Sister Mary Malachy and Punctuation Rules

Definition:

Stickler — One who insists on something unyieldingly.

Stickler. That’s a perfect description of my fifth grade teacher, Sister Mary Malachy. She was a stickler for most everything, but especially for proper punctuation. Even today, years later, I can recognize and appreciate her influence on my writing.

“The period and comma always go within the quotation marks,” Sister Mary Malachy drilled into our heads during many English classes throughout fifth grade. “The dash, the semicolon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted material only,” she always continued. “They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.”

Other than one student, Melvin, the class clown, that year we fifth graders grew adept at memorizing and repeating Sister Mary Malachy’s punctuation rules. Melvin just waved his arms wildly and made chicken clucking sounds during English class. I lost track of Melvin through the years but I doubt that he ended up as either a writer or an editor.

We went to elementary school at a time when learning by rote wasn’t frowned upon and Sister had scores of drills in her rote repertoire. Throughout high school, college and jobs, I was lucky that all of Sister Mary Malachy’s drills stuck with me. They made it easy for me to remember her punctuation rules later in life, especially when I had copyediting jobs.

They may also be responsible for my disappointment for my writing buddies who didn’t reap the benefits of having Sister Mary Malachy as a teacher. When they sit down in front of the computer, those writers can’t possibly hear, as I do, the repeated refrain, “The period and comma always go within the quotation marks.”

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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