All you need to know about Punctuation Marks

As a kid, my aunt made me read aloud for at least 20 minutes every day. She would correct my pronunciations, intonations and the pace at which I am reading. Also, she used to ensure that I understand the punctuation marks while I am reading. Yes, that’s right understanding punctuation marks is very important.

A punctuation mark incorrectly placed can change the meaning of a sentence. It is important to place punctuation marks correctly in a sentence. The reader will understand the meaning of a sentence based on where the punctuation is placed.
For e.g.: A sentence without the correct punctuation mark – I ate mom.
If I use the correct punctuation mark then the sentence will read as – I ate, mom.

Punctuation is the art, practice or system of using proper stops and marks in written communication. Below are the punctuation marks and how they are used:

Full Stop [.]: Full stop or periods are denoted as “.”. It is the most commonly used punctuation mark.

  • The full stop is used at the end of assertive and imperative sentences. E.g.: I love writing.
  • Full stop is used in abbreviations. E.g.: She is a B.A. literature student.
  • If a full stop in an abbreviation comes at the end of a sentence, it also serves as the closing full stop. E.g.: She loves to eat ice-cream, chocolates, etc.
  • If another punctuation mark intervenes, full stop is used after it. E.g.: She has kept pets (dogs, cats, birds, etc.).
  • Exception to using a full stop – Sentences that concludes with a quotation, question mark or exclamation mark will not require a full stop at the end.
    However, if the quotation is a short statement, the full stop is put outside the quotation mark. E.g.: The notice read, “Know thyself”.

Comma [,]: A comma is used to mark pauses in a list of words, phrases or long compound sentences. It is also used in complex sentences to separate the subordinate clause from the main clause, if the subordinate clause is in the beginning of the sentence. The comma is also used in pairs to separate elements in a sentence that are not part of the main statement.

  • The comma is used between adjectives which qualify a noun in the same way. E.g.: a cautious, eloquent man.
    But when adjectives qualify the noun in different ways, or when one adjective qualifies another, no comma is used. E.g.: a bright red tie.
  • Comma is used to separate items in a list or series. E.g.: We bought cups, plates and bottles.
    It is not necessary to put a comma before ‘and’ in the last item. However, we should place a comma in this position when it is needed to add clarity. E.g.: For breakfast we had tea, bread and butter, and eggs. The final comma clarifies the link between bread and butter.
  • Comma is used to separate coordinate clauses. E.g.: Cars will turn to left, and scooters will go straight on.
    But a comma is not usually used when the clauses are closely linked. E.g.: Do as I tell you and you will never regret it.
  • To mark the beginning or end of a parenthetical word or phrase. That is word phrase inserted as an explanation or afterthought into a sentence which is grammatically complete without it. E.g.: I am sure, however, that it will not happen.
  • After a participial clause or verb-less clause, or after a salutation. E.g.: Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all.
  • To separate a phrase or subordinate clause so as to avoid misunderstanding. E.g.: In the valley below, the village looked very small.
  • Following words introducing direct speech. E.g.: He answered, “Here, I am.”
  • Following ‘Dear sir,”, ‘Dear Sam’, etc. and after ‘Yours sincerely’, etc. in a letter.

Colon [:]: A colon is used for a longer pause, to slow things that belong to a category.

  • We use a colon to introduce an additional piece of information in confirmation of a previous statement. E.g.: The moral of the story is: Prevention is better than cure.
  • Colon introduces a series or list. E.g.: Bring all the usual things: paper, pencil, eraser, ruler and so on.
  • Introduces direct speech or a quotation. E.g.: I told them last week: “Do not in any circumstances park in front of the gate.”

Semicolon [;]: A Semicolon marks a longer pause than that indicated by the comma. It is used:

  • To separate coordinate clauses joined by conjunctions like therefore, otherwise, etc. E.g.: I have poor health; therefore I must be excused from the event.
  • To separate lengthy coordinate clauses where there are no connecting conjunctions. E.g.: They were tired; they were hungry; the way was long and they walked on.
  • Before certain connecting words like however, therefore, nevertheless, meanwhile, hence, etc. E.g.: Saturn was thought to be the only ringed planet; however, this is now known not to be the case.

Question Mark [?]:

  • A question mark is used after interrogative sentences E.g.: Why are you so sad?
  • It is also used after question tags. E.g.: You knew you would fall, didn’t you?
  • Exception: Question mark is not used after indirect questions. E.g.: He asked me why I was late.

Exclamation Mark [!]: An exclamation mark is used after exclamatory words or exclamatory sentences. E.g.: Bravo! How well you played!

Apostrophe [‘]:

  • An apostrophe is used to show that a letter or letters in a word are dropped. E.g.: I’ve got a replacement if he doesn’t come.
  • To indicate the possessive case of nouns. E.g.: Neha’s brother is willing to help us out.

Double Inverted Commas or Quotation Marks [“….”]: Double inverted commas are used to mark out words or statement in Direct Speech. E.g.: The lady said, “Where is the book that I kept on the table?”

Single Inverted Commas [‘…’]: Quotation marks are also used to signify special meanings. E.g.: Some years later he ‘floated’ a shipping company. It did stay ‘afloat’ for two years.

Hyphen [-]:

  • This is used to join some compound words. E.g.: The big-hearted giant agreed to act as a stand-in for the tournament.
  • Used in words with preposition and adverb. E.g.: Mother-in-law, make-up
  • In prefixes. E.g.: ex-husband, self-study, anti-war

Dash [–]:

  • Pair of dashes separates a phrases from the rest of the sentence. E.g.: An honest politician – if such a creature exists – would never agree to such a plan.
  • A single dash introduces a change in thought or afterthought. E.g.: She had always imagined the situation would go on for years – and perhaps it would.
  • In representing range of numbers. E.g.: steel contains 0.1 – 1.7% carbon.

Brackets [()]: These are used to present a different idea from the rest of the writing. E.g.: you can use all means (except copying. Of course) to pass.

Ellipsis […]: Ellipsis is a series of three dots and is used:

  • To mark the omission of material from a quotation. E.g.: She said, “the last … great poet.”
  • To indicate doubt, indecision, weariness, and so on. E.g.: She sighed and answered, “I really don’t know …”
  • To imply a conclusion which readers are expected to infer (guess) for themselves. E.g.: We know what that means …

Capital Letters: Yes, that’s right. Capital letters are classified under punctuation marks.

  • A sentence always begins with a capital letter. E.g.: The book is on the table.
  • The words “I” and “God” always begins with a capital letter, no matter where they are used in a sentence. I am a firm believer in God.
  • Capital letter is used in Proper nouns and in most abbreviations.  E.g.: MP, USA, WHO, TV. I came to meet Gopal.

So now that you have learnt how to use them correctly, next time when you write something ensure that you use punctuation marks effectively. You can save this link for quick reference.

By the way, did you know there is a day dedicated for punctuation and it is 24th of September.

I would like to conclude with this saying by Nanette L. Avery, “Punctuation marks are like road signs; without them we just may get lost…”

Thank you!

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2 years ago

Superbly simplified. And extremely useful. Keep it up.

2 years ago

Very helpful article

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