Better Punctuation, Better Accent

Posted On: January 22, 2015

A simple trick to getting the right flow in spoken English is to know when and how long to pause for various punctuation marks. In addition to the pause, it’s important to have the right tone to sound confident.

Commas and Semicolons
Length of pause: While commas and semicolons require a half pause. 
Failing to pause: Not pausing where a comma is will prove a lack of confidence as well, and the native speaker will not be able to understand you clearly, as your words will link together incorrectly and the US client probably will ask you to repeat.
Tone: The tone should also drop to indicate being positive or confident. If the tone goes up, the native speaker will think you are not sure, asking a question or not really confident in what you are saying. 

Periods/Full Stops
Pause: Periods and full stops require a longer pause than a comma or semicolon. 
Failing to pause: Often Malayalee speakers of English who tend to speak fast, speed up and combine sentences, hence not stopping for full stops. This will not allow for productive conversations with native speakers. 
Tone: The tone needs to go down to indicate confidence. Up tones indicate asking a question or not being sure. 

Better Punctuation, Better Accent

Better Punctuation, Better Accent

Question Marks 
Pause: Pause as you would for a full stop or period. 
Failing to pause: The same notes for full stops apply here.
Tone: Tone rises for a question. If the tone drops, or goes down, the native speaker may wonder if it is really a question or not and may remain silent or respond, but not answer your question. 

Exclamation Mark 
Pause: A pause similar length to a full stop is required. 
Failing to pause: Refer to the notes under full stop. 
Tone: Tone will rise, but differently than for a question. This would indicate surprise and not question. It may also represent shock. Do not over use exclamation marks in business writing. 

The video clip below is from an American comedy show Seinfeld. It highlights the humor found in the over use of exclamation points. For those who want to hear tone differences, it can be noticed by listening carefully to the audio in this video.  



Other cross-cultural humor from Seinfeld:
Importance of saying excuse me when someone sneezes (video at the bottom of page)
Long Island Accent (video almost at the end of page)


For more on how to use punctuation, see this post

Jennifer Kumar is an American business communication coach helping Indians have more productive professional discussions with their US and Western onsite counterparts. Contact her for more information and programs to suit your team’s requirements. 

Related Posts: 
How to use full stops and periods in written English 
Question Mark usage in written English 
More Accent and Clear Speaking Tips  

Updated April 2020, Orignially published 1/15


Find your Program!

Find your ideal program in just a few clicks.
Select Industry > Learning Level > Skill, to see 1-3 suggested programs.