This part shows you how to use punctuation in written English.
It also helps you to right down a conversation and shows you how to set out formal and informal letters.
( . ) Full stop (BrE) period (NAmE)
- at the end of a sentence that is not question or an exclamation:
-I knocked at the door. There was no reply.
– I knocked again.
- sometimes in abbreviations:
-Jan. e.g. a.m. etc.
- in internet and Email addresses (said ‘dot’)
( , ) comma
- to separate the words in a list, though they are often omitted before and:
– a bouquet of red, pink and white roses
– tea, coffee, milk or hot chocolate
- to separate phrases or clauses:
– If you keep calm, take your time, concentrate and think ahead then you are likely to pass the test.
- before or after a clause or a phrase that gives additional, but not essential, information about the noun it follows:
-The Pennine Hills, which are very popular with walkers, are situated between Lankshir and Yorkshir.
(Do not use commas before or after a clause that defines the noun it follows)
– The hills that separated Lancashir from Yorkshir are called Pennine.
- to separate main clauses, specially long ones, linked by a conjunction such as and, as, but, for, or:
– We had been looking forward to our holydays all year, but unfortunately it rained every day.
- to separate an introductory word or phrase, or an adverb or adverbial phrase that applied to the whole sentence :
– Oh, so that’s where it was.
– By the way, did you hear about Sue’s car?
- to separate a tag question from the rest of the sentence:
– It’s quit expensive, isn’t it?
- before or after “he said” etc. when writing down conversation:
-come back soon, “he said”
- before a short quotation:
– Disraeli said, “Little things affect little minds”.
( : ) colon
- To introduce a list of items:
-These are our options: we go by train and leave before the end of the show, or we take a car and we see it all.
- in informal writing, before a clause or phrase that gives more information about the main clause:
– The garden had been neglected for a long time: it was over grown and full of weeds.
(A semicolon or a full stop, but not a comma, may be used instead of a comma here.)
- to introduce a quotation, which may be intended:
– as Kenneth Morgan writes:
the truth was, perhaps, that Britain in the years from 1914 to 1983 had not changed all that fundamentally.
( ; ) Semicolon
- instead of a comma to separate parts of a sentence that already contain comma:
– She was determined to succeed whatever the cost; she would achieve her aim, whoever might suffer in the way.
- In informal writing, to separate two main clauses, especially those not joint by a conjunction:
– The sun was already low in the sky; it would be soon dark.
( ? ) Question mark
- at the end of a direct question:
– Where’s the car?
(A question mark is not used at the end of an indirect question: He asked if I was leaving.)
- especially with a date, to express doubt:
– John Marston (?1575- 1634)
( ! ) Exclamation mark
- An exclamation mark or (US) exclamation point is used at the end of sentence expressing surprise, joy, anger, shock or some other strong emotion:
– That’s marvelous!
– Never!’ she cried.
- In informal written English, more than one exclamation mark, or an exclamation mark and question mark, may be used:
– Your wife has just given birth to triplets.’
( ‘ ) Apostrophe
- with s to indicate that a thing or a person belongs to somebody:
– my friend’s brother
– the students’ book
- in short forms, to indicate that letters or figures have been omitted:
– I’m ( I am)
– They’d ( they had / they would )
- Sometimes, with s to form the plural of a letter, a figure or an abbreviation:
– during the 1890’s
( – ) Hyphen
- to form a compound from two or more other words:
– fork-lift truck
- to form a compound from a prefix and a proper name:
- when writing compound numbers between 21 and 99 in words:
- sometimes, in British English, to separate a prefix ending in a vowel from a word beginning with the same vowel:
- after the first section of the word that is divided between one line and the next:
– Decide what to do in order to avoid mis-
Takes (mistakes) of this kind in future.
( – ) Dash
- in informal English, instead of colon or semicolon, to indicate that what follows is a summer or conclusion of what has gone before:
– Men were shouting, women were screaming, children were crying – it was chaos.
– You have admitted that you lied to me – how can I trust you again?
- singly or in pairs to separate a comment or an afterthought from the rest of the sentence:
– He knew nothing at all about it – or so he said.
( … ) Dots
- Three dots ( also called an ellipsis ) are used to indicate that words have been omitted, specially from a quotation or at the end of a conversation:
– … challenging the view that Britain … had not changed all that fundamentally.
( / ) Slash or Oblique
- to separate alternative words or phrases:
– have a pudding and / or cheese single / married widowed / divorced
(delete as applicable )
- to indicate the end of a line of a poetry where the lines are not set separately
– Wordsworth’s famous lines, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud / That flouts on high o’er vales and hills…’
( ‘ ‘ ” ” ) Quotation marks
Single quotation marks or inverted commas are generally used in British English:
‘Help! I’m drowning!’
In American English, double quotation marks are used:
“Help! I’m drowning!”
Quotation marks are used:
- to enclose words and punctuation in direct speech:
– ‘Why on earth did you do that?’ he asked.
‘I’ll fetch it,’ she replied.
- to draw attention to a word that is unusual for the context, for example the slang expression, or to a word that is being used for special effect, such as irony:
– He told me in no uncertain terms to ‘get lost’.
– Thousands were imprisoned in the name of ‘national security’.
- To enclose the title of the articles, books, poems, plays, etc.
– I was watching ‘ Match of the Day’.
- around short quotations or sayings:
– Do you know the origin of the saying: ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing’?
( ) Brackets
Brackets (also called parentheses) are used:
- to separate extra information or comment from the rest of a sentence :
– Mount Robson (12972 feet) is the highest mountain in the Canadian rockies.
– He thinks that modern music (i.e. anything written after 1900) is rubbish.
- to enclose cross-references:
– This moral ambiguity is a feature of Shakespeare’s later works. (see Chapter Eight)
- around the numbers or letters in text:
– Our objectives are (1) to increase output, (2) to improve quality and (3) to maximize profits.
( [ ] ) Square brackets
- to enclose editorial comments:
– a notice reading ‘Everything to be put away in it’s [sic] proper place after use’
constant references in her diary to ‘Mr. G[lsndstone] ‘s visits’
- around words inserted to make a quotation grammatically correct:
– Britain in [these] years was without …
In handwriting or typed text, and in the examples that follows, italics are indicated by underlining. Italics are used:
- to show emphasis:
– I’m not going to do it-you are.
– … proposal which we cannot accept under any circumstances
- To indicate the title of books, plays, etc.
– A letter in The times
– the title role in Puccini’s Tosca
- for foreign words or phrases:
– the English oak (Quercus robur)
– I had to renew my permesso di soggiorno (residence permit)