Using Punctuation

Punctuations are symbols that are used in various languages to organize sentence structures, and indicate the vocal rhythm and emphasis of words, phrases, and sentences. The most commonly used punctuations in the English language are period, comma, colon, semicolon, apostrophe, question mark, exclamation mark, dash, hyphen, and parentheses.

1) Period [.]: The period is the most basic punctuation mark. Its function is to separate one sentence from another. It should be used at the end of a complete sentence.

a) Paris is the capital of France.

b) He was born in Hungary, but now he lives in England.

The period is also used to show that certain words are abbreviated.

a) He works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

b) There are a lot of places to visit in the U.K.

2) Comma [,]: The comma is usually used to separate words, phrases, or part sentences.

a) Mary bought a t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a handbag.

b) He came home, changed his clothes, and went out with his friends.

c) When he was driving to work, he realized that he left his briefcase at home.

An insertion in a sentence has to be enclosed in commas.

a) Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning queen of England, is making a royal visit to Australia.

Commas are also used after interjections such as “yes”, “no”, and “please”.

a) Yes, I think we have met before.

3) Colon [:]: The function of the colon is to expand a sentence and make it more elaborate. For instance:

a) There are many different types of fruits in the basket: apples, pears, bananas, oranges, melons, and others.

b) One thing is for sure: he is not going to concede defeat.

4) Semi-Colon [;]: The semi-colon is used to combine two closely related sentences into one sentence when a period or a connecting word with a comma seems inappropriate.

a) I took the children to the zoo today; they haven’t been there before.

b) This is the final test; every other requirement has been met.

Semi-colons are also applied in sentences that are already separated with commas.

a) David has three children, and they are Jane, who is seven years old; Bill, who is four years old; and Joseph, who is two years old.

5) Apostrophe [‘]: The apostrophe is usually used with an “s” to denote possession. When a noun does not end with the letter “s”, the apostrophe has to be followed by an “s” (‘s). For plural nouns or names that end with “s”, only the apostrophe has to be added.

a) George’s book

b) children’s toys

c) people’s lives

d) kings’ treasures

e) James’ mother

An apostrophe is also used to join two words together.

a) It’s raining.

b) He wouldn’t tell the truth.

c) They aren’t going to the mall.

d) She’ll never believe you.

6) Question Mark [?]: A question mark is used at the end of a sentence to indicate that a question is being asked.

a) Are you leaving now?

b) How are you going to solve the problem?

7) Exclamation Mark [!]: An exclamation mark is used to make a sentence more emphatic. It can indicate warning, excitement, astonishment, or disgust.

a) Look out!

b) Oh, my God!

c) How wonderful!

d) I hate you!

e) That’s fantastic!

8) Dash [-]: A dash is used to denote a pause or a change of thought in a sentence.

a) The performance was impressive – a really great show.

b) The necessary preparations – the food, costumes, and decoration – are all made.

c) The job was supposed to take only ten minutes – maybe even five – but he took half an hour to complete it.

9) Hypen [-]: The hyphen is used with prefixes and suffixes for many different purposes.

a) re-enact

b) pre-war

c) anti-government

d) ex-husband

e) president-elect

f) self-improvement

g) multi-purpose

h) all-conquering

Hyphens are also used to create compound words and join numbers to express quantity.

a) father-in-law

b) stand-in

c) on-site

d) up-to-date

e) devil-may-care

f) twenty-two

g) fifty-eight

Hyphens can also join a number and a word. For example, 5minuteenglish will become 5-minute English.

10) Parentheses [( )]: Parentheses are used to provide explanation, comments, translation, or include dates.

a) I went skydiving (which was my first time) with my friends last weekend.

b) The growth rate of the US population (currently about 300 million) is slowing down in recent years.

c) The town of Jerez is well-known for its bodegas (wine shops).

d) Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931) was a prolific American inventor.