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Punctuation (TM)


Terminal punctuation marks are used to end sentences. The period (.) ends declarative and imperative sentences. The question mark (?) terminates questions. Lastly, exclamation points end exclamatory sentences, in which the writer or speaker is exhibiting intense emotion or energy.

Sarah and I are attending a concert.

How many people are attending the concert?

What a great show that was!

The colon and the semicolon, though often confused, each have a unique set of rules for their use. While both punctuation marks are used to join clauses, the construction of the clauses and the relationship between them is different. The semicolon (;) is used to join two independent clauses (IC; IC) that are closely related. It can also be used to join items in a list when those items already include a comma.

I need to buy a new car soon; my old car broke down last month.

The guests at the party included Mrs. Green, my third-grade teacher; Mr. Doakes, my neighbor; and Dr. Kayani, our school principal.

The colon (:) is used to introduce a list, definition, or clarification. The clause preceding the colon has to be independent, but what follows the colon can be an independent clause, a dependent clause, or a phrase.

The buffet offers three choices: ham, turkey, or roast beef.

He decided to drive instead of taking the train: he didn’t think the train would arrive in time.

Commas show pauses in the text or set information apart from the main text. There are lots of rules for comma usage, so only the most common are summarized here.

1. Commas separate two independent clauses along with a coordinating conjunction.

George ordered the steak, but Bruce preferred the ham.

2. Commas separate coordinate adjectives.

She made herself a big bowl of cold, delicious ice cream.

3. Commas separate items in a series.

The list of groceries included cream, coffee, donuts, and tea.

4. Commas separate introductory words and phrases from the rest of the sentence.

For example, we have thirty students who demand a change.

5. Commas set off nonessential information and appositives.

Estelle, our newly elected chairperson, will be in attendance.

6. Commas set off the day and month of a date within a text.

I was born on February 16, 1958.

7. Commas set up numbers in a text of more than four digits.

We expect 25,000 visitors to the new museum.

8. Commas set off the names of cities from their states, territories, or provinces.

She lives in Houston, Texas.

Quotation marks have a number of different purposes. They enclose titles of short, or relatively short, literary works such as short stories, chapters, and poems. (The titles of longer works, like novels and anthologies, are italicized.) Additionally, quotation marks are used to enclose direct quotations within the text of a document where the quotation is integrated into the text. Writers also use quotation marks to set off dialogue.

We will be reading the poem “Bright Star” in class today.

The poem opens with the line “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art.”

Apostrophes, sometimes referred to as single quotation marks, have several different purposes.

1. They show possession.

boy’s watch, John and Mary’s house

2. They replace missing letters, numerals, and signs.

do not = don’t, 1989 = ’89

3. They form plurals of letters, numerals, and signs.

A’s, 10’s

Less commonly used punctuation marks include:

  • en dash (–): indicates a range
  • em dash (—): shows an abrupt break in a sentence and emphasizes the words within the em dashes
  • parentheses ( ): enclose nonessential information
  • brackets [ ]: enclose added words to a quotation and add insignificant information within parentheses
  • slash (/): separates lines of poetry within a text or indicates interchangeable terminology
  • ellipses (…): indicates that information has been removed from a quotation or creates a reflective pause
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