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

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  682 ratings  ·  53 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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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  682 ratings  ·  53 reviews

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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
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
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?
Caleb Horowitz
My feelings regarding this book are rather mixed. Karen Elizabeth Gordon has a clear handle on her punctuation, and, for the most part, she conveys her grammar rules with clarity. But she also writes with a quirky energy that prevents the book from ever getting boring and falling into standard textbook trappings. This is a textbook that very much wants to be something else, something greater than. Most of the time, Gordon's attempts to spice up her punctuation lessons are relatively harmless and ...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! ...more
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Pretty great guide with amusing examples.
Mar 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grammar
An innovative approach to teaching punctuation, but also a disingenuous one. "The innocent" are unlikely to improve their mastery from reading this. I found the statements of the punctuation rules in each chapter to be turgid and border on unintelligible. English professors might be able to use them, but hey, they don't need this. And while I am not an academic, I did not find any enlightenment in my own use of punctuation, though there were a few places where I disagreed with the text.

For me, t
Will 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
Nofar Spalter
Jul 24, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was recommended by Ursula Le Guin and it's a decent book about punctuation. I wish that there were fewer examples and more insights in this guide: tips and ways to remember the various rules, general guidelines that connect the various rules, and a glossary of the different parts of speech mentioned. As it is, I wouldn't really recommend it to writers, unless you're the kind of writer that learns best from examples. I'd recommend reading the "Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips" book ins ...more
Jun 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only complaint, about this otherwise handy guide, is that some of the examples left me feeling distinctly lost. It's a tad off-putting to have to pause and look up the definitions of some "fancy pants" words. On the bright side, if you're looking to advance your vocabulary - and scare your friends - you'll definitely get along with this.

If you're anything like me, keep a dictionary on standby ;)
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. ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great little punctuation book for everyone, from the skilled writer or editor who wants to verify or strengthen previous knowledge to the minimally experienced writer who wants to fathom the depths of commas, hyphens, semicolons, and more. This book is SO entertaining, you’ll find learning correct punctuation usage is pure fun.
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. ...more
Aug 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Helpful examples abound.
Marissa (thatclassicbooklover)
Informative but dry
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.

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. ...more
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. ...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 I don't mean that 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 people.
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. ...more
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.

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