said, Gordon is definitely writing for us punctuation nerds. I doubt her esoteric humor would read well to many who would benefit most from her manual.
S.D. Gibson
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The examples in most punctuation handbooks are mind-numbing. Gordon's are interesting, funny, and may imply a narrative. They made reading the handbook very enjoyable.
Kris Patrick
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The exemplars are hilarious, the pen and ink drawings bizarre.
Clare Fitzgerald
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I've been doing a fair bit of reading on the gambling end of my current field, I've been pretty neglectful about keeping up on any sort of writing or editing-related reading. But it's been a full year since my last binge of editing books, so I did try to find the time to make sure I hadn't forgotten how punctuation works by zipping through Karen Elizabeth Gordon's The New Well Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. Gordon is also the author ...more
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Source: Self purchased.


Gordon's book, The New Well-Tempered Sentence is unique, with edgy illustrations and a coquette style of writing. Gordon makes learning punctuation fun. Can punctuation be fun? Yes, with the right teacher. Karen Gordon breaks up the monotony of learning with unique drawings and dry humor. Punctuation is divided into chapters: exclamation point, question mark, period, comma, semicolon, colon, hyphen, dash, italics, parentheses, brackets, slash, and the apostrophe.

Jason Kirk
Jan 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my favorite grammar book, bar none. Nothing else comes close. "A Punctuation Handbook" in name, The Well-Tempered Sentence -- originally published in 1983 -- also serves as a buffet of often hilarious and always craftily constructed examples of what has come to be called microfiction (or, if you prefer, "The Evolution of the Short Story in the Internet Age").

The book is a must-have for writers in English, a keen choice to leave laying around the bathroom for guests, and a great gift fo
S. Nikolova
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been meaning to read this book for almost 10 years and finally got around to it. After all, everyone can use a refresher on punctuation rules, right? “The New Well-Tempered Sentence” ended up being a really quick read that was as entertaining as educational. I thoroughly enjoyed – chuckled out loud at times – the examples used to demonstrate the rules. Here is a taste of what to expect:

“Which is the hand to kiss?”/“The hand to kiss is the one you’ve frightened away.” (Quotation marks)

Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fitting companion volume to The Deluxe Transitive Vampire. Gordon uses her extensive knowledge of punctuation, leavened with her whimsical, imaginative style to give slashes, dots, dashes, and exclamation points more personality than characters in many of the novels I have read. The explanations are memorable ("A tilted perpendicular, an ambivalent floorwalker, the slash/virgule/bar/separatrix offers alternatives, and when needed accompanies coordinate conjunctions as their chaperone.") and th ...more
Jul 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The New Well-Tempered Sentence is an excellent punctuation guide for those who really need it (or even those who only need it a little). With whimsical sketches and even more whimsical examples, it takes you chapter by chapter through the exclamation, the period, the comma, the semicolon, and all the other marks you need to build a sentence. The explanations, organized into bullet points followed by examples, are very clear. This might not be the best punctuation guide I have even seen, but it i ...more
Oct 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this on recommendation from my partner who used this in his classes when he taught English courses at the university level. It's not a hard read, for a book about punctuation; but, it suffers from examples that tend to be a little too playfully snooty. I found myself focusing more on the ridiculous passages than the punctuation and style choices in some of them - but I understand the author's attempt to keep it interesting. Best read slowly and in many sessions to avoid passive reading.
Sep 23, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
I read the first few chapters of this book and then returned it to the library. It wasn't what I was looking for. I was looking for a quick reminder on rules of punctuation. This book was helpful, and at times very funny, but it was also a bit verbose and salacious. (Yes, salacious, as odd as that sounds.) If you like really off the wall stuff, you'd enjoy this book. If you're looking for a quick primer on punctuation, you may want to look elsewhere.
Jul 15, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book tries very hard to be funny and informative but fell flat for me. By the title I was hoping for musical allusions throughout, but it is just a title aimed at being funny. I much prefer Eats, Shoots and Leaves if you are looking for a funny grammar book. Or The Glamour of Grammar for more serious enjoyment.
The example sentences in this book are raucous, strange, and wonderful. I can't say the book taught me much about grammar; I enthralled by the examples, but I typically flew past the instructional material. I'm pleased to learn the author had some fiction I can attack. As a grammar book, this isn't the best teacher, but as a source of entertainment it's quite lovely.
May 08, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author knows her punctuation. Her examples are goth or surrealistic sentences which at first I found amusing but soon found annoying so if oddity keeps your attention and keeps you amused read this book, if this is not your cup of tea, then learn punctuation elsewhere.
Feb 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a wonderful, creative reference book for any writer ... whether you are professional or not. Even if all you do is write letters or emails, this is a great book to have on hand. Her approach to inspired writing is completely engaging.
(Shelf-Clearing Project Reference Book). A charming and exhaustive guide to punctuation, illustrated with amusing sentences and archival black-and-white pictures. Ms. Gordon endorses the Oxford Comma, so this one is definitely a keeper.
Carolee Noury
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quite possibly the most fun punctuation lesson ever. This book is full of delightful examples of the rules. The sentences are beautiful, hysterical, and mind-bending. Want a fun reference book? Look no further.
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What was I doing reading this at 11:12 PM on the Red Line riding from the far north side to downtown Chicago? I was listening to a stranger, cellphone stuck to his head, use the worst English I've ever heard. This is what we call a perfect moment.
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Penryn
Recommended to Lafcadio by: Nancy
Who's taking money at the door? And how shall I dress to not seem real?
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Karen Elizabeth Gordon, who is most well-known for her comic language handbooks The New Well-Tempered Sentence and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire, is also author to a collection of short stories published by Dalkey Archive Press. The Red Shoes and Other Tattered Tales was hailed by many critics as Rabelaisian in its humor.

Gordon resides alternately in Berkeley, California and Paris.

from http://www.
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“Not only were we naked, crazed, and starving (and far from our warm little homes); we were without any good books as well.” 1 likes
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