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Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

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Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in e-mail and now "txt msgs", we have made proper punctuation an endangered species. In "Eats, Shoots & Leaves", former editor Lynne Truss dares to say that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. If there are only pedants left who care, then so be it. This is a book or people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From George Orwell shunning the semicolon, to "New Yorker" editor Harold Ross's epic arguments with James Thurber over commas, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

209 pages, Paperback

First published January 2, 2003

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About the author

Lynne Truss

95 books692 followers
Lynne Truss is a writer and journalist who started out as a literary editor with a blue pencil and then got sidetracked. The author of three novels and numerous radio comedy dramas, she spent six years as the television critic of The Times of London, followed by four (rather peculiar) years as a sports columnist for the same newspaper. She won Columnist of the Year for her work for Women's Journal. Lynne Truss also hosted Cutting a Dash, a popular BBC Radio 4 series about punctuation. She now reviews books for the Sunday Times of London and is a familiar voice on BBC Radio 4. She lives in Brighton, England.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,260 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
783 reviews12.5k followers
January 27, 2023
Bad punctuation can force an innocent animal to live outside the law. Now, instead of peacefully munching, it EATS, SHOOTS, and LEAVES.

I proudly consider myself a punctuation martyr. The setting is an ordinary Soviet elementary school, first grade. I am kicked out of the classroom and sent home with an angry note. My transgression - in my wide-eyed seven-year-old innocence I dared to correct my (very Soviet) teacher on her comma placement and a spelling mistake. This crime landed me on her "black list" for the rest of the year. This was the beginning of my grammar vigilante stickler life.

Sometimes I discuss punctuation when I talk to my mother on the phone*. In my defense, she is a language teacher. Ah, never mind, I don't have a valid defense.
* (Yes, I know I should get a life. But I am ok with being pathetic.)
And then I found this book. And realized that I am not alone. And had a very enjoyable few hours reading the creation of a fellow grammar stickler. And then developed a strong desire to join a militant wing of the Apostrophe Protection Society. (Should I be seeking therapy for this? The bills will, of course, go to the aforementioned teacher.)
“Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing? Could I start one? Where do you get balaclavas?”

This book is a must-read for all the grammar and punctuation sticklers out there. It is a witty and entertaining read perfect for those like me who start hyperventilating and breaking out in hives at the misuse of commas, apostrophes, and semi-colons. If you ever felt a surge of rage at those who do not understand the difference between contractions, possessives, and plurals, then this book will be like a breath of fresh air for you.

5 perfectly punctuated stars.

Punctuation can save lives. That's right, kids. Take this to heart.

Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
November 18, 2021
Lynne Truss - image from Alchetron

This is a delightful screed on the demise of punctuation in contemporary expression. Truss bemoans the loss of knowledge or of interest in proper use of language. Truss is a Brit and the usages have not been modified for the American edition of the book. This is a must, an enjoyable and educational read for anyone who cares about the English language. In addition to gripes about the slovenly way that we write, Truss offers some history on punctuation, which is most welcome.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
Want to read
July 4, 2015
I have, for some reason, frequently been recommended Lynne Truss's book, though the reason escapes me; friends who have been exposed to my academic writing style are particularly prone to do so, and I have grown used to this strange phenomenon. I'm sure it says more about them - poor, unenlightened souls - than it does about me; for some reason, in particular, very few people understand what a wonderful punctuation mark the semi-colon is, and that it can, and very often should, be used to replace the period. Though there is also, of course, much to recommend the humble comma: the average sentence (not that I wish to imply that a sentence should content itself with merely being average) could be much improved by the addition of one or two, possibly more, of these handy little beasts.

No, I simply can't understand it; I suppose that a careful reading of Eats, Shoots and Leaves could, if I really tried, help me make my sentences a little longer, and assist me in festooning them with additional, glorious, punctuation. But why gild the lily?


(based on a conversation earlier this morning with Jordan; apologies to Bob Dylan)

Hey, Mr Semi-Colon Man: play a song for me!
I'm not sleepy; and there ain't no place I'm going to;
Hey, Mr Semi-Colon Man: play a song for me!
In the jingle, jangle morning, I'll come, followin' you.

Though I know that evenin's empire has returned into sand;
Vanished from my hand;
Left me blindly here, to stand, but still not sleeping;
My weariness amazes me; I'm branded on my feet;
I have no one to meet;
And the ancient, empty street's too dead for dreaming.

Hey, Mr Semi-Colon Man: play a song for me!
I'm not sleepy; and there ain't no place I'm going to;
Hey, Mr Semi-Colon Man: play a song for me!
In the jingle, jangle morning, I'll come, followin' you.


Seen yesterday in the window of a Geneva art gallery, this 1927 painting by Jean Arp entitled Point-Virgule ("semi-colon"):


I wanted to buy it on the spot. Unfortunately, a) the gallery was closed, b) a little internet research revealed that it last went for around 900,000 euros.

Damn. But still, if you feel like giving me a really expensive surprise present you'll now know what to do.

From Pico Iyer's essay In Praise of the Humble Comma:
A comma... catches the gentle drift of the mind in thought, turning in on itself and back on itself, reversing, redoubling, and returning along the course of its own sweet river music; while the semicolon brings clauses and thoughts together with all the silent discretion of a hostess arranging guests around her dinner table.

Spotted earlier this morning by notgettingenough in an article about Waterstones (formerly Waterstone's). I would have contributed.


From today's Independent:


From following day's Independent:

Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
March 4, 2017
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is a humorous book about punctuation. Who knew punctuation could be so entertaining?

As someone who writes a fair bit (half a million words on Goodreads alone), I know my way around a sentence. However, when this popped up on Amazon on the cheap, I was powerless to resist, like my dog on a piece of cat shit.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynn Truss takes us on a Bill Bryson-esque odyssey through a forest of commas, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, and exclamation marks. Incidentally, did you know an exclamation mark is called a dog's cock in some circles? I did not.

Truss' writing makes things like how to properly use an apostrophe entertaining, using amusing phrasing and real life examples, offering up rules like "Don't use commas like a stupid person." It isn't all laughs, however. I normally avoid colons and semi-colons but I feel like she's given me a greater understanding of them.

There's not a whole lot more to divulge. It's no surprise this short but sweet book is a best-seller. It's very accessible and as entertaining as a book on punctuation can be. For grammarians and writers alike, Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a fun yet useful book about fairly boring subject. Four out of five stars.
Profile Image for Jason.
52 reviews40 followers
July 27, 2008
I'm a snob. In the comfortable safety of my desk chair, I'm audibly mocking you if you dare use "your" for "you're" (my biggest punctuation pet peeve) or if your emails are peppered with unnecessary exclamation points and an overabundance of emoticons. I like the smiley in IM conversations; I hate it in email. It's just a thing. When I meet a pretty young thing that I might want to break bread with on occasion, I'm filled with anxiety over that first email: will she write in complete sentences with capital letters and periods and paragraphs, or will I be left reading a ton of LOLs and dashes and ellipses? The bad email is going to seriously hamper this relationship.

It's with that kind of word nerd superiority complex that I went into Lynne Truss' short book on punctuation. I'm not a stickler, mind, but I do know when things aren't written properly and there are certain crimes against grammar that I just can't abide. Even though I'm sometimes a lazy writer here, I know the problems. I've been known to throw an extra comma where it doesn't belong, and when I'm furiously typing, the "there", "their" and "they're" usage can get hairy. In the last week alone, I've edited recent posts over and over again -- correcting tense and errant apostrophes. Eats, Shoots & Leaves has only succeeded in ramping up my snobbery and intensity.

I politely chided a friend in the comments of a post because she had made a grammar error and she didn't even catch it. That riled me up even more. It's driving me crazy that some old entries in here imported funny and now there are question marks masquerading as apostrophes and single quotes (not to mention the number of dead links, but that's more web nerd than parts of speech geekery isn't it?). Even now, I'm obsessing over whether I'm using punctuation correctly in this piece. I've got two hyphens impersonating a dash and I've got colons and semi-colons up there that I'm pretty sure I'm using the right way but can anyone ever be completely sure? Sigh.

But, yes, I'm a snob. My blogroll is filled with bloggers who are actually writers or aspire to be. If you're going to use words, I want you to have a way with them. I love that most of you understand the importance of setting off proper titles of books and films (whether it be in quotes, italics, or the web person's favorite: the bold) and that you probably are wondering whether or not the period or question mark goes inside or outside the direct quote marks. Ms. Truss makes me feel a little stuffy about caring about such things but there is definitely a comfort in knowing I'm not alone. I appreciated most the history of punctuation she peppered throughout the book along with her very dry British humor and the delight with which she plays with her own writing, saving the colon and semi-colon until she is actually talking about them; keeping the hyphen and dash under-wraps and then exploding with them at the perfect time.

If you're a word nerd, you must read Eats, Shoots & Leaves.
89 reviews7 followers
August 1, 2007
Maybe it's because I suffer from a lack of punctuation know-how!>?>:_; but this book irked me! Maybe it's because I'm a linguist and, while I understand the purpose and value of punctuation, I just can't get all worked up about it. Yeah, we all gotta have good writing skillz. But, most sticklers for punctuation that I know are people who want to lord their intelligence over other people, but don't have much to recommend their intelligence other than a knowledge of when to use a semicolon. Chances are, if you're talking about a Panda, I'm going to know that it didn't walk into a restaurant, eat dinner, kill someone, and head back to China. Whatever. Read it if your punctuation is good and you want to feel smug.

Incidentally, someone actually gifted me this book, because they know I have lofty degrees and figured this might be a good book for smart people. Hah. Smart people like me need a good reference grammar and style manual, not a "funny" book on punctuation.
Profile Image for Aaron.
309 reviews44 followers
April 10, 2012
Lynne Truss pulls off the impressive feat of pumping about 20 pages of expository writing full of enough hot air to go into orbit (or at least top the Bestsellers list for several weeks).

I could probably write a book of equal length (a fluffy and yet tedious 204 pages) going into what a disorganized mess this book is, but I'll spare you. Instead, here are three reasons why you should save yourself the criminal $17.50 this book costs.

First, Truss comes across as such a pretentious, self-important jerk that it makes the reading often unbearable. Take this little nugget from page 104:

"To this day I am ashamed of what I did [her response to a pen-pal, both in eighth grade:] to Kerry-Anne (who unsurprisingly never wrote back). I replied to her childish letter on grown-up deckled green paper with a fountain pen. Whether I actually donned a velvet smoking jacket for the occasion I can't remember, but I know I deliberately dropped the word "desultory", and I think I may have used some French. Pretentious? Well, to adapt Gustave Flaubert's famous identification with Emma Bovary, "Adrian Mole, age de treize ans et trois quarts... c'est moi."

I don't speak French, and she leaves this line, pretentiously, untranslated, so I'll have to give her the benefit of the doubt. However, she does not seemed to have learned much from this unrepentantly asshole experience (note: she goes on to use poor Kerry-Anne four more times for her examples) because she spends the entire book essentially trying to tell the world what to do. You might wonder to what end. High standards? A love of literature? No, just her own need to sound sophisticated and manage other people's business. She attempts to gloss this over with an ill-fated attempt at humor, which I'll address next.

Second, she is just not funny. I generally love British humor and I'm familiar with a fair amount of British comedy movies, shows, and writing. I think she must have produced the least funny attempt at humor in British publication in the last 100 years. Her jokes are based on a shared sentiment of self importance, not joy of the language. Furthermore, she tries to come across as appealing to everyone and treating her targets with cautious respect, but she ends up just taking cheap shots at greengrocers, teenagers, and the illiterate (fear of losing language to the barbarians). That's the sickening part. Couple that with her tedious recurrent references to her being single at at age 48 (at time of press), her lack of stereotypical teenage fun ("when other girls of my age were attending the Isle of Wight Festival and having abortions, I bought a copy of Eric Partridge's Usage and Abusage"), and her repeat references to the same stale jokes (Sir Roger Casement "hanged on a comma") and you get a long, tiring read. Her style is an attempt at tongue in cheek, but she really just can't pull it off.

Finally, the book does not even achieve what it aims to. That's impressive for a book pumped ten times the size of its meaningful contents. Truss's real issue seems to be dissatisfaction with lowered standards by the public. She lumps improper punctuation in with poor grammar and phonetic spelling, and in the process she looses sight of her original aim. Poor writing, she assumes, is due to primarily to ignorance; she deplores shorthand writing for text messages, but fails to consider the utility in that context (she doesn't criticize court stenographers using official shorthand). Furthermore, she seems to interpret lax writing as a sign of social, and perhaps moral, decay rather than personal standards for what matters. These days everyone accepts, at least I believe, that the internet is filled with lazy, disorganized writing. I hold most all my own writing to high standards, including this book review, because it matters to me. I don't think it makes much sense or does much good to blow off steam about the masses' lazy writing on the internet. There's no clear thesis and no clear argument. That's the death call for expository writing and defeats the entire purpose of writing the book. The book fails as an educational tool and cannot be redeemed on its humor or otherwise.

I've always had high standards with writing (grammar, punctuation, spelling, style), but having high standards is different from being anal. Truss would have benefited from revisiting The Elements of Style (to which she pays a passing nod at the end) and thoroughly edited her book on everything besides the punctuation, especially the organization. Clarity, flow, and interest would go a long way.
Profile Image for Charles  van Buren.
1,768 reviews193 followers
December 22, 2022
A delightfully entertaining guide to punctuation in the English language with humorous examples of punctuation gone awry.
Profile Image for carol..
1,572 reviews8,221 followers
September 2, 2020
I confess: I frequently find myself self-conscious about my use of punctuation. A few years back, I even bought a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, but have yet to read more than a chapter or two at a time before discovering something else to do, even if it’s bathing the dog. Similarly, I procrastinated on reading Eats Shoots & Leaves, and I really shouldn’t have. Full of humor and information, it explains some of the easier nuances to punctuation in a useful and engaging manner.

“The reason it’s worth standing up for punctuation is not that it’s an arbitrary system of notation known only to an over-sensitive elite who have attacks of the vapours when they see it misapplied. The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning… Punctuation directs you how to read, in the way musical notation directs a musician how to play.“


Surprisingly, the rest of my review is actually on topic. But full review will join its friends in the uncensored realms of wordpress.

Profile Image for Chris.
341 reviews973 followers
August 2, 2009
This is how I know I'm a real English teacher - I have a shelf dedicated to books just about English. The history of English, the uses and misuses of English, and even the history of the alphabet we use. This is something I never expected to have in my personal library, that's for sure.

But that's all to be expected; I'm an English teacher, and people like me are supposed to read books like this. It's professional development, or something. The weird thing about this book, a book dedicated to punctuation, of all things, is that it was popular with people who weren't English teachers. Everyone was shocked by how well it sold, the author included. A book written as kind of a primal stickler scream somehow struck a chord with the general reading population. Perhaps there is some hope for our species after all....

The reason it sold well, of course, is that it's well-written and entertaining to read. Far too many books about language are written by dusty intellectual Linguists who exude smugness with their impenetrable jargon and are completely inaccessible to the general public. I have those books on my shelves as well, and nothing this side of a double shot of NyQuil is as good at getting me off into slumberland. Ms. Truss, however, writes like one of us. She's an ordinary person who loves her language and who just snaps every time she sees a sign like, "Apple's - $1". I share her pain.

The book is a well-mixed combination of history, usage and style. The tiny marks that make the written English word behave the way it does have come to us along a remarkable number of paths. In the last millennium or so, marks have been added, changed and removed over time as necessity dictated. One of her fears (and the impetus to write this book) is that we may be changing English to a new form that requires less of that rigid, form-fixing punctuation.

Or people just haven't bothered to learn.

As she notes throughout the book, punctuation is one of those things that few people ever really get to learn. Our English teachers give it a once-over in elementary school, and then we never get a review of it, so we spend most of our lives just throwing around commas and apostrophes and hoping we get it right. More often than not, we don't. And we're afraid to ask anyone, lest we look like ignorant yobs.

But to master punctuation means more than just being a pedant and a nerd. Heavens, no. Mastering punctuation means controlling your language, which is controlling your thoughts. The vast difference between a sentence like, "The convict said the judge is mad" and "The convict, said the judge, is mad" should be enough by itself to illustrate how important proper punctuation is. In a language like English, so dependent on rhythm, timing and stress, punctuation is the substitute for our voice. It tells us when to speed up and slow down, which points need to be stressed and given special attention, and which points (like this one) can be safely disregarded, if one so chooses.

It would be very easy for Ms. Truss' obvious frustration with the misuse of punctuation to overwhelm her and poison the book. Admittedly, she does at one point put together a kit for those who would be punctuation guerrillas and risk prison to set the world straight, but by and large she stops short at advocating actual lawlessness.

Ms. Truss understands that punctuation abuse isn't something that people do intentionally - it's largely a matter of ignorance, and she wants to help. What's more, she's funny. For example:
In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practises the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets over-excited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.
Every section in the book has sharp and clever humor, a description of something as simple as a comma made in such a way that you find yourself laughing out loud on the train.

So, if you've always wanted to know about how to use a semicolon, or you're not sure if your commas are in the right place, or if you've ever driven someone to madness by dropping an apostrophe into a possessive "its" - and you know who you are - then this book is the one you need. Enjoy.
Profile Image for Trish.
2,016 reviews3,436 followers
May 12, 2018

We're called sticklers. Or grammar nazis. We know the difference between who's & whose & whom, they're & their & there, the correct plural for words or the fact that some words exist only in either singluar or plural and correctly use the comma, semicolon, full stop, exclamation mark and question mark. And by god, we'll make you know the difference, too! :D

It is so refreshing reading a book like this. Honestly. Many people, as the author correctly bemoaned, don't give a damn, but they should. Everybody should. Lives can depend on it; or at least my sanity (and therfore the survival of whoever made me lose it).

What is especially strange, no, downright scary, is the fact that I know most grammar and punctuation rules better than many a native speaker. Because no, my first language, my mother tongue, is not English. So if I can know this stuff, you can as well. No excuses.
It's not about getting it right all the time, but reading some posts even here (on a literary website, for crying out loud), makes me shudder! Some don't even use the full stop and especially in the English language, where almost every word starts with a minor letter (German, for example, uses capital letters at the beginning of nouns), this is the worst case scenario if you want to know what exactly a person was trying to tell you.
Mind you, English speakers are not the only ones afflicted. Auto-correct and the laissez-faire attitude (yes, I just included a French term, I'm classy that way) on the internet have made sure of that. It's not only the younger part of the populace either.

What I'm saying is: there's a reason for rules and not all rules are bad and if you don't get in gear, I might take the author up on her offer and become part of her stickler militia. *lol*

Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,103 followers
March 7, 2014

Delightful book. Have enlisted for the corps.

Consider: “Using the comma well announces that you have an ear for sense and rhythm, confidence in your style and a proper respect for your reader, but it does not mark you out as a master of your craft. But colons and semicolons—well, they are in a different league, my dear! They give such lift!” author Truss writes. “The humble comma can keep the sentence aloft all right, like this, UP, for hours if necessary, UP, like this, UP, sort- of bouncing, and then falling down, and then UP it goes again.”


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A panda walks into a café. No, wait. He goes to, um, uh, Niagara Falls. Yeah, that’s it. And this panda walks directly up to the edge of the rushing water, where he allows himself to plummet over the side to the churning froth below, wildly gesticulating with his arms all the way down. The tragic suicide was a complete mystery to the panda’s family until his wife came across a badly punctuated travel brochure in her husband’s personal effects that said, “A visitor to Niagara sees, falls, and waves.”

The Comma Denominator:
Good News: No One Knows How to Use These Things (by another of the grammar corps)
Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,255 reviews2,298 followers
September 12, 2018
This joke, I think, is fairly well known: a panda after having eaten food in a restaurant, takes a gun and fires a couple of shots into the air before exiting. On being queried by the restaurant owner on his strange behaviour, the panda points to the dictionary entry on himself, which says: “eats, shoots & leaves”. The problems created by an unnecessary comma!

It is this joke that this book takes its title from – though it is not mentioned in this book. However, there are plenty of other examples, some well-known, some obscure, of how punctuation can affect a sentence and turn its meaning completely on its head. Lynne Truss does a fantastic job of putting ahead her case for punctuation; I, for one, am convinced.

‘ , ; : ! ? “ () [] {} <> – ... -

Ahem! See above the stars of this book, taking a bow; the apostrophe, the comma, the semicolon and the colon, the exclamation mark, the question mark, quotes, various types of brackets, the dash, the ellipsis and the hyphen (along with italics). The full stop, though a very important member of the contingent above, is not given special treatment because it performs a self-evident role.

Now the question you ask will be: don’t the others? Well, yes and no. It turns out that we have a fairly good grip of how most punctuation marks should be used – however, most of us (including established writers) are unaware of the nuances. Which lacuna Lynne Truss, self-declared punctuation vigilante, sets out to correct.

After some preliminary cribbing on the sins against punctuation in modern society, she starts with the apostrophe. Here, I felt on safe ground – most of the things she said jelled with me. At least I was not sinning against the apostrophe! Well, she did clear up one long-standing doubt: whether we should add it, when we are writing the plurals of abbreviations (i.e. CD’s or CDs) – apparently, both forms are correct.

When it comes to the comma, however, things get a lot murkier. It seems that there is no hard and fast rule on comma usage, though there are correct and incorrect ways of placing it. As mentioned at the beginning of the review (and through countless horror stories we have heard), an absent or misplaced comma can create havoc with the meaning of a sentence. But what exactly are its functions? The author enumerates six, and after reading them, I was feeling that they were pretty self-evident – before I admitted to myself that I had not thought about it in that way before Lynne told me. She says
...[B]etween the 16th century and the present day, it became a kind of scary grammatical sheepdog. As we shall shortly see, the comma has so many jobs as a “separator” (punctuation marks are traditionally either “separators” or “terminators”) that it tears about on the hillside of language, endlessly organising words into sensible groups and making them stay put: sorting and dividing; circling and herding; and of course darting off with a peremptory “woof” to round up any wayward subordinate clause that makes a futile bolt for semantic freedom. Commas, if you don’t whistle at them to calm down, are unstoppably enthusiastic at this job.

A very colourful metaphor indeed.

Now we arrive at the two pesky things: the colon, and the semicolon. I never knew exactly how to use these guys, though I had a vague idea – and I must thank Lynne for spelling it all out for me. The way I had imagined them in my mind was as breaks interrupting the vehicle of narrative: you put a comma, and you engage the clutch; the semicolon is a gentle braking; with the colon, you stop the vehicle momentarily; and the full stop brings it all to a grinding halt. It seems that my idea was not very much off: these are indeed pauses, but it seems that there are some rules for using them.
A colon is nearly always preceded by a complete sentence, and in its simplest usage it rather theatrically announces what is to come. Like a well-trained magician’s assistant, it pauses slightly to give you time to get a bit worried, and then efficiently whisks away the cloth and reveals the trick complete.

The semicolon, in contrast, joins two related sentences where there is no conjunction such as “and” or “but”, but where a comma would be ungrammatical. It also serves as a “Special Policeman in the event of comma fights” (to see a live example, see the paragraph above the quote).

(Here, I was a bit worried about the dash – I tend to use it in lieu of the colon quite a lot – but the author set my mind at rest assuring me that it is perfectly legitimate. In fact, the dash is more “dashing”: it can subvert the meaning of the sentence in subtle ways, as shown in the example below, from Byron:
A little still she strove, and much repented,
And whispering “I’ll ne’er consent” – consented.

Lynne Truss discusses the exclamation mark, the question mark, quotation mark, ellipsis, brackets and the dash all together as these are the guys which give the text its sparkle – “cutting a dash”, to use the author’s own term. I loved the way she explained these rules as they appeared in a sort of story, where Lord Fellamar almost succeeds in spoiling Sophia’s virtue, to be frustrated at the last minute by the Squire Western.

Before winding up, I would like to mention two more things the author touches upon:

1. The use of italics. Though overkill would grate upon the reader’s nerves, apt use can enhance the power of narrative no end. In one Agatha Christie novel, the whole mystery hung upon where the emphasis in a sentence was placed: “she wasn’t there”, “she wasn’t there” or “she wasn’t there” (and this example is mine!).
2. The under-used hyphen. I could very well have written underused in the previous sentence, but I decided to take the advice of Lynne and use the cute little connector. And it is a must in some cases: a little used car is very much different from a little-used car!

So, ladies and gentlemen: punctuation is important. Though I would say that no one should lose sleep over the exact place to put that comma, or whether a colon or dash should be used, one cannot say that sometimes it does not become damn important, as the following sentence illustrates.

Woman, without her man, is nothing. (So say the MCPs.)
Woman! Without her, man is nothing. (The feminists retort.)
Profile Image for Claudia.
960 reviews555 followers
September 5, 2021
I'm a stickler, alright. I cringe every time when I see mistakes which shouldn't appear anywhere, since here punctuation and grammar are being taught in primary school. But it looks like every language has its own tormentors.

Beside being extremely informative, it is in equal measure hilarious. What is it with these books on punctuation that makes them so unputdownable? I've read not long ago Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, and I loved it. Now this one is even more captivanting. Here are some fragments:

I mean, full stops are quite important, aren't they? Yet by contrast to the versatile apostrophe, they are stolid little chaps, to say the least. In fact one might dare to say that while the full stop is the lumpen male of the punctuation world (do one job at a time; do it well; forget about it instantly), the apostrophe is the frantically multi-tasking female, dotting hither and yon, and succumbing to burnout from all the thankless effort.

Punctuation developed slowly and cautiously not because it wasn't considered important, but, on the contrary, because it was such intensely powerful ju-ju.

Everyone knows the exclamation mark - or exclamation point, as it is known in America. It comes at the end of a sentence, is unignorable and hopelessly heavy-handed, and is known in the newspaper world as a screamer, a gasper, a startler or (sorry) a dog's cock.

In the family of punctuation, where the full stop is daddy and the comma is mummy, and the semicolon quietly practises the piano with crossed hands, the exclamation mark is the big attention-deficit brother who gets overexcited and breaks things and laughs too loudly.

The name comes from the Greek, as usual. What a lot of words the Greeks had for explaining spatial relationships - for placing round, placing underneath, joining together, cutting off! Lucky for us, otherwise we would have had to call our punctuation marks names like "joiner" and "half a dash" and so on. In this case, the phrase from which we derive the name hyphen means "under one" or "into one" or "together", so is possibly rather more sexy in its origins than we might otherwise have imagined from its utilitarian image today.

Recommended to everyone, I've seen a lot of reviews which could benefit from it. (Mine too, unfortunately...)
Profile Image for Lynne King.
494 reviews675 followers
February 21, 2013
I found the title intriguing and also the author’s name. I also enjoyed the first words in the Introduction:

“Either this will ring bells for you, or it won’t. A printed banner has appeared on the concourse of a petrol station near to where I live. “Come inside,” it says, “for CD’s, VIDEO’s, DVD’s, and Book’s.”

Such incorrect usage of the apostrophe and it just makes me squirm. I have the same feeling about “its” and “it’s”. I vividly recall learning English grammar at school. It was exceedingly painful at the time, because the teacher was rather boring and this carried over to the class. Yawning was very common then too. I remember how correct usage of the apostrophe was always rammed down our throats. Now, with the internet, correct punctuation appears to be taking a back seat.

From the first page this was indeed a thought-provoking book. I loved the author’s punchy style but I was intrigued first of all to find out from where the title originated. A reference to this was made earlier on in the book:

“True, one occasionally hears a marvellous punctuation-fan joke about a panda who [my addition - shouldn’t this be ‘which’ because a panda is not a family pet?] ‘eats, shoots and leaves’….”

So on checking the acknowledgements I see that Nigel Hall was responsible for this. After a certain amount of research, I assume this is the joke? It’s rather good anyway.

“A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down and orders a sandwich. After he finishes eating the sandwich, the panda pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter, and then stands up to go.

“Hey!” shouts the manager. “Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and you didn't pay for your sandwich!”

The panda yells back at the manager, “Hey man, I am a PANDA! Look it up!”

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: “A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white colouring. Eats shoots and leaves.”

Ms Truss starts with the unfortunate apostrophe. She just sees glaring errors everywhere: on buses, billboards, in newspapers, public institutions like the British Library, you name it, there are errors everywhere.

As an example, a headline in the paper states: “Dead sons photos may be released”. How many sons are there one wonders?

When Ms Truss was on Radio 4 making a series of programmes about punctuation, she met John Richards from the Apostrophe Protection Society. Imagine that. The apostrophe has become alive and finally reached “animal” status. The author questions:

“Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing? Could I start one? Where do you get balaclavas?”

It continues in this style, attacking all those who misuse commas, full stops (period US), semi-colons, etc. It's all an outrage to her and she throws in wonderful anecdotes to illustrate her point of view.

Under commas, I especially liked the Oxford comma. A typical example was “The flag is red, white, and blue.” The comma after white; in Britain, we normally leave it out but there are those who prefer to leave it in. I suppose this is somewhat pedantic?


A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing.

It’s remarkable really how the comma can actually change the sense of a sentence so dramatically. I confess that I’ve never really thought of that before.

When we arrive at the semicolon, there’s a very good example with George Bernard Shaw. I agree with Ms Truss, we would obviously look on his use of this punctuation as sheer insanity but he’s dealing with T.E. Lawrence, who he refers to as “Luruns” (sounds like a place to me as we have “Laruns” not too far away from where I live in France). Mr Shaw believes that Lawrence is a liar:

“You will see [writes Shaw] that your colons before buts and the like are contra-indicated in my scheme, and leave you without anything in reserve for the dramatic occasions mentioned above. You practically do not use semicolons at all. This is a symptom of mental defectiveness, probably induced in camp life.”

Ms. Truss laments on the arrival of the e-mail and the vocabulary that has come into being because of that. She blames the internet for all the books on line and wonders if the book will still be around in twenty years. She also makes references to the printed word:

“…The book remains static and fixed … Holding the book, we are aware of posterity and continuity. Knowing that the printed word is always edited, typeset and proofread before it reaches us; we appreciate its literary authority. Having paid money for it (often), we have a sense of investment and a pride of ownership, not to mention a feel of general virtue.”

Certain sections of the book just show a comma on the line. I rather liked that too; a fleuron of sorts? It’s probably best to pretend that it’s a variation of a flower or leaf.

I really could go on about this book but suffice it to say, I just thoroughly enjoyed Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It stands up for punctuation and correct punctuation at that. It’s all part of our heritage and must not get lost in time. It’s also very amusing.

All said and done, I recommend this book to everyone, regardless of their age. I'll no doubt go back to it from time to time just to re-enjoy it.

Profile Image for John Beeler.
81 reviews10 followers
April 17, 2017
This book was a waste of my time. Think of an old guy yelling at a bunch of kids to get off his lawn. Then put that sentence in really good grammar, and that is this book.

It's overwhelmingly pretentious. As far as I am concerned, it generally ignores the way language moves to apparent regression when in fact it is merely changing, as it always does.
Profile Image for Daren.
1,328 reviews4,398 followers
February 17, 2021
Well - I probably enjoyed this short book more than I should have. While my punctuation is not perfect and my reviews always contain typo's that I only spot years later, I still enjoy a good laugh at terrible punctuation.

Lynne Truss has collected some great punctuation faux pas. But more than that, she has provided relatively simple guidance on how to correctly position those commas, apostrophes, hyphens, and the like. (Points for noticing the Oxford comma (used after the and in a list) which I quite like.) I also like the guidance on how to position the full-stop when dealing with quotation marks or brackets (which I know I tend to over-utilise). Of course, I am paranoid now about every comma, hyphen and apostrophe in this review, as it would have been better just to throw some stars at it and not write a review at all than to cock up the punctuation...

Some quotes:
To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as "Thank God its Friday" (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence.


If you still persist in writing, "Good food at it's best", you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.


Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing? Could I start one? Where do you get balaclavas?


I apologise if you all know this, but the point is many, many people do not. Why else would they open a large play area for children, hang up a sign saying "Giant Kid's Playground", and then wonder why everyone stays away from it? (Answer: everyone is scared of the Giant Kid.)


Phrases abound that cry out for hyphens. Those much-invoked examples of the little used car, the superfluous hair remover, the pickled herring merchant, the slow moving traffic and the two hundred odd members of the Conservative Party would all be lost without it.

5 stars for its reference value if nothing else!
Profile Image for Diane in Australia.
668 reviews791 followers
January 11, 2019
Amusing book about punctuation. Amazing to think such a read even exists! Although, I am a supporter of the Oxford comma, I do understand Lynne's thoughts on it. I shall agree to disagree. If you love language, and grammar, you'll probably enjoy this book. I did.

4 Stars = Outstanding. It definitely held my interest.
Profile Image for David.
Author 22 books16 followers
July 25, 2007
I really don't see what all the fuss was about this book--the author didn't seem particularly knowledgeable, and her "zero-tolerance" approach seems to do more to promote intolerance than to promote clarity.

In particular, her distaste for "emoticons" seems entirely inconsistent with her fascination with the origins of punctuation--it's as if she thinks of punctuation as a dead thing that _used to be_ alive, but now she doesn't want anyone to disturb the corpse.
Profile Image for Caroline.
506 reviews586 followers
May 20, 2015
This book is a witty rant about the use and misuse of punctuation. It has a very high feel good factor. We, the readers, of course know how to use apostrophes correctly, and that writing littered with exclamation marks infers a feeble mind. We know subconsciously, even if not via overt rules, how to use hyphens. We pat pat pat ourselves on the back with being so in accord with this funny woman and her nit-picking usage of grammar.

Ahhhh, except this is the nub of the thing. Lynne Truss in this book deals only with punctuation - that thin layer of tasty icing on top of the vast, dense, impenetrable cake that is grammar. Reading Eats Shoots & Leaves does not maketh a grammarian of us, but merely a punctuator. Something that most kids do with reasonable efficiency by about the age of 11. Maybe I am being a bit harsh. Ms Truss mentions several famous authors who have tussled with nuances of punctuation, often with ferocity, and there is a bibliography at the end which is over four pages long. Still I can’t help thinking this is the easy-peasy edge of grammar, and really, she is giving us a very cushy ride.

Reservations aside, this is an enjoyable book. Ms Truss writes in an endearingly chatty style, and she’s a very amusing woman. I also learnt a thing or two. For me, best of all, was an introduction to the Oxford comma. This is when you are allowed to put a comma before an ‘and’ when making a list in a sentence. Thus….“The fruit salad, of oranges, apples, guavas and tenderly-ripened bananas” is replaced by “The fruit salad, of oranges, apples, guavas, and tenderly-ripened bananas”. Oh hooray, hooray! I always wanted to insert that last comma, but thought it was forbidden. Other people will undoubtedly find their own unexpected freedoms. For all her huffiness, Ms Truss is a surprisingly generous mentor.

All in all this book is a good fun read. The average rating on GR - a nice plump 3.83, from 50,719 people - says it all.


Note: And for those of us who flail around in the gooey morass of more difficult areas of grammar, help is at hand via this wonderful Goodreads group.

Language and Grammar

Profile Image for Zala.
334 reviews61 followers
July 30, 2023
“Naturally, therefore, this is where the colon and semicolon waltz in together, to a big cheer from all the writers in the audience. Just look at those glamorous punctuation marks twirling in the lights from the glitter-ball: are they not beautiful? Are they not graceful?”

This is a book that tackles punctuation rules and some of their historical origins (those parts I liked the most) in a humorous way. It brings up important topics such as: the Apostrophe Protection Society, religious doctrines that hang on the placement of a comma, the endangered yet strangely addictive semicolons (I had no idea the semicolon elicited such strong reactions from people), exclamation mark ghosts, and hyphen abolitionists. It's a bit long-winded in some parts, and the humor didn't always land for me, but I still enjoyed reading it.

Then there's the epilogue. I don't think events leading up to 2003 were so dire that they'd warrant these types of concerns:
“We hear every day that the book is dead and that even the dimmest child can find “anything” on the internet.”
I hope the author was glad to see the emergence of e-books and online newspapers, and that her worries have been somewhat assuaged by the revival of reading culture among teens (and middle-aged moms for some reason) in the 2010s and again in recent years on tiktok.

I can understand some of her worries about punctuation, though. Especially if I look at so many books being published the way they are - as if no one's editing them beyond checking for typos.

“George Orwell tried to avoid the semicolon completely in Coming Up for Air (1939), telling his editor in 1947, 'I had decided about this time that the semicolon is an unnecessary stop and that I would write my next book without one.'”
How dystopian of you, Orwell.
Profile Image for Kathrynn.
1,170 reviews
October 15, 2008
I thoroughly enjoyed this short, funny book about British punctuation. The author had a wonderful sense of humor and used it throughout the book. This was a quick read, with sections on the:

1. Apostrophe
2. Comma
3. Quotation Marks (single and double)
(Now I understand why I see punctuation in and outside of quotation marks; British place outside while the American custom place inside.)
4. Colon, Semicolon and Interjections
5. Dash, Exclamation, Question, Italics, Underlining...
6. Hyphen
7. Emoticons and other stuff
(The author does not think too highly of using emoticons. She indicates such use shows poor word usage to convey meaning; therefore, needing to supplement with an emoticon.) Uh-oh. ;-)

Each chapter opens with a brief history, current practice in both American and British cultures and some include debates from various groups on correctness. All have humor and examples of right and wrong usage.

I have to share this letter. It is on pages 9 & 10 and is the same letter, but the punctuation is placed differently; thus, altering the meaning--drastically. Check it out:

Letter #1

"Dear Jack,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy - will you let me be yours?

Letter #2
Dear Jack,
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn! For you I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Profile Image for Becky.
1,384 reviews1,650 followers
February 14, 2016
I'm undecided as to whether I'm a punctuationally-challenged heathen, or if I qualify as a stickler. I have no formal training (other than my school years) pertaining to punctuation, and if you were to ask me to define the rules pertaining to when a semicolon should be used, I'd probably guess at something close to right... maybe.

Ugh, and see: I'm an ellipses junkie! It's unacceptable, since I am not a famous author who can break the rules with impunity.

However, many of the rules of good punctuation use are common sense (at least I think so) and so I think I edge into the stickler zone. It bothers me when grammar and punctuation are mangled, but especially when it's mangled by someone being paid to get it right. Although, even more frustrating is when people defend the mangled "writing" as though it doesn't matter at all. Because it does matter. IT DOES.

There was some really interesting info in here, and I especially liked the historical info regarding invention and usage of punctuation over time. Good stuff. But otherwise, it was kind of like preaching to the choir. I already appreciate and like punctuation - so really what I got out of this was a history lesson and a future warning that if we continue on our txtbsd way, that our punctuation may go the way of the Dodo bird. Which would be sad... but maybe that day will wait until I either go blind or die. *Fingers crossed!*
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,178 followers
December 13, 2009
Truss' tongue-in-cheek style may not appeal to everyone and I don't agree with her about everything. In particular, "zero tolerance" makes punctuation an end in itself, rather than an aid to meaning, which seems back to front. It also makes no allowance for context and audience.

However, she gave punctuation and grammar a voice, and, however briefly, made people think about language, ambiguity and meaning, which is certainly good. Or it would be, if it didn't fuel the fire in the bellies of extreme prescriprivists.

A broader and more balanced book on this and related subjects is David Crystal's "The Fight for English How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,101 followers
July 3, 2015
I thought the idea of a virus that prevents email with improper grammar from being sent was fantastic. The virus ought to be endorsed by all colleges, corporations, and curmudgeons; at least it ought to be stamped with the Trusted Application status once it has been hatched and flown. Of course, that might mean we'll have a great internet dark age when almost everyone will have gone silent. Alas. It's a fun book, I recommend it to everyone.
Profile Image for Barbara.
285 reviews244 followers
May 20, 2020
If only grammar and punctuation had been taught with the degree of humor in Eats, Shoots and Leaves (all subjects could have used a healthy dose of laughs). Do most people correctly use conventional punctuation marks, or do most people just not care where that damn comma, semicolon, or apostrophe belongs?

I enjoyed learning many interesting facts about the evolution of punctuation. Who knew it was developed centuries ago so actors could recite their lines with accurate pauses and emphasis? Just as language has changed and continues to change, so has punctuation; even within a decade. Truss discusses nuances between British and American punctuation which has always fascinated me. Many interesting authors' punctuation quirks are detailed; George Bernard Shaw's idiosyncratic semicolons and the dismissal of them by George Orwell, Gertrude Stein, Donald Barthelme, and others. James Joyce, we are told, preferred the colon .Chekov's short story "The Exclamation Mark" is discussed. I will have to read it and find out more about the protagonist who has never used an exclamation mark - really!

This book was fun to read, although Ms. Truss did at times come across as snobby and condescending. There aren't many as dedicated as she in the role of punctuation vigilante. That said, if you cringe when your read signs such as: Play-Ground, Bobs' Pizza, or Apple's For Sale, this book is for you.
Profile Image for Rowena.
501 reviews2,516 followers
June 10, 2012
I don't think I "favourite" many non-fiction books but this book was just brilliant! Lynn Truss laments the misuse of our punctuation marks, and the possible future demise of a couple, such as the semi-colon. This book is perfect (or a bit worrying) for grammar and punctuation sticklers. Some of the examples of terrible punctuation use will make you cringe, while others will make you laugh. On top of that, Ms Truss's wit is in a class of its own! There are lots of literary examples of certain writers who abhorred certain punctuation marks, and others who loved them. She also touches on the contribution of the internet to the deterioration of language and what the implications may be for the future (not good!). She does explain the main uses of the punctuation marks for anyone wanting a quick refresher course. I've had to re-read this review a couple of times just to make sure there aren't any punctuation mistakes in it!
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,221 reviews2,212 followers
May 10, 2009
To be honest, I never heard the panda joke until this book came out. The Australian version is a bit different - not as clever and involved, perhaps, but funny nonetheless. It went something like (and I am the worst person at re-telling jokes, I always forget bits. Usually the punchline): What does an Aussie bloke have in common with a wombat? They both eat, shoots and leaves. Except that's not quite it cause the grammar is off. Never let me tell a joke, I'll always ruin it.

Anyway, to the book. Wonderful, wonderful book. Hilarious, absolutely hilarious. And, as a bit of a "stickler" myself, very welcome too.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves covers the apostrophe, the comma, the semicolon and colon, the hyphen, dash and bracket, and even the question and exclamation marks. If you have always struggled, or sometimes doubt, how to use any of these, this is definitely the book for you. If, like me, you read it and get awfully chuffed with yourself for using them (almost always) correctly, you'll still want to keep this little gem around, either for back-up in those arguments with other sticklers (or punctuation-impaired people), or for a laugh. It's an easy-going, ironic book, full of tongues-in-cheeks and witticisms and puns - intelligent puns.

One of the things I love about this book is how Truss captures the punctuations marks' true characters. Giving marks personalities is a great joy to me - the only reason I used to fly through the times table every morning in primary school was because all the numbers had personalities and characters, and when they times'd by each other it was like a dramatic scene in a play; that was how I remembered it all. I can't say I do the same with punctuation, but I totally agree with Truss' personifications. For example:

Now, there are no laws against imprisoning apostrophes and making them look daft. Cruelty to punctuation is quite unlegislated: you can get away with pulling the legs off semicolons; shrivelling question marks on the garden path under a pwerful magnifying glass; you name it. ... the tractable apostrophe has always done its proper jobs in our language with enthusiasm and elegance, but it has never been taken seriously enough; its talent for adaptability has been cruelly taken for granted; and now, in an age of supreme graphic frivolity, we pay the price. [p.36:]


... if you feel you are safe paddling in these sparklingly clear shallows of comma usage, think again. See that comma-shaped shark fin ominously slicing through the waves in this direction? Hear that staccato cello? Well, start waving and yelling, because it is the so-called Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma) and it is a lot more dangerous than its exclusive, ivory-tower moniker might suggest. [p.84:]


There are times ... when the semicolon ... performs the duties of a kind of Special Policeman in the event of comma fights. ... One minute the semicolon is gracefully joining sentences together in a flattering manner ... and the next it is calling a bunch of brawling commas to attention. [p.125:]

I love it! It also does wonders for understanding how to use the fiddly little things, if you've ever had trouble - and let's face it, who doesn't? And while Truss' tone may often be light and playful (even a little frivolous), this book is hip-deep in interesting historical background, usages and common mistakes, and entertaining examples of real-life punctuation boo-boos that, if you care at all, will actually make you tense up in indignation.

She also has a friendly dig at Australians and our tendency to turn statements into questions, which the British fans of Neighbours have picked up, much to her chagrin:

Increasingly people are (ignorantly) adding question marks to sentences containing indirect questions, which is a bit depressing, but the reason is not hard to find: blame the famous upward inflection caught by all teenage viewers of Neighbours in the past twenty years. Previously, people said "you know?" and "know what I'm saying?" at the end of every sentence. Now they don't bother with the words and just use the question marks, to save time. Everything ends up becoming a question? I'm talking about statements? It's getting quite annoying? But at least it keeps the question mark alive so it can't be all bad? [p.141-2:]

I laughed and laughed.

I did feel a bit ashamed when Truss disparagingly brings emoticons into the discussion - I have used a couple of smileys and the like on occassion. But it's not easy getting tone across in written words - or, rather, it kinda is (isn't that what writers accomplish all the time?), but in emails etc. it's more personal, and you can't read body language or facial expressions, and these people you are chatting away to are so often strangers, that it is so easy to be misconstrued, misunderstood, and a whole lot of other "mis-es".

Another thing I appreciated was that, this book having been written by a Brit, it hasn't been Americanised. That would be a completely different book. But Truss does make distinctions between American and British usages which are very helpful, and interesting too.

This book reads a bit like an essay, the kind famous writers write so that we'll all be awed by the intellectual genius behind their Great Works - except Eats, Shoots & Leaves is not at all pretentious; on the contrary, Truss confesses several times that she herself has doubts, and still learns that what she thought was wrong is actually "correct" (such as it is). What I mean, is that this is not some dry reference book - and the panda joke on the back cover prepares you for that. Even so, this is perfect reference material for students, teachers, copy-editors, journalists, proof-readers (please!), sticklers and, well, anybody. I learnt a lot from it but had fun learning, which should actually help me remember it all.

And I just can't believe I never noticed that the movie Two Weeks Notice doesn't have an apostrophe (which I very nearly typed in myself just now), or that Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn't have a question mark. I think my brain put them in for me, which is why I'm very surprised to find these punctuation marks are missing.

Recommended for everyone, even people who are bored shitless by anything to do with writing.

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