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Punctuation Explained (with Examples)Punctuation is the use of conventional characters (e.g., commas, semicolons) to improve clarity. In general, punctuation aids comprehension by showing a reader which words are grouped and where to pause.
The main punctuation characters are:
- apostrophes (')
- parentheses (round) ( ( ) )
- parentheses (square) ( [ ] )
- colons (:)
- commas (,)
- dashes (–, —)
- ellipsis (...)
- exclamation mark (!)
- hyphen (-)
- periods (full stops) (.)
- question marks (?)
- quotation marks("")
- semicolons (;)
Punctuation (Apostrophes)Apostrophes are used:
- To show possession (e.g., one dog's kennel, two dogs' kennel)
- In time expressions (e.g., a day's holiday, two weeks' pay)
- In contractions (e.g., can't, don't, isn't)
- To show plurals (e.g., three dog's , two patio's )
- Randomly before the letter s (e.g., She like's cakes. )
Punctuation (Colons)Colons are used:
- To extend a sentence to expand on something previously mentioned in the sentence (e.g., I need just one personal trait: loyalty.)
- After an introduction (e.g., I've seen the following: rust, slime, and a rat.)
- In references, times, and titles (e.g., Read Genesis 1:1 before 09:00.)
- With quotations (e.g., He said: "Laugh at yourself first, before anyone else can.")
Punctuation (Commas)A comma is used:
- After setting the scene at the start of a sentence (e.g., Now she is wiser, she understands.)
- After transitional phrases like However, Consequently, or As a result (e.g., However, I now agree with you.)
- After an interjection (e.g., Crikey, it's true!)
- Before a conjunction joining two independent clauses (e.g., She likes pies, and she likes cakes.)
- As parentheses (e.g., Peter and John, who live next door, love my pies.)
- To separate list items (e.g., bread, honey, and jam)
- After a long subject if it helps the reader (e.g., A, B, C, and D, are essential qualifications.)
- In numbers (e.g., 2,515 )
- With the vocative case (e.g., I know your uncle, Sarah.)
- Before a quotation (e.g., She whispered, "I know.")
Punctuation (Hyphens)Hyphens are joiners. They are used:
- To join the words in a compound adjective (e.g., seven-foot table, silver-service banquet)
- To join the words in compound nouns (e.g., paper-clip, cooking-oil)
- To join prefixes to words (e.g., ultra-expensive, re-establish)
Read more about using hyphens.
Punctuation (Round Parentheses)Round parentheses (brackets) are used:
- To insert extra information (often an afterthought, clarification, or expansion of a recently mentioned idea) (e.g., Set in the 17th century, The Three Musketeers ("Les Trois Mousquetaires" in French) is a novel by Alexandre Dumas.)
- To present a plural option with a singular one (e.g., Your guest(s) must leave before midnight.)
Punctuation (Square Parentheses)Square parentheses (brackets) are used:
- To make quoted text clearer by expanding on or replacing part of the quote. (e.g., If you don't like them [my principles], well, I have others.)
- To make it clear that terms like [sic] and […] are insertions by the current author not the originator. (e.g., In your statement, you wrote: "I appraised [sic] him of the situation at about 4 o'clock.")
Punctuation (Period / Full Stop)A period (.) (or full stop in the UK) is a punctuation mark used:
- At the end of a declarative sentence (e.g., I eat pies.)
- At the end of an imperative sentence (which is not forceful enough for an exclamation mark) (e.g., Please use the bathroom upstairs.)
- In an abbreviation (including initialisms and contractions) (e.g., B.B.C., Prof.)
Punctuation (Semicolons)Semicolons are used:
- In lists when the list items contain commas (e.g., Peter, the officer in charge; Colin, the chef; and Heidi, my dog)
- To create a smoother transition between sentences, particularly when the second starts with a phrase like however or as a result (e.g., It was freezing; however, we still enjoyed it.)
- Before a conjunction which merges two sentences containing commas (e.g., Yesterday, it was, to our surprise, sunny; but today, as expected, it's dull.)
Read more about using semicolons.
Punctuation (Quotation Marks)Quotation marks (or speech marks as they're also called) are used:
- To show the exact words spoken or written (e.g., Reagan said: "You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans.")
- For the names of things like ships, books, and plays (e.g., I was certain the "Spruce Goose" was too heavy to fly.)
- To express the idea of alleged or so-called (During the speech, his "mates" slipped out the side door.)
A Quick Test
- This test has questions.
- You will score at least 5 points for a correct answer.
- You will score bonus points for answering the questions quickly.
- Be careful though. Wrong answers score 0 points.
- The maximum score is .
THE MAIN TYPES OF PUNCTUATION
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