Using Punctuation in Sentences

When we speak, or engage in conversation with another person, there are subtle queues (like short pauses or emphasis on certain syllables) that indicate things like questions, excitement and more. In writing, these types of emphasises are indicated by punctuation marks (or points as they are also called.)

Punctuation marks include things like periods, which are used to indicate the end of a complete sentence and question marks which are used at the end of a complete sentence that contains a question.

Punctuation in Sentences – How to Use It Correctly

When determining how best to punctuate a sentence, there are a few rules or guidelines that should be followed:

Rule 1: If the sentence starts with an introductory element, a comma should come after that element. Even if the element is short, a comma should still follow it. The more you practice this, the more likely it is to become a common habit.

Rule 2: Any element that causes an interruption to the flow of the sentence, whether this interruption be minor or major, should be set off with commas. This sentence, like the one before it, also has an element that is set off by commas. An element that occurs at the end of the sentence also needs to be set off by a comma, as shown here.

Rule 3: Items or elements occurring in a series should be separated by commas. For example: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Rule 4: Whole sentences that are connected with a conjunction (and, for, nor, or, but, yet, so) require a comma prior to the conjunction. This should be obvious, but, the comma is frequently omitted.

Rule 5: Whole sentences that are connected without a conjunction (and, for, nor, or, but, yet, so) require a semi colon and not a comma. A semi colon demonstrates where one sentence ends and another begins. Semi colons are regularly followed by a connecting phrase or word; however, it is not absolutely necessary to have a connecting word or phrase. Completed sentences that are connected using only a comma are referred to as comma splices; they are among the most common writing errors seen at the college level.

In order to fix a comma splice, it is important to be familiar with two recurring sentence patters. The first consisting of a complete sentence, a semi colon and a second complete sentence.

Example:

Complete sentence one; complete sentence two.

Her ankle began to swell; she wasn’t going to finish the race.
She copied off of her classmates paper; she was going to fail the test.
She ate three big slices of pizza for dinner; her diet was ruined.

The second sentence pattern to be mindful of consists of a complete sentence, a semi colon, a connecting word, a comma and a second complete sentence.

Example:

Complete sentence one; word or phrase, complete sentence two.

I decided not to attend practice; instead, I am going to go to the movies.
The results were tampered with; as a result, we’re sending the test back to the lab for further review.
She did well on her exam; as a matter of fact, she did far better than she had originally anticipated.

What indicates that you’ve written two complete (or whole) sentences or if you have one complete sentence with an interrupting element? An interrupting element (something that is not quite a complete sentence), the parts of the sentence can be rearranged and still make sense to the reader.

Example:

I will go to school, even though I have a cold.
Even though I have a cold, I will go to school.

In the case of a second complete sentence and a connecting word like as a result, instead, or in fact, the parts of the sentence cannot be rearranged. If they were, the sentence would not make sense to anyone reading it.

Keeping in mind that different sentence types might warrant different punctuation types, there are several other forms of punctuation you might encounter.  The punctuation you use might even change depending on the type of writing you are doing. Scientific and mathematical writing, for example, might use one type of punctuation more frequently than everyday or business writing.

In everyday writing, and even in academic writing, you might come across has to do with compound constructions and the addition of an apostrophe.

This differs from the basis of creating possessives with a compound construction, ‘my sister-in-law’ for example. Typically, the apostrophe – ‘s is added to the conclusion of a compound structure.

Example:

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My sister-in-law’s car
My dog’s favorite bone

In cases where the apostrophe – ‘s sounds awkward, it is also acceptable to use the of construction as an alternative.

Example

The car of my sister-in-law
The favorite bone of my dog

Question marks and exclamation points are two points of punctuation that are used to change the meaning or tone of different sentence points. A question mark is, rather obviously, used to express a question and an exclamation mark is used to demonstrate expression or strong emotions. Notice how the two can change the tone of a sentence, even if the sentences are identical.

You fed the dog marshmallows?
You fed the dog marshmallows!

Question marks are most commonly used to indicate the conclusion of a direct sentence, but not at the conclusion of an indirect questions.

 An example of a direct question would be, “Did you clean your room after school like I asked?” An indirect question would be: “She asked him if her cleaned his room after school.”

Exclamation marks are used to demonstrate something of strong emotion, or when something would have been said loudly had it have been spoken.

I told you to clean your room after school!

Exclamation marks, or exclamation points as they are also know as, demonstrate feelings and emotions like frustration, surprise, anger and irritation. You will seldom see exclamation points used in business or technical writing.

Remember, punctuation establishes meaning or intention by ensuring that anyone reading your writing understands where one thought or topic ends and the next begins; what has been quotes or what possessives exists, when there is a list, and so much more.

As you write, try to create sentences that are no longer than 15 to 20 words in length. Regardless of how well placed the commas, semi colons and colons are, longer (or run on) sentences are confusing and unorganized.

Different Types of Punctuation

In English, there are fourteen types of punctuation marks. They are:

  1. The Period .
  2. The Question Mark ?
  3. The Exclamation Point !
  4. The Comma ,
  5. The Semi colon ;
  6. The Colon :
  7. The Dash –
  8. The Hyphen _
  9. Parentheses ()
  10. Brackets []
  11. Braces {}
  12. The Apostrophe ‘
  13. Quotation Marks “
  14. Ellipsis …

Sentence Punctuation Cheat Sheet

Use a comma to:

  • set apart the name of someone being addressed in correspondence
  • separate items or elements of a list
  • after an introduction
  • separate non-essential components or statements from everything else

Use a semi colon to:

  • connect two complete sentences
  • separate items of a list when one contains a comma

Use a colon to:

  • follow after the salutation in a business letter
  • introduce a long quote or a list

Use a dash to:

  • show rang
  • separate and add emphasis to an extra statement

Use an apostrophe to:

  • demonstrate possession (April’s car, my sister’s red hat)
  • stand in for missing numbers (’89, ’72)
  • stand in for missing letters in contractions (isn’t, wasn’t, don’t, she’s, he’s, what’s, how’d, what’d, I’m)

Use a hyphen to:

  • separate syllables or words at the conclusion of a line
  • to connect two or more words, creating a single description (second-rate piano player)

To add prefixes to capitalized words (anti-Establishment)