Punctuation is relatively straightforward. This lesson lists the most common punctuation marks, explains how to use them, and gives examples.
Brackets ( [ ] ) → Add your own words to clarify part of a quotation: The writer also said that “[she] will be traveling to Traverse City, [Michigan] as part of the tour.”
Colon ( : ) → Introduce a list: The following artists will be shown: Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso.
Introduce a statement that expands upon the clause before the colon: And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
Comma ( , ) → Denote a break within a sentence or direct address of a person or group: Please don’t stop the music, Rihanna.
Separate any of the following:
• Two or more adjectives: Michigan is a cold, gray place.
• Items in a list: I enjoy running, skiing, weightlifting, and eating.
• The name of a city from the name of a state: I live in Chicago, Illinois.
• Two independent clauses: The waiter still hasn’t taken our order, and the show starts in five minutes.
• Direct quotations: Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
Em Dash ( — ) → Make a brief interruption within a sentence or a parenthetical phrase: Johnny asked me—with a straight face, I might add—if he could borrow the car for the weekend.
Double Quotation ( “ ) → Enclose a direct quotation: “What are you doing?” she asked me.
Exclamation Point ( ! ) → End a sentence and denote excitement or emphasis: Stop what you’re doing and dance!
Hyphen ( – ) → Add a prefix: Trans-Atlantic flights are costly.
Create compound words: Spider-Man can be so whiny.
Write numbers as words: Next week I’ll turn twenty-nine for the eighth time.
Parentheses ( () ) Indicate clarification: Please bring home some real butter (as opposed to margarine).
Indicate an afterthought or personal commentary: Anyone can edit Wikipedia (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Period ( . ) → End a sentence: The sentence has ended.
Question Mark (?) → End a sentence and denote inquiry: Why are you wearing a tutu in court?
Semicolon ( ; ) → Separate two related but independent clauses: I don’t understand why Thor is driving; he lost his license in a bet.
Separate a series of items that already contain commas:
• For our wedding colors, I chose white, the color of innocence; red, the color of passion; and yellow, the color of lemons.
• I have lived in Detroit, Michigan; Paris, France; and Sydney, Australia.
Apostrophe ( ’ ) → Denote possession: Did you take Cleopatra’s snake?
Denote a contraction: It’s just odd that no one will confess to microwaving my vase.
Single Quotation ( ‘ ) → Denote a quotation within a quotation: “So then he says, ‘Look ma, no hands!’ like an idiot.”
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