You may possess good language skills and know how to express yourself in the language but without the knowledge of punctuation marks, your skills, especially written, is incomplete. A piece of writing which does include punctuation marks is difficult to read as compared to a piece of writing which carries proper punctuation marks at the right places. To make an impact on the examiner, it is important for you to take care of these little marks, to come across as a serious and professional writer. This module discusses the commonly used punctuation marks, their significance and their implementation.
1) COMMA (,)
The comma is used to indicate a short pause. The comma is used to show a separation of ideas or elements within the structure of a sentence. Additionally, it is used in numbers, dates, and letter writing after the salutation and closing.
- Direct address: Thanks for all your help, John.
- Separation of two complete sentences: We went to the movies, and then we went out to lunch.
- Separating lists or elements within sentences: Suzi wanted the black, green, and blue dress.
- Separation of numbers, dates and address: I was born on 9th August, 1990 in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
- Addressing a person: "Yes, Sir."
- Separating two persons, things or other elements: I meant Raj, not Robin.
- Direct quotations: She said, "I'm sorry."
2) SEMICOLON (;)
The semicolon represents a stronger pause than a comma. It is used to stress the close relationship between one sentence and another.
- John was hurt; he knew she only said it to upset him.
- Joan likes eggs; Jennifer does not.
- It was raining; the game was cancelled.
3) COLON (:)
The colon is used to show that something is to follow.
- A colon has three main uses. The first is after a word introducing a quotation, an explanation, an example, or a series.
He was planning to study four subjects: politics, philosophy, sociology, and economics.
- The second is between independent clauses when the second explains the first, similar to a semicolon:
I didn't have time to get changed: I was already late.
- The third use of a colon is for emphasis:
There was one thing she loved more than any other: her dog.
Note: A colon also has non-grammatical uses in time, ratio, business correspondence and references.
4) DASH (-)
The dash is used to make an abrupt stop or change of thought. There are two common types of dashes: en dash and em dash.
- En dash: Twice as long as a hyphen, the en dash is a symbol (–) that is used in writing or printing to indicate a range, connections or differentiations, such as 1880-1945 or Princeton-New York trains.
- Em dash: Longer than the en dash, the em dash can be used in place of a comma, parenthesis, or colon to enhance readability or emphasize the conclusion of a sentence. For example, she gave him her answer — No!
A hyphen is used to join two or more words together into a compound term and is not separated by spaces. For example, part-time, back-to-back, well-known
5) EXCLAMATION MARK (!)
The exclamation mark is used after interjections and after phrases and sentences expressing sudden emotion or wish.
- "Ugh! Why are you yelling at me?"
- "I'm not!"
- Happy birthday, Amnie!
- What a cute puppy!
- How fast you ran!
- That birthday cake was so good!
- You’re such a liar!
6) INVERTED COMMAS (")
The final three punctuation forms in English grammar are the apostrophe, quotation marks, and ellipsis. Unlike previously mentioned grammatical marks, they are not related to one another in any form.
An apostrophe (') is used to indicate the omission of a letter or letters from a word, the possessive case, or the plurals of lowercase letters. Examples of the apostrophe in use include:
- Omission of letters from a word: I've seen that movie several times. She wasn't the only one who knew the answer.
- Possessive case: Sara's dog bit the neighbor.
- Plural for lowercase letters: Six people were told to mind their p's and q's.
- It should be noted that, according to Purdue University, some teachers and editors enlarge the scope of the use of apostrophes, and prefer their use on symbols (&'s), numbers (7's) and capitalized letters (Q&A's), even though they are not necessary.
Quotations marks (" ") are a pair of punctuation marks used primarily to mark the beginning and end of a passage attributed to another and repeated word for word. They are also used to indicate meanings and to indicate the unusual or dubious status of a word.
- "Don't go outside," she said.
- Single quotation marks (' ') are used most frequently for quotes within quotes.
- Marie told the teacher, "I saw Mark at the playground, and he said to me 'Billie started the fight,' and I believed him."
The ellipsis is most commonly represented by three periods (. . . ) although it is occasionally demonstrated with three asterisks (***). The ellipsis is used in writing or printing to indicate an omission, especially of letters or words. Ellipses are frequently used within quotations to jump from one phrase to another, omitting unnecessary words that do not interfere with the meaning. Students writing research papers or newspapers quoting parts of speeches will often employ ellipsis to avoid copying lengthy text that is not needed.
- Omission of words: She began to count, "One, two, three, four…" until she got to 10, then went to find him.
- Within a quotation: When Newton stated, "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion..." he developed the law of motion.
7) QUESTION MARK (?)
Question Mark is used, instead of the Full Stop, after a direct question.
- Have you finished writing?
- She asked, "Are you happy to be home?"
- Did you go to school today?”
8) FULL STOP (.)
The full stop is used to mark the end of a declarative or an imperative sentence. It represents the greatest pause.
- My sister's name is Lisa.
- The baby is crying.
- Pick up the blue ball.
- The dog is brown.
Test Yourself/ Punctuate the Sentences
Q1. Punctuate the following sentences.
1. All of the people at the school, including the teachers and _______________ were glad when summer break came.
2. Sit up straight _____
3. They asked what time the department store would open _____
4. Who do you think will win the contest _____
5. Choose the sentence below with the correct punctuation.
a. Ted and Janice, who had been friends for years, went on vacation together every summer.
b. Ted and Janice, who had been friends for years, went on vacation together, every summer.
c. Ted, and Janice who had been friends for years, went on vacation together every summer.
d. Ted and Janice who had been friends for years went on vacation together every summer.
6. To _______________, Anne was on time for her math class.
a. everybody’s surprise
b. every body’s surprise
c. everybodys surprise
d. everybodys’ surprise
7. In Edgar Allen Poe’s _______________________ Edgar Allen Poe describes a man with a guilty conscience.
a. short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,”
b. short story The Tell-Tale Heart,
c. short story, The Tell-Tale Heart
d. short story. “the Tell-Tale Heart,”
8. Billboards are considered an important part of advertising for big business, ________________ by their critics.
a. but, an eyesore;
b. but, “ an eyesore,”
c. but an eyesore
d. but-an eyesore
9. I can never remember how to use those two common words, “sell,” meaning to trade a product for money, or _____________________ meaning an event where products are traded for less money than usual.
d. “to sale,”
10. The class just finished reading ________________________ a short story by Carl Stephenson about a plantation owner’s battle with army ants.
a. -”Leinengen versus the Ants”,
b. Leinengen versus the Ants,
c. “Leinengen versus the Ants,”
d. Leinengen versus the Ants
11. This is absolutely incredible _____
12. Watch out for the broken glass _____