The following is the short version of "The Edge of Dawn".

Reach for my hand,

I'll soar away

Into the dawn

Oh, I wish I could stay

Here in cherished halls,

In peaceful days

I fear the edge of dawn

Knowing time betrays

Daylights pass through colored glass

In this beloved place

Silver shines, the world dines

A smile on each face

As joy surrounds, comfort abounds

and I can feel I'm breaking free

For just this moment lost in time.

I am finally me

Yet still I hide

Behind this mask that I have become

My blackened heart

Scorched by flames of a force I can't run from

I look to you

Like a red rose

Seeking the sun

No matter where it goes

I long to stay,

Where the light dwells

To guard against the cold

That I know so well

I have been wondering what are the rules of punctuation in song lyrics. I feel like the use of comma seems to be a bit inconsistent in song lyrics and they never seem to use dots. So could someone tell me if there are indeed rules and what they are? I am asking, because you could put commas in more places in the lyrics, but the person who wrote it didn't and I would like to know why.

4 Answers 4


One generally doesn't read lyrics like poetry. Sure, you can, but it's not as common. One reads lyrics to understand a song.

If you're reading to understand how to sing a song, punctuation is particularly important. Because it helps you with phrasing.

Phrasing is how you divide up the music. Where you can take a breath, where you pause, how the intonation rises and falls.

Line breaks and stanza breaks are not punctuation but they are vital to determining phrasing. The lyrics you quote has both of these (your cut and paste removed the stanza breaks). But they are not enough.

A comma can tell you where to pause during a phrase. If done at the end of a line, it is a clue that the following line is part of the same phrase.

A period tells you the phrase has ended. In a song with periods, it will tell you that lines that do not have periods in-between them are part of the same phrases.

Other punctuation indicates other sorts of pauses and breaths and connection. It will help the singer decide how to emphasize and deemphasize different words, as well as help with timing (the score gives timing of course, and lyrics are generally scored along with the notes, but there are still subtle timing issues).

Lyrics written as part of a score won't have line and stanzas indicated, so punctuation can be important. But mostly punctuation is for lyrics written out on their own, like poetry.

The lyrics you cite have a couple of commas. Their purpose is to tell you the following line is part of the same phrase. But the phrasing indications are quite minimal.


As a general rule, lyrics will be written with little punctuation. When at a line break, it's not uncommon to use a slash to note the line is breaking and then begin the next line with a capital letter, regardless of whether or not it is a new sentence. If I wrote the four lyrical lines to the iconic song of Sir Mix-a-lot that has spoken to many generations, it would look like this:

"I like big butts and I cannot lie. You other brothers cannot deny..."

Note that sentance two goes on, but I'm only doing the first four lines for the lyrical equivelent:

I like big butts/

And I cannot lie/

You other brothers/

Can't deny/

In the above format, you'll notice that first sentence is two lines, but the second sentance is more than two as "You other brothers can't deny" is not a proper sentance at all. In fact, the full statement is six lines in total.

In poetry and song lyric writing, proper punctuation and sentance structure takes a back seat to established patterns such as Rhyme, beat, theme, melody. One of the quickest lessons is this is watching a Disney song in another language as the message and quality of what is being conveyed change dramatically. Consider "Out There" from Hunchback of Notre Dame and it's German translation "Ein Mal" which literally means "One Time". The titles express the same concept, as Quasimodo is singing about his desire for One Time Out There, in both versions, but the German version and English version play on two different themes. In the German, Quasimodo makes repetition of the line "Es war ein mal" and ends with saying he want's to be able to say of his one time "It was one time" (the literal translation). However, the phrase in German is significant as it is the cliched beginning of fairy tales. To properly convey this in English, the closing line would have to be "It was once upon a time" which is not present in the original lyrics. You'll see this especially in songs interrupted by dialog.

Consider Hellfire from the same film or "Be Prepared" from Lion King. In the former, the song is interrupted midway for a dialog to occur (in the former, a guard informs Frollo of Esmerelda's escape, in the latter, The Hyena's are confused by the plan, believing Scar wishes to abolish the monarchy, where as Scar informs them that he's not abolishing it, but wants to claim the throne for himself). In any dubbed version of these songs, the dialog breaks are translated verbatim and would be virtually identical, while the lyrical portions of the song can very wildly.

In all these cases, it's because the lyrics are bound by certain musical characteristics that must conform. Languages also may not contain the same information per sound that English does. Japanese is a big example of this. When Twitter first released with it had 128 characters per tweet. In English and western most languages, this amounts to about a single sentence of information. In Japanese, 128 characters is a good couple of paragraphs of information if translated in English... So Japanese songs, when translated into English will often have a profound information launch when an English tune is fitted. Even western languages have this problem (although not to this degree). The English version of Nina's popular song "99 Luftballoons" is "99 Red Balloons" and red balloons were heavily used in the marketing of the song. The color red is not present in the original German. The word for balloon in German "Luftballoon" literally means "Air Balloon" and is the word for Balloon. Obviously, English had a problem as their balloon was a syllable shy of German's same word, so the single syllable "red" was added. This also crops up in the song's narrative.

While both versions have the titular flock of balloons lead to nuclear war, the reasons why are vastly different. In the English version, the balloons trigger a glitch in early warning systems cause one side to mistake the balloons for an inbound nuclear strike, and retaliate (and cause the enemy to retaliate to an actual first strike by the other nation). In the German version, the Balloons were seen by a fighter pilot who decided to have some fun and shoot at them. However, this is close to the border and another enemy fighter pilot sees this and reports the first nation is attacking, which leads to a diplomatic crisis that devolves into nuclear war.

Both are scary ideas (and perfectly logical as the two closest times of nuclear war were glitches or devolving political situations between nuclear powers) but the English song puts the blame on the system not working properly, while the German version is a lot more powerful, because the systems all worked as designed, it was the humans assuming the worst of the data that led to the war.

The changes from German to English created this problem because there are no words in English to convey the German message faithfully and fit the musical nature of the song. The song about something as innocent as a balloon leading to nuclear destruction is present in both version, but the steps involved changed because the poetry of the lyrics prevented the proper translation of the lyrics.


The basic strategy of poetry is the purposeful (and skilled) breaking of rules. Poetry is based on the rules the govern prose and deviates from these to create meaning through this difference.

In prose, for example, a sentence ends with a full stop, or period, (the "dot" you mention), and many poems end their sentences in full stops, too. But some poems abandon these punctuation marks, and the readers of the poem **note this difference and are inspired to wonder what it might mean.

What the meaning is, and how you might employ punctuation (or its omission) when you write poetry, is something I cannot answer but every reader and writer must answer for themselves. Because that is the essence of poetry, even more than any other writing, that it holds many truths.


This is a favorite question of mine and one I've struggled with many times. There does not appear to be a voice of authority on the subject (Elements of Style, for example does not address this situation) and the reprints of lyrics you find on the Internet vary wildly in the way they choose to show lyrics. You'll also find big variations in usage between lyrics as they appear on sheet music and the way they're presented alone. Singers do decide when to pause, breathe and what to emphasize, but they do this based on their own comfort, custom, and skill. When it comes to writing lyrics alone on a page, there is no authority, and you're on your own to make up whatever rules you choose.

However, you might settle on one rule that seems to have been adopted in many situations. Omit periods altogether, include commas or alternative punctuation marks as appropriate at the end of a line, and continue to capitalize the beginning of every line, even when a capital wouldn't normally appear, like this:

Today was perfectly perfect, You say Well, don't go away 'Cause if you think you liked today, You're gonna love tomorrow You stick around and see And if you love tomorrow, Then think of how it's gonna be: Tomorrow's what you're gonna Have a lifetime of With me!

Excerpt from "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" by Stephen Sondheim.

  • Great answer. Welcome to SE! I see you are having problems with 1) formatting, 2) posting live links. To format single lines for the song lyrics, on this software one must double-space. To be sure it looks right (as good as it will), check the preview beneath the text-box. When copying lyrics from the internet, I'm sure you know to always post a live link to the source. To do this, highlight the text to be made into a link, click on the link icon in toolbar. Link icon looks like a curly S. Paste URL into space and Add Link. Apr 10, 2020 at 3:10

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