Punctuation Marks in English: The Ultimate Guide

May 13, 2022 | 0 comments

May 13, 2022 | Writing Guide | 0 comments

Punctuation marks are symbols used to group words, phrases, sentences, and clauses. They also help readers understand the structure of a sentence. Without them, it would be difficult to know where one-word ends and another begins—and what that means for your meaning.

English punctuation marks can change the intended meaning of a sentence. By placing each punctuation mark in its proper place within a text or conversation both you and the reader will have an easier time understanding one another’s intentions!

The Importance and Uses Of Punctuation Marks

Punctuation marks are used to mark the boundaries of a sentence. They serve as a guide for other writers, helping them understand where one sentence ends and another begins.

Different types of punctuation marks have different meanings. For example, commas can be used to separate items in a list or suggest that something is being said by someone else (such as with indirect speech). Periods indicate the end of a sentence or phrase; periods don’t mean anything on their own!

Proper use of punctuation marks is essential to clear communication when writing in English. For example, if you put too many commas into your writing it can make it very difficult for people who read what you wrote because they won’t know where one idea ends and another begins!

Punctuation changes the meaning of sentences all the time so it’s important not only how many times but which type we place at certain points within our writing

Punctuation Marks Chart

The worksheet on punctuation marks shows a summarized version of punctuation marks

punctuation marks chart

How Many Punctuation Marks Are There In The English Language?

While there are over 20 different punctuation marks in English, the core ones are the comma, period (or full stop), exclamation mark, and question mark.

These four punctuation marks can be used for multiple purposes such as:

  • to show a pause in a sentence or paragraph
  • indicating where sentences end and begin
  • indicating a change of thought or tone
  • showing confusion or surprise

1. The full stop (period)

The full stop, or period, is used at the end of a sentence that is a statement.

If you’re writing in formal English, you should always use a full stop at the end of every sentence. A full stop can be placed after the last word of a sentence, regardless of its length. This is how it’s done in British English:

“Jane went to London for her birthday.”

In some cases (such as when you are discussing abbreviations) your sentence will end with more than one word; however long your sentence may be—and no matter whether it ends with multiple words—you still need to use only one full stop at its very end!

2. Dashes (–)

The dash is a useful little punctuation mark that can help turn a bland sentence into an elegant one. To write a dash in a sentence, you need to understand how it works and how to use it correctly.

A hyphen (-) is used to combine words or parts of words, while an en dash (–) is used as an abbreviation for “to” or “through.” An em dash (—) acts as an interruption to the current thought in order to add emphasis or show a change of topic. An em dash should always be followed by a comma if it occurs at the end of a clause: “He didn’t tell me where he was going—it was none of my business anyway!”

Proper sentence structure dictates that you shouldn’t end sentences with prepositions when using dashes instead:

“I never thought about what would happen once I graduated college – until now!”

It also wouldn’t be right if we ended sentences with “and this is why…” since that would be combining two thoughts together; instead, we can use dashes after each word: “I never thought about what would happen once I graduated college–until now!”

3. Commas (,)

There are a lot of things that commas can do, so let’s break it down.

  • Commas separate items in a list.
  • Commas set off nonessential elements within sentences (e.g., introducing clauses).
  • Commas separate adjectives and clauses from one another. For example: “He was an intelligent man, who always knew what he was doing.”
  • Commas can be used to set off city names and states from other cities or states when you don’t have enough space or want to make sure they stand out (e.g., New York City vs New York State).
  • You should use a comma after each item in a list where there are three or more items being separated by commas (e.g., He ate apples, oranges, and bananas.). If you only have two items being separated by commas then don’t add any additional punctuation unless there is some type of contrast between them that needs to be emphasized with extra spacing like brackets () instead of just using two words separated by nothing at all except perhaps some whitespace around them which may not even help to depend on how much white space there already is between those two words prior.)
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4. Quotation Marks (“”)

Quotation marks are probably the most commonly used punctuation mark in the English language. They’re used to quote someone’s direct words or a title of a book, film, or song.

For example: “I’m going to get pizza for dinner tonight!” said Sam as he ran out the door.

The use of quotation marks in this context is called direct speech. Direct speech can be identified by two things—the speaker (Sam) and what they say (I will get pizza). These are both enclosed within double quotation marks because they came directly from Sam himself.

Quotation marks can also be used to indicate characteristics of a person when describing them indirectly rather than directly speaking about them:

“Cindy loves cats!” exclaimed Susan after seeing Cindy with her pet cat Simba on her lap during their lunch break at work one-day last week.”

This example shows how we’re not quoting Cindy directly but instead describing/describing Cindy based on what we see happening at that moment.

5. Apostrophes (‘)

An apostrophe is the punctuation mark used to show possession. For example, in “the dog’s toys,” ‘s shows that “dog” is singular and “toys” is plural.

An apostrophe can also be used to show omission: for example, if you say “I’m going out,” we understand that you’re talking about a single event rather than multiple events—hence the use of an apostrophe before ‘s to indicate this.

Apostrophes are also used to show compound words (e.g., brother-in-law). To do this properly, make sure there are no spaces on either side of your compound word before or after your apostrophe; otherwise, it won’t work!

When using an apostrophe with plurals (such as sisters), make sure you add more s’es depending on how many there are and not just one at the end like so: sisters’.

6. Question Marks (?)

Question marks (?) are used to indicate a question. They can be at the end of an interrogative sentence, such as “Who are you?” or “Where is she going?”

Question marks can also be used in pairs to indicate a choice, such as “It’s time for lunch! Do you want pizza or hamburgers?”

They can also be used when someone is expressing doubt, as in: “I think I might have lost my wallet.”

7. Exclamation Points (!)

An exclamation point is used to create a dramatic pause in writing, or when you want to show excitement. It’s also great for showing an imperative sentence, or when you’re quoting someone who is excited.

Exclamation points can be overused for the wrong reasons. If you use one too often, it can come off as being annoying and repetitive! Be sure that everything else about your writing is correct before adding in a lot of exclamation points because it will read badly if there are too many! That being said, there are times when they should be used:

  • To indicate irony
  • To indicate excitement (as opposed to just shouting)
  • When quoting someone

8. Colons (:)

Colons are used to introduce a list, whether it’s the items in a grocery list or an itemized list of arguments.

Use colons to introduce lists that start with “such as:” and go on from there. You can also use colons when you want to introduce a quotation or definition. For example:

This is my favorite book of all time: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Colon usage has come under scrutiny lately because many people aren’t sure how to punctuate them anymore. It may seem like just another punctuation mark, but think about all the things this little guy does!

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9. Semicolons (;)

Semicolons are used to join two independent clauses that are not joined by commas or conjunctions. Semicolons can be used between items in a list or before a phrase or clause that sums up the previous discussion.

Examples:

  • I want you to finish your homework; I’ll do it for you if you need extra help.
  • We love our pets, but also enjoy different types of animals like birds, dogs, and fish; we prefer pets with long legs such as horses because they make excellent companions during long rides on sunny days!

10. Hyphens (-)

A hyphen is a punctuation mark that can be used to join two or more words. A hyphen is also known as a “dash” or “en dash” when it’s longer than the normal hyphen.

They’re great for joining together prefixes and suffixes with root words (like un-happy) and can also be used to join phrases with compound adjectives, such as “good-looking man.” They’re also often used between digits in telephone numbers, social security numbers, and addresses to indicate that they should be read as one number instead of two separate digits (for example 818-555-3900).

11. Brackets, Braces, And Parentheses ([ ], (), and { })

Brackets (aka square brackets) are punctuation marks that are used to enclose additional information, such as a word, phrase, or sentence that clarifies the main idea. They can also be used for editorializing and to add emphasis.

Braces ({ }) are also known as curly brackets and are used in pairs to indicate that all the text within them should be treated as one unit. For example: “We were born in this city {and we feel lucky}, because it has been our home for so long.”

Parentheses (()) can be thought of as an extension of parentheses but with only one level of depth instead of two like their curved cousins above them on this list do; they’re also frequently used at the end of a sentence when quoting someone else’s words verbatim: “She said ‘I love you’ after he told her his name was Jack Johnson [not kidding].”

Brackets can be used in two ways: as a parenthesis, which is an aside or explanation, or as an enclosing mark. For example, if you’re quoting something and want to add a comment on it without interrupting the flow of the sentence, you would use brackets before and after your clarification. Or if you want to change the order of words in a sentence but don’t want to reword it entirely—as would happen when changing from one dialect into another—you might use brackets instead of italics or underlining. Brackets are also used for defining terms or abbreviations within the longer text (e.g., “I’m reading this book about The Beatles that explains everything about them with their own words.”)

Parentheses (), Commas, And Semicolons Are All Good Friends Of Mine!

Parentheses are similar to brackets; they were once used interchangeably by printers because they both go around punctuation marks such as commas and periods/full stops (i.e., “periods,” not just one full stop), but nowadays parentheses tend only to be used around quotes from secondary sources where additional information needs adding in order for readers who have read different versions of the same material not get confused about which version is correct when there are discrepancies between them

12. Ellipses (…)

Ellipses are used to represent a pause in speech. They are useful when you want to omit information or when you’re writing dialogue, where one person is speaking and the other person is listening.

Ellipses can be used at the end of a sentence that trails off, indicating that the speaker is trailing off towards an incoherent thought or idea. In this way, ellipses can also indicate incompleteness—it’s as if there’s something more to say but you’re not sure what it is yet!

13. Asterisks (*)

The * asterisk is a versatile symbol, which can be used in several different ways. First of all, it’s used to refer to a footnote. In these cases, an asterisk will appear at the bottom of the page with a number next to it. This number refers back to a footnote at the end of your paper where you’ll find more information about what you’re talking about.

A second use for an asterisk is when you want to indicate that something has been left out of your text for whatever reason—maybe because it was too long or just unnecessary? In this case, you’d write [*curse word*] instead of curse word so that people know that this part was omitted from your writing but not forgotten entirely!

The asterisk also shows up quite often in mathematics equations as well; there are two types: multiplication (*) and division (/). The former looks like two small dots side by side while the latter looks like one dot over another dot-separated by a slash mark (/).

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Placement Rules: Using More Than One Punctuation Mark At A Time

So what do you do when your sentence requires two or more punctuation marks? For example, you could have a list with a period at the end of each item in the list. Or maybe you want to use both commas and periods in a sentence. Here’s the thing: You can only use one period at the end of each sentence. Then you need to choose whether to use other punctuation marks or not.

In informal writing — like emails and casual blog posts — people often ignore this rule (and many others). Many times they’ll combine periods with commas, question marks, exclamation points, and even semicolons! But I recommend being cautious when using more than one punctuation mark at a time informal writing. It looks messy and makes it hard for readers to understand what you mean by your message.

Here’s how those rules work…

Periods go outside of brackets

  • Periods go outside of brackets.
  • Periods go outside of parentheses.
  • Periods go inside quotation marks.

Quotation marks go outside of periods and commas

  • Commas and periods go inside quotation marks.
  • Question marks and exclamation points go inside of quotation marks.
  • Colons and semicolons go outside of quotations.

With abbreviation periods, you do not move them

You may have noticed that I’ve included periods after some of my abbreviations, such as “Dr.” and “Mr.,” but not after others, like “Ms.” or “Ph.D.” That’s because we add an abbreviation period to the end of a declarative sentence if it is followed by another type of punctuation mark (such as a dash).

If you’re typing out an abbreviation at the end of a sentence that already includes another type of punctuation mark—for example: “He said he’d be here at 7 p.m.”—you only need one period; however, if your sentence ends with an abbreviation followed by nothing else (and then proceeds with more text), you’ll need two periods: “We’d love to meet with you next Tuesday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m.”

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