The basics

Punctuation marks are symbols which organise the structure of written language, and indicate intonation and pauses to be observed when reading. Punctuation marks are also used for clarity and to avoid ambiguity. Eg. “woman, without her man, is nothing” has a different meaning from “woman: without her, man is nothing”…

This is a summary of some basic punctuation rules:

  • Full stop, or period (.)

A full stop is used at the end of a sentence:
She stood up and went away. She was furious.

It is also commonly used for abbreviations:
Co. (Company)
M.P. (Member of Parliament)

  • Question Marks (?)

Question marks are used at the end of direct questions:
Where do you live?
Are you crazy?
Did you do the homework?

They are also used at the end of tag questions:
You will help me, won’t you?
He likes soccer, doesn’t he?

  • Exclamation marks (!)

Used to indicate strong emotions:
She’s so beautiful!
What a nice girl!
How interesting!

Also used after interjections
Oh! It’s awful.
Hi! What’s up?

  • Commas (,)

Commas are used between items in a series or list. The last two items of the series usually do not need a comma between them. They are separated by “and”.
I like spaghetti, fish, pizza, and couscous.

Commas are also used between adjectives or adverbs:
I’d like to have a big, German car.
She speaks slowly, quietly and eloquently.

After the street address and city, in an address:
83 Ducie Street, Manchester.

Before or after direct speech:
He said, “I hate being treated like that.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied.

Before a coordinating conjunction (for, and, but, or yet, so).
He woke up late, so he had to drive to work.

  • Semicolons (;)

Semicolons are used instead of a full stop or period to separate independent sentences:
They woke up early; then they went jogging.

Use a semicolon to separate items in a series when those items contain punctuation such as a comma:
They visited the Eiffel Tower, Paris; Big Ben, London; and the statue of liberty, New York.

  • Colons (:)

Use a colon to introduce a list:
He visited three cities last summer holiday: Madrid, Roma and Athens.

To introduce an idea or an explanation:
He had one idea in mind: to see her as soon as possible.

To introduce direct speech or a quotation:
The secretary whispered in his ear: “Your wife is on the phone,”

  • Dashes (-)

To introduce parenthetical information:
I put on a blue jacket – the one my mother bought me – and blue jeans.

To show an afterthought:
I explained to him my point of view – at least I tried!

  • Apostrophes (‘)

Use an apostrophe to indicate a missing letter or letters in a contraction.
I’m fed up with his stories.
Use an apostrophe plus the letter “s” to show possession.
My brother’s girlfriend is such a sweet girl.

  • Quotation marks (“ “)

Quotation marks are used to quote speech, sentences or words.
She said, “I love you.”

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