How to Punctuate English Sonnets

Updated April 17, 2017

Step 1

Punctuate minimally according to the syntax of the poem. Add periods where sentences end and commas according to conventional comma rules, separating adjectives, lists and contracted sentences. Read the sonnet through out loud a couple of times as though it were prose to double check the initial punctuation placement.

Step 2

Add a comma at the end of each line that doesn't already have punctuation. This is rarely a good punctuation for a finished poem, but in the case of the sonnet, it's a good start to treat each line separately at first. Read the poem aloud as verse, and note which of the line-ending commas seem appropriate.

Step 3

Erase any of the line-ending commas you added that seem inappropriate. When a line ends with no punctuation and the sentence spills onto the next line unhindered, it's called enjambment. Poets have described the effects of this technique many ways, but many agree that the sound produced is a heightened pace, and a focus on the first words of the next line.

Step 4

Experiment with different punctuation, reading it out loud with each new arrangement. Consider replacing periods with semicolons at the end of lines for a less dramatic pause. Steps 1-3 set up a good framework, but there is no correct answer to sonnet punctuation. Punctuation can add another level of meaning and finesse if done well.

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About the Author

Michael Roberts has been writing professionally since 2010. He's written on a wide range of topics for different websites. His eHow articles cover topics in motorcycles, bicycles and other modes of alternative transportation. Michael received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Michigan in 2009.