An Ultimate Guide To Punctuation In Poetry. Tips And Typical Mistakes

January 15, 2021


There is a disagreement concerning grammar and poetry punctuation. It all depends on the author’s strategy. Some of them prefer the way of breaking the grammatical rules or forgetting about their existence. The others stick to grammar strictly. When it comes to poem formatting, punctuation also plays a crucial role.

It is essential to know the grammatical rules for a reputable author. Not being acquainted with them may result in the poem’s misinterpretation and misperception by the reader. The question you should ask yourselves is not “what grammar rules should I follow?” but rather, “what effect should I create?”

The main thing you need to keep in mind is that punctuation in poetry is different from punctuation in prose. Simply putting a comma at the end of each line is not enough, and it doesn’t present you as a great author.

The Role of Punctuation in Poetry

Before we move on to explaining the rules, let’s clarify the importance of punctuation marks in poetry. In verse, they mean much more than in prose. Their purpose is to create the rhythm, as commas, periods, or dashes usually signal to pause. The shortest pause is made after the comma, the longest – after a period. Their key function is giving the reader an opportunity to breathe in, especially in reading aloud. Another essential function of punctuation in poetry is making an emphasis on several words.

The same sentence with different punctuation can have opposing meanings. The punctuation marks highlight the most necessary words and help deliver the author’s ideas correctly to the readers. It boosts the overall poem’s understanding and flow.

Poetry is a wide space for the author’s creativity, as you are not obliged to follow the grammar rules. You can create your own ones, after all. Creativity is an ideal excuse for violating any rules. The reason for avoiding commas or dashes may be rhythm or even a personal taste of the poet. That’s why don’t be so critical to authors if you see a missing punctuation mark. It has a much bigger meaning than simply a grammatical one.

One Step at a Time: Punctuating a Title

Putting a comma at the end is a common mistake. Another problem, which may occur, is using uppercase letters. Capitalize all the words in the poem title, leaving out the insignificant ones like the article, conjunction, and preposition.

Example: “The Road not Taken” by Robert Frost

Top 9 Common Mistakes in Punctuation

There are certain mistakes that many of us make. We are all humans, and nobody is ideal, but the flawless grammar needs to be your main goal in any kind of writing.

Capital Letters

Capitalizing belongs to some old-fashion traditions in poetry grammar. You don’t have to use uppercase letters to begin each new line except for the cases when the line starts with an article or preposition. But there is a new tendency to capitalize on the prepositions, which have more than five letters. Modern poetry gives the author more freedom to choose whether to follow the capitalization rules or not.


Remember to leave space, afterwords, commas, or periods.

Example: Correct – And big, grass-green eyes

Incorrect – And big grass green eyes


A comma means slowing down in the middle of an idea. It tells the reader to calm down the speech as the poem is moving on to a new thought. Not absolutely new, but related to the previous one. You need to place commas rather according to the flow of thoughts than simply at the end of the line, which doesn’t have a full stop. Pay attention to their significance and place the commas in a logical order. It is more than acceptable if they appear in the middle of the line if the poem requires it.

Example: But still, like air, I’ll rise


Period means a full stop in poetry. You take a break for a moment and move on to the new set of ideas. Place your ideas in such a way so that the period was at the line end. However, some poets can put it after every single word and create an original mood.

Run-on lines

Run-on or enjambment lines are lines, which don’t have any punctuation marks at the end. Don’t be afraid to have those in your poem. It means that the reader keeps on following your thought, which continues in the next line, without making pauses.

Example: Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways

Question Marks

It is used to denote a direct question and a pause.

Example: Is living a joke?

Exclamation Mark

The exclamation mark expresses unpredictable emotion, excitement, or just adds an emphasis. It influences the intonation and changes the perception of the poem.

Example: My love will survive!


The ellipses mark demonstrates the omission of words or letters, which don’t influence meaning. It can also be used for change of ideas or span of time.

Example: And those snow-white trees … Standing there and blooming.

How to Avoid Common Mistakes in Poetry Punctuation

  • A verse, which has more than one clause, requires internal punctuation marks.
  • You CAN end a line without any comma or period.
  • Even if you’ve decided to avoid commas and periods, always leave the punctuation and exclamation marks. They have more intensity, and you may confuse your readers if you exclude them.
  • Placing the correct punctuation marks helps the reader and guarantees your feelings are delivered properly.
  • Always place the punctuation marks according to the flow of ideas.
  • Rehearse reading your poem aloud a few times. Define the places where you need to stop and breathe in and the places where you need to make a pause according to the poem text. Put the punctuation marks there to notify the reader about it.

To wrap it up, we would recommend you do the following:

  • If you are going to violate the grammar rules, learn them first.
  • Don’t break the rules without a purpose. Always know what you are going to show your readers with this.
  • Be open to experiments (in verse, some rules have to be broken).

Quoting a Poetry

In case you are going to include a few lines from a poem in the academic paper, bear in mind these norms for direct quoting:

  • Keep the author’s original style and grammar. Include the uppercase letter where the author includes them, and use the same punctuation marks as he does.
  • If you quote a few lines from a verse, write them in one line. Put the slashes at the places where a line breaks.

Example: Shoulders falling down like teardrops./ Weakened by my soulful cries.

Summing Up

Poetry and grammar have always been a controversial topic. Certainly, the author can break the rules as his individual style demands. However, there still are some general grammar rules not to be violated. Now you are familiar with the main grammar principles for writing and quoting poems. Hopefully, our article shed some light on grammar, and now you can decide what to do with your poem.

The author has to select his own strategy, and if it includes breaking the punctuation norms, it needs to be done on purpose. We wish you good luck in all your efforts! However, it is quite challenging to place the correct punctuation in a poem. You are lucky to be able to turn to expert help in it.

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