Punctuation in English Writings


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’)

– http://www.english-learners.com

( , ) 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:

– hard-hearted

– fork-lift truck

  • to form a compound from a prefix and a proper name:

– pro-European

– pre-Raphaelite

  • when writing compound numbers between 21 and 99 in words:

– seventy-three

– thirty-one

  • sometimes, in British English, to separate a prefix ending in a vowel from a word beginning with the same vowel:

– co-operate

– pre-eminent

  • 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.

-Joyce’s Ulysses

– 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)

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