Punctuation

Punctuation

Punctuation

PunctuationGood punctuation is essential to make your writing clear and to be able to combine ideas into single sentences.

Below you will find a list showing some different punctuation symbols (also called punctuation marks), as well as a description of how to use punctuation and some example sentences.

You should also look at the lessons on sentence fragments, as well as the lessons on simple, complex and compound sentences.

  • Full stop .
  • Question mark ?
  • Exclamation mark !
  • Apostrophe ‘
  • Comma ,
  • Semi-colon ;
  • Colon :
  • Quotation marks “….” ‘….’
  • Round brackets – also known as parentheses (….)
 

Full stop (.)

A full stop is used to show the reader that the sentence is finished.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • Every sentence ends with a full stop.
  • This is one of the first examples of punctuation.

Question mark (?)

A question mark does the same job as a full stop, but tells the reader that the sentence is not a statement but a question that generally needs an answer from the reader.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • Do you understand how to use a question mark?
  • How many people live in your house?

Exclamation mark (!)

An exclamation mark (or exclamation point) also does the same job as a full stop, but it shows surprise or strong feelings, or commands someone to do something.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • Sit down! (a command)
  • I will never forgive you! (strong feelings)
  • Ahh! You scared me! (surprise)

Do not use exclamation marks in formal writing.


Apostrophe (‘)

There are two common uses for an apostrophe.

1. to show that we have missed letters from a word when using a contracted form.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • do not = don’t – I don’t like his shirt.
  • who is = who’s – Who’s that man?

2. To show a possession – that something belongs to someone

  • the boy’s car
  • John’s hat
  • the children’s dinner

Comma (,)

A comma is normally used in the same place where we would take a short pause if we were speaking. Below are common places commas are used.

1. When listing items, commas are used except between the second to last and last items.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • His new house was big, modern and expensive.
  • Africa, Asia, North America and South America are all continents.

2. When we add information to a sentence that is not absolutely necessary for the grammar of the sentence (non-defining relative clauses).

Example of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • My neighbour, who comes from London, is very friendly.

The sentence above would be grammatically accurate if it said ‘My neighbour is very friendly’, therefore the additional information is in commas.

3. Between large numbers (separating groups of three numbers).

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • They won £26,500 on the lottery!
  • There are nearly 5,000,000 people living in New Zealand.

NOTE: There normally needs to be at least 4 numbers before you decide to use a comma.

e.g. we write 400 not 4,00.


Semi-colon (;)

1. Semi colons can be used to combine two sentences when there is a relationship between them. The relationship might not be immediately clear.

NOTE: the colon can also be used to combine sentences when the second sentence offers an explanation to the first. See ‘Colons’ for more.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • John lives in Hamilton; David lives in Auckland.
  • The government have promised to reduce unemployment; they are promoting job training at the moment.

INCORRECT: The government have promised to reduce unemployment; but so far nothing has changed.

The sentence above is wrong because the two sentences have already been joined by ‘but’.

2. Semi-colons can also be used to separate items in a list (much like a comma) when there is punctuation in the list already.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

(comma list)

We need bread, milk, cheese and butter.

(semi colon list)

  • The main cities affected are Auckland, New Zealand; London, England; and Berlin, Germany.

Colon (:)

1. Colons can be used to introduce a list.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • The company needs to meet the following targets: increased sales, wider product base, better transportation network.
  • The government should offer the following: more jobs, better health care and improved standards of education

2. Colons can also be used to offer an explanation.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • The skiing trip was cancelled: there was no snow.
  • He may have to go to prison: he was arrested for the third time.

Note: when using the colon, the sentence before the colon must be complete.

INCORRECT: Students must have: pens, paper, books and a uniform. ‘Students must have’ is NOT a complete (independent) sentence.

CORRECT: Students must have certain items to attend school: pens, paper, books and a uniform. ‘Students must have certain items to attend school’ is a complete (independent) sentence.


 

Quotation marks (“….” ‘….’)

There are two types of quotation mark – the speech mark and the inverted comma.

The speech mark (or double quotation marks “……”) are used to quote direct speech:

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • His last words were “I’ll be back”.
  • “Come and see me tomorrow” she said.

The inverted comma ‘……’ is used around words when we are using them in special ways (such as using them as titles or when we give them special meaning).

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • He wrote a book called ‘Chart Throb’.
  • Do you know how to spell the word ‘accommodation’?

Round brackets – also known as parentheses (….)

Round brackets can be used to include short pieces of additional information to a sentence. They can only be used if that information is not essential to the grammar of the sentence. This means that if you remove the information in brackets, the sentence will still make sense.

Examples of how to use this punctuation mark:

  • Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, reaching a height of 3,754 metres (12,316 feet).
  • Further information is provided in this guide (see page 472).
  • The IELTS test (International English Language Testing System) assesses the four skills of reading, listening, writing and speaking.
  • Sir Edmund Hillary (a New Zealand mountineer and explorer) was the first person to reach both poles and to summit Mount Everest.

Note: example 4 could also be expressed using commas to make a non-defining relative clause.

Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountineer and explorer, was the first person to reach both poles and to summit Mount Everest.

In more formal writing, it is often considered better to use commas to make a non-defining relative clause as shown above instead of brackets to present this type of information.

Click here to try the punctuation exercises.

 

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