Punctuation

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Punctuation is the name for marks used in writing. These marks help with understanding. There are many kinds of punctuation. Some of them can do many things. These are some common punctuation marks used in English:

  • . is a period or full stop.
  • , is a comma.
  • ? is a question mark or query.
  • ! is an exclamation mark.
  • ' is an apostrophe.
  • " is a quotation mark.
  • : is a colon.
  • ; is a semicolon.
  • ... is an ellipsis.
  • - is a hyphen.

Rules of punctuation[change | change source]

The use of punctuation in English can change from place to place and from time to time. Modern typography suggests that punctuation should only be used when there is a need. That results in less punctuation than was the case the early 20th century.[1]

The use of these marks is often decided by a group or organization and then written down as a style guide. Newspapers have a style guide to make their content use the same rules (consistency).

Period or full stop[change | change source]

A period or full stop

A period (U.S.A.), full stop (U.K. and Commonwealth) or full point (typography and printing),[2][3] looks like this: .

A period or stop is used to end a sentence. The period plus a space separates sentences in prose, and makes it easier to read. If they are not needed, they should not be used. So, for example, in a list format it is obvious when a section ends, therefore it does not need a full stop.

A period can show numbers that are smaller than one. With money, a period is used to show the amount of money less than one dollar.

For example: "Elizabeth bought a soda for $1.25." means that Elizabeth paid one dollar and twenty-five cents for her drink.

A period is sometimes used to show that a word has been made shorter. A word that is made shorter with a period is called an abbreviation.

For example: The words doctor or mister are often made shorter when used with a name. "Dr. Smith" is the name of a doctor whose last name is Smith, and "Mr. Banerjee" and "Mrs. Yang" are common ways of writing. However, in modern typography, plain ""Mr, Mrs/Ms or "Dr" are more common. "Mrs" is never written in full: to write "mistress" is to mean something quite different. See also capitalization.

Comma[change | change source]

A comma

A comma looks like this: ,

A comma has many uses. Some of these are shown below:

  • To list things: "cows, horses, pigs, and sheep". A comma that is used before the word and in a list is called an Oxford comma. Some people do not use Oxford commas: "cows, horses, pigs and sheep".
  • To separate two sentences with a conjunction: "Most birds have separate toes, but ducks' feet are webbed."
  • To separate parts of a sentence: "Mimi, hungry as she was, was shy to come forward and have a slice of cake."
  • To indicate a pause in a sentence or question: "Hallie, did you remember to feed the cat?"
  • In some European countries, commas are used as the -Insert number base here- point, instead of a full stop. Instead of €3.57 it would be €3,57. In an inverse to that, €17,693 (Seventeen thousand, etc.) would be €17.693.

Question mark[change | change source]

A question mark

A question mark looks like this: ?

Question marks are used when writing a question, to make an inquiry, or to ask something.

For example:
"Hallie, have you done your homework?"
"Elizabeth said 'How are you?' to Hallie."
"Why is the sky blue?"

Exclamation mark[change | change source]

An exclamation mark

An exclamation mark looks like this: !

An exclamation mark is used to write about a strong emoticon, or to write the words a person shouted. It can be used to make a statement stronger or more forceful.

For example:
"What a bad cat Mimi has!"
"Hallie, come here!"
"You did a good job!"

An exclamation mark can be used with a question mark, to make a question more forceful.

For example:
"'What did you do that for?!' she said angrily."

Apostrophe[change | change source]

An apostrophe

An apostrophe looks like this: '

An apostrophe has two main uses:

Ownership[change | change source]

An apostrophe can be used to show that something belongs to something else.

If there is only one thing, the letter s is used after an apostrophe to show ownership.

For example:
"It was the boy's dog."
"We will go in Mimi's car."

Sometimes the letter s is not used after an apostrophe to show ownership. A word will end with just an apostrophe if there is more than one thing and the word already ends with an s.

For example:
"Father put away the girls' clothes" means that Father had to tidy up for several girls.
"Father put away the girl's clothes" means that Father tidied up for only one girl.

Contractions[change | change source]

An apostrophe can be used to put two small words together. Two small words that are put together with an apostrophe to make one word are called contractions. This is normal in writing about a person speaking. Spoken English often uses contractions because these words are easier to say.

For example:
Cannot can be made into the word can't.
It is can be made into the word it's, for example, "It's a nice day today."

Common mistakes when using apostrophes[change | change source]

Pronouns do not use an apostrophe to show that something belongs to something else. Among these are its, his, hers, theirs.

For example:
"The bird flapped its wings," not "The bird flapped it's wings."
"It is his bike," not "It is his's bike."

Plurals (words referring to more than one thing) do not need an apostrophe.

For example:
"Apples for sale," not "Apple's for sale."

Quotation marks[change | change source]

Left and ...
right quotation marks

Quotation marks (also called quote marks or quotes for short) are used around the words that people have said, or direct speech. They are used in pairs.

For example:
"Hallie said, 'Mimi, please wash the dishes.'"
"'Today,' said our teacher, 'is the first day of the rest of your lives.'"

In these cases, quotation marks go after the commas and periods, not before.

Quotation marks are also used in some other cases besides direct speech, for example around the name of a song. In these cases, the commas can come after the quote marks.

Example:
"After recording "Beat It", Michael Jackson went on to record several more hits."

Colon[change | change source]

A colon

This is a colon: :

Colons can be used at the beginning of a list. "This is a list of animals: birds, cats, insects, pigs, and sheep.".

Colons can be used to replace a semicolon in between two parts of a sentence, but this is not common today.

Standard English usage is to have no spaces before, and one space after a colon.

Semicolon[change | change source]

A semicolon

A semicolon looks like this: ;

A semicolon has only two uses. First, to connect two independent clauses into a single sentence. For example: "I could tell that it was getting late; it was growing darker by the second." The second use of a semicolon is to separate items in a series when the items contain parenthetical elements within themselves. For example: "The following crewmembers were on the bridge: James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise; Mr. Spock, first science officer; Mr. Sulu, helmsman; Mr. Scott, engineer; and Dr. McCoy, chief medical officer."

A semicolon is also used with a conjunctive adverb when joining two clauses. In reality, this is the same as the first rule, but it looks different enough to sometimes cause concern. For example: "The environment is the context in which all life exists; consequently, it is more than a political issue."

Ellipsis[change | change source]

An ellipsis

An ellipsis is a mark that looks like this: ...

It is used to show where words have been missed out when writing what a person said. It can also be used to show that there is more to be said but the person stopped at that point.

For example:
... one day all Americans will live peacefully throughout the world ... they will be at peace with all other world inhabitants ...
So much more could be said ...

Hyphen[change | change source]

A hyphen looks like this: -. Hyphens have many uses in writing:

  • Some words can have a hyphen added to change the meaning. For example, re-form means "start again" but reform means "change". A re-formed group is different from a reformed group.
  • A hyphen is used to spell out some numbers (thirty-two, forty-nine, eighty-six).
  • When a name for a material such as "stainless steel" is used with a word for a thing made of that material, a hyphen is used, as in "stainless-steel knife".
  • Some words have letters at the beginning, or prefixes, these can sometimes use hyphens: un-American, anti-pollution, non-proliferation
  • When spelling out a word: H-Y-P-H-E-N
  • In some cases, when putting two words together would be hard to understand. For example, if something is like a shell, writing it as "shelllike" is hard to read with so many uses of the letter 'l'. It is better to use "shell-like."
  • When writing words that someone has spoken when that person has difficulty speaking, as in: "I reached for the w-w-w-watering can." This is called a stammer.
  • When adding words that already have a hyphen. For example: two to year-old as in: "He was a two- or three-year-old dog."
  • If a word for a person (a name or proper noun) is used with another name, a hyphen is used such as "the Merriam-Webster dictionary" or "the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact."
  • Some people take a name from the family names of both parents, or from the last name of their father and husband. For example: "John Rees-Williams". This is not always the case, for example: "Hillary Rodham Clinton".
  • A hyphen is also used when a word is too long to fit in one row of writing. This is often done in books, magazines and newspapers to save space and paper. A long word is broken into two parts, of nearly the same length, with a hyphen at the end of the first part. The normal way is to make the first part of the word as much like a complete word as possible. For example:
Good Not so good
What was done was not good, not help-

ful, nor was it very useful.

What was done was not good, not hel-

pful, nor was it very useful.

References[change | change source]

  1. Tschichold, Jan 1991. The form of the book: essays on the morality of good design. Hartley & Marks, Vancouver. ISBN 978-0-88179-034-4.
  2. "full stop". The Free Dictionary. Farlex. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/full+stop. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  3. The term full stop for the term of punctuation is rarely used by speakers in Canada and virtually never in the United States. In American English, the phrase "full stop" is generally used only in the context of transport to describe the process of completely halting the motion of a vehicle. See, e.g., Seaboard Air Line Railway Co. v. Blackwell, 244 U.S. 310 (1917) "under the laws of the state a train is required to come to a full stop 50 feet from the crossing"; Chowdhury v. City of Los Angeles, 38 Cal. App. 4th 1187 (1995) "Once the signals failed, the City could reasonably foresee that motorists using due care would obey the provisions of the Vehicle Code and make a full stop before proceeding when it was safe to do so".

Bibliography[change | change source]

  • Trusse, Lynne 2003. Eats, shoots, and leaves. Profile Books.
  • Carey G.V. 1946. Mind the stop: a brief guide to punctuation with a note on proof-correction. Cambridge University Press,