Rules of Punctuation Overview

When we communicate verbally we use certain oral queues, like pausing or changing the tone of our voice, to indicate breaks in speech or emphasis. In written communication, these types of breaks in sentences or other places of emphasis are indicated through the use of punctuation.

The purpose of the following guide is to not only introduce the various marks of punctuation that are used, but also to clarify why and how they are used. Use it to help you as you punctuate your writing.

Punctuation Overview – Punctuation Marks and Rules

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 …

Three of the above-mentioned punctuation marks are used to end a sentence. They are: The period, the question mark and the exclamation mark.

The period is used to indicate the completion of a declarative sentence and also to conclude an occurrence of multiple abbreviations.

At the end of a sentence: Hunter and Grayson waited patiently for the school bus.
After an occurrence of multiple abbreviations: His father, Simon Smith Sr., was born on Jan. 7, 1939.

A question mark is used to indicate the presence of a question at the end of a sentence.

Did you remember to bring your lunch today?

Writers use the exclamation point to indicate an outcry or to add emphasis.

In dialogue: “Oh my goodness!” gasped Helen.
To add emphasis to a statement: My little sister drives me batty!

The comma, the semicolon and the colon are regularly used incorrectly because they all serve the purpose of indicating a pause in a series.

The comma is properly used to indicate a separation of concepts or ideas or elements within a sentence. It can also be used in sequences of numbers, dates and letter writing after the salutation and the closing.

To address someone: Thank you for everything you’ve done today, Kyle.
To separate two complete sentences: We went out for lunch, and then we went to the salon.
To separate elements or lists inside a sentence: I bought one in orange, blue, and purple.

Whether or not a final comma should be added prior to the conjunction in a list is a topic of debate. The final comma, or the Oxford or serial commas as it is also called, can be useful in a complex series of phrases or elements, but most would argue that it is unnecessary in a simple series. However, it really is a matter of preference.

The semicolon is used to join independent clauses. It demonstrates the relationship between each independent clause and creates a strong connection than a period would.

Shelly was sad; she knew he had taken her camera just to spite her.

A colon, on the other hand, serve three purposes. The first being after w word introducing a quotation, an example, an explanation or a series.

She had four things on her grocery list: apple, cereal, milk and coffee.

The second is between independent clauses, whenever the second clause explains the first.

I didn’t have time to stop at the store: I was already late for work.

The last is for emphasis.

There was one thing that she missed the most about her childhood: Her grandfather.

The next two punctuation marks commonly found in English grammar are the dash and the hyphen. These two are often used interchangeably, although they are very different.

A hyphen is used to connect two or more words into a compound term, and should not be separated by a space.

Part-time
well-known
back-to-back

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A dash, however, does not link words – it separates them into statements.

Brackets, braces and parentheses are used to house or contain words (or groups of words) that are either a further explanation or are to be considered as being part of a group.

Parentheses are notations used to qualify remarks or to contain further thoughts. It should be noted that parentheses can be replaced with commas, in most cases, without changing their meaning.

Steven and Casey (who were only sixteen at the time) snuck into Jim Bob’s bar.

Brackets are used in technical writing, or to clarify meaning. If you were to remove or erase the information contained inside a bracket, the sentence would still be complete.

She [Mrs. Smith] was the oldest person to ever fly a helicopter.

Braces are used to indicated when two or more lines of text or items should be considered a single unit. They are not regularly found in writing, but might be seen in computer language or in mathematical equations.

The last three of the fourteen punctuation marks are the apostrophe, quotation markets and ellipses. They are not connected to each other in any way.

An apostrophe is used to demonstrate the omission of one or more letters from a specific word., possessive case or plural lower case letter.

Omission of One or More Letters From a Word:  I’ve read the book so many times. He wasn’t the only one who knew the ending.
Possessive Case: Tina’s car had a flat tire.
Plural for lower case: Today we practiced writing lower case b’s.

There are certain setting and schools of thought that expand the use of the apostrophe to include symbols, number and capital letters, but this is not a hard rule.

Quotation marks are a coupling of punctuation marks used to indicate the start and end of a specific passage, quote or part of speech that is being said by someone else. They are also used to demonstrate meanings.

“Remember to brush your teeth before bed.” The babysitter said to the children.

Single quotation marks are used whenever there is a quote, or passage, inside quotes.

Julia told her mother, “I ran into Susan at the store today, and she told me ‘John was running around the neighborhood acting crazy again,’ can you believe it?”

The ellipses is frequently represented by three periods, however, sometimes three asterisks may be used instead. The ellipses is used to demonstrate an omission, and is frequently used in conjunction with quotations in order to move from one phrase to the next.

He began to assign each person a number, “One, two, one, two…” until the last person was picked and the teams were formed.
Inside a quotation: When Marie Curie said, “Let them eat cake…” I don’t think this was what she meant.

What is Punctuation  – Definition

Punctuation, also referred to as pointing, is by definition, “the use of spacing, conventional signs, and specific typographical devices to aid the understanding and correct reading of handwritten and printed text.

In English grammar there are fourteen types of commonly used punctuation marks, each serving a very specific purpose and action.

The fourteen types of punctuation marks are: the period, the question mark, the explanation mark, the hyphen, the dash, the colon, the semicolon, the apostrophe, the quotation mark, parentheses, ellipses, brackets and braces.

There are also other types of punctuation marks that are not commonly seen in English writing, or are reserved for more technical documentation, examples of these include: slash, stroke, solidus and guillemets.

Asides from punctuation, other typography you might see in every day writing include:

  • Ampersand &
  • Asterisk *
  • At sign @
  • Backslash \
  • Basis point
  • Bullet
  • Caret
  • Dagger
  • Equals sign
  • Multiplication sign
  • Number Sign
  • Pound
  • Hash
  • Obelus
  • Section sign
  • Underscore
  • Strike

Here are a few resources that you can use to practice your understanding of punctuation marks.

  1. https://www.niu.edu/writingtutorial/punctuation/quizzes/PunctuationSelfTest.htm
  2. https://www.grammar-quizzes.com/puncsum.html
  3. http://web.uvic.ca/lancenrd/martin/weblang/weblang15.htm
  4. http://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/practice_punctuation.html