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Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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What Is Punctuation?

What is punctuation? Punctuation is a system of symbols used in writing to mark expression in spoken language. Punctuation marks break up and emphasize certain parts of a sentence.

Punctuation is used in many different languages, but the punctuation rules that govern usage in English are not necessarily the same used in other languages.

Question Mark

What does punctuation mean?

Punctuation Guide

The Most Common Punctuation Marks:

1. Periods

2. Commas

4. Semicolons

5. Question marks

6. Exclamation marks

7. Double and single quotation marks

8. Apostrophes

9. Parentheses

10. Dashes

11. Hyphens

12. Ellipses

13. Braces

14. Brackets

Ending Punctuation Rules

All sentences must end with a terminal punctuation.

  • Period – (.) The period marks the end of a declaratory sentence. Declaratory sentences are sentences that state a fact. This sentence, for example, is a declaratory sentence.
  • Question Marks – (?) A question mark also comes at the end of a sentence. As its name states, it indicates that the sentence is asking a question. Here is a sentence that ends in question mark: Where are you going after breakfast?
  • Exclamation Point – (!) An exclamation point indicates an excited utterance. Here is an example of an exited utterance: Watch out for the lion! Sometimes, they are put after sentence fragments. Example: Watch out!
  • Ellipses – (. . .) An ellipses indicates that something is missing at the end of a sentence. Here is an example of an incomplete sentence: The boy threw the ball to his . . . They may also be used for showing faltering speech in dialogue. Example: “I think. . .no, wait. . .” she shouted, “Get out!”

Commas, Colons, and Semicolons Punctuation Rules

  • Commas – (,) Commas are one of the most commonly used punctuation marks. They have a number of uses. Here are the most common:
  1. To separate three or more words in a list: The cars are red, blue, and green.
  2. To separate independent clauses that are linked by a conjunction: I ate toast for breakfast, but I wanted English muffins instead.
  3. To separate an introductory clause: Because he was so clumsy in the beginning, I thought the main character would end up dying.
  4. To initiate a quote: She said, “Don’t tell me what to do.”
  5. To separate non-restrictive clauses: Mrs. Johnson, Tory’s mother, told us not to go to the store.
  6. To mark an indirect address: Anna, you don’t really want to do that.
  7. To separate a day from a year: December 3, 1922.
  8. To separate numbers: 3,456,435
  • Colons – (:) Colons are used far less commonly than most of the other punctuation marks. Here are some of their uses:
  1. To introduce a list that comes after an independent clause: This is a list of groceries: oranges, apples, bananas, and peanut butter.
  2. To introduce a word that is emphasized: This is the only formula for water: H2O.
  3. As part of a dialogue between two or more people: Juliet: “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou?”
  • Semi-Colons – (;) Semi-colons are more common than colons. Here are some of their uses:
  1. To separate two sentences that are closely related to one another: I liked the brown dog; my brother did not.
  2. To separate two sentences that are linked together by a conjunctive adverb: Susan told me that she like my brother; however, my brother has no interest in her.
  3. To separate sentences that could have been separated by a conjunction like “and” or “but.” Example: Jorge saw the flower; Anna picked it. (This sentence could have been written as: Jorge saw the flower, but Anna picked it).

Quotations and Apostrophes Punctuation Rules

  • Quotation marks – (” “) Quotation marks are used when a person is writing down what someone else is saying. Example: President Biden said, “We cannot let this disease destroy America.” This type of quote is called a double quote. A single quote is used when you use a quote inside of another quote. However, they can also be used in headlines. Example: The headline of the paper was: ‘Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor’!
  • Apostrophes – (‘) Apostrophes are one of the trickiest of all punctuation marks. They look like raised commas and are usually used to show possession or that a letter is left out (as in a contraction). Here are their rules:
  1. To indicate that a noun is singular and possessive, put the apostrophe before the s. Examples: dog’s, cat’s, boy’s.
  2. To indicate that the noun is plural and possessive, put the apostrophe after the s. Examples: dogs’, cats’, boys’.
  3. The exception to rule #2 is when the noun is already a plural. Examples: men’s, women’s gentlemen’s. (There are only a few nouns in the English language that this rule applies to.)
  4. To indicate a missing letter, such as in a contraction that combines two words. Example: Isn’t (is not) , doesn’t (does not), wouldn’t (would not).

Dashes and Hyphens Punctuation Rules

  • Dashes – There are two kinds of dashes, the em-dash and the en-dash.
  1. The em-dash – (–)also called the long dash. It is usually used instead of commas to stress the separateness of the words contained within them. Example: I was planning on going to Hawaii — and, honestly, who doesn’t want to go — when I saw that there was a hurricane heading that way. Similarly, you can use this punctuation mark to replace colons when you want to provide extra emphasis.
  2. The en-dash, – (-) or mid-sized dash, is commonly used in mathematics. The numbers 5 thru 10 are written as 5-10 when using the en-dash. It can also be used to indicate the word “to” in certain circumstances. Example: The Sydney-Tokyo flight.
  • Hyphen – (-) The hyphen is the smallest of all the dashes. It is used to make a variety of words. For example: Counter-Reformation, African-American, up-to-date.

Parentheses and Brackets Punctuation Rules

  • Parentheses – ( ) Parentheses add additional information to a sentence. Usually, a sentence should still make sense, even if you remove the information in the parentheses. Example: Mary saw the dog (a German shepherd) bite her neighbor.

You can also include a whole sentence or groups of sentences inside parentheses if the sentences stand apart from the rest of the text.

  • Brackets Brackets are commonly used in computer coding. In ordinary language, they are used to add extra information to a group of words in quotes. Example: “The governor of Louisiana said [loudly]] that he is not corrupt.” They can also be used to indicate a translation from another language. “Jag heter Olof. [My name is Olof.]] They can also be used to indicate missing words in quoted material.
  • Braces – { }This is another punctuation mark that is commonly used in mathematics. In regular English, however, it is also used to write a series of numbers. The breakdown of ages of patients in the study was {23, 45, 66, and 87}


Punctuation marks

What Is the Importance of Punctuation?

Punctuation is needed in order to make writing clear. Without it, there would be a great deal of ambiguity in what we write. A person could end up writing something other than what he or she actually intends to convey to the reader. This is just as important when writing an email as it is when writing something more formal.

Lesson Summary

Punctuation is a set of marks used to add emphasis and clarity to writing. A comma, for instance, has many different uses, including separating three or more items. Another punctuation mark, the semi-colon. This punctuation mark is used to separate independent clauses. items in a series when there is additional punctuation, or can be used when transitioning between clauses that are not linked by a conjunction. Colons, a third type of punctuations mark, also have a number of important uses, as well. One of these is introducing a list after an independent clause. The apostrophe, a fourth type of punctuation mark, is one of the most common punctuation marks used in English, represents possession. Other punctuation marks include the common, and end marks, such as periods and question marks.

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