After scanning the contents page of this slim volume, I made my way directly to Chapter 17. The title of this chapter, “-ize or -ise”, had set my heart aflutter. What I found there, I knew, would make or break my reaction to Punctuation Without Tears.

I am a staunch defender and user of the “-ize” suffix. When I was a civil servant, I was more than once picked up on this, usually with the admonishment that “-ize” was “American” (said with a tone of disgust only a notch or two above what I might have expected had I suggested publishing a Green Paper in the typeface favoured by the Waffen SS). I knew I had George Orwell, CS Lewis and others on my side, but I usually managed to keep things in perspective and bite my tongue.

Well, I am relieved to be able to say that Dominic Selwood and I are resoundingly on the same page when it comes to “-ize”. It is the correct historic English spelling and can be used with pride (with a few exceptions, of course). Selwood’s advice here is similar to his advice throughout: clear, pragmatic and sound; principled while not being absolutist. Punctuation is about making yourself understood, but it is also a creative tool, a way to express ideas and moods. Selwood is a friend of, but not a slave to fashion. He also sticks up for the Oxford comma, which is great. Commas, indeed, are “the punctuation mark that says most about you as a writer”.

Punctuation Without Tears covers most of the ground one would hope for and at a tremendous lick. Inevitably, the author and I part company here and there. He is over-fond of dashes and too hard on long sentences and brackets. The illustrative sentences are a bit idiosyncratic.

These complaints are small beer, though. Follow Selwood’s way. He will make you a better punctuator. And a better writer.

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