Marks of Punctuation
The different marks of punctuation are:
apostrophe ’ parentheses ( )
brackets [ ] period .
colon : question mark ?
comma , quotation mark “ ”
dash — semicolon ;
exclamation mark ! slash /
Notice the difference between the length of the line used for the dash and the hyphen.
Punctuation is an integral part of sentence construction. To enable our readers to make sense of what we write, we need to use capitals, commas, semicolons, colons, dashes, brackets, hyphens, apostrophes, full stops [known also as ‘period’], questions marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks, parentheses, slashes. These marks of punctuation make it easy to read and understand a piece of writing. They connect, separate, enclose, close and classify written or printed matter; in addition, whether you are reading aloud or silently, they help your voice or your eye take rest and yet make sense.
Moreover, a passage without punctuation might not be understood or might even be misunderstood. Here are two examples:
Among the people present at the ‘Dasavadaram’ preview
session were the hero Kamal Hassan the actress Yamini the
wife of Jalaluddin Chaudhury the financier of the film
Subbudu Ganga the cinema critic and critics from other cinema
With punctuation, the meaning becomes clear:
Among the people present at the ‘Dasavadaram’ preview
ession were: the hero, Kamal Hassan; the actress, Yamini, the
wife of Jalaluddin; Chaudhury, the financier of the film;
Subbudu, Ganga, the cinema critic and critics from other cinema magazines.
In the following example, placement of punctuation marks changes the meaning:
Chitra says Subhashini is the greatest actor* in the South.
[a] Chitra says, “Subhashini is the greatest actor in the South.”
[b] “Chitra,” says Subhashini, “is the greatest actor in the South.”
* ‘actress’ carries gender bias and so ‘actor’ is used, like ‘hero’
instead of ‘heroine’.
Capital letters or letters in upper case draw our attention to certain words:
· Proper Nouns
· Individuals Tharini, Meera, Joseph, Yusuf
· specific groups
countries Indian, African
people [religion] Jewish, Moslem
ethnic Yoruba (Nigeria), Sidama (Ethiopia)
specific places Chennai, Uttar Pradesh, the Middle East,
North America, Africa,
constellations Saturn, Milky Way ,
organizations United Nations Organisation,
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited
· holidays Independence Day, Deepavali
· specific period the Renaissance
· months January, October,
· days Friday
· works (writings) As You Like It, the Ramayana, the Kuran
· job titles with names Personnel Manager
· abbreviations BA, Phd, UNESCO
· They also help make meaning distinction (march/March, china/China,
· The first letter of the first word in a sentence
Have you understood the instructions?
Yes, I have.
What a pity!
· chapters of books and rooms in buildings identified by number:
Room 73 (Rm. 73) Chapter 35 (Ch.35)
1. The first letters of common nouns are not capitalized unless they start sentences:
man, physics, company, country
2. The first letters of north, south, east, and west are not capitalized unless they refer
to sections of a country:
I may travel north when I relocate but may family will remain in the South.
3. Earth, moon, sun begin with lower case letters unless they are referred to as
The sun rises in the east. The Sun is one of the Navagrahas.
4. Spring, autumn, winter and summer begin with lower cases.
5. The first word of a complete sentence enclosed in dashes, brackets or parentheses
begin with lower case letter when it appears as part of another sentence:
We must make an extra effort (accidents last year were up 10 percent).
6. Minor divisions in books and rooms begin with lower cases:
page 11, verse 14, seat 18
2. Commas [,]
Commas are the most frequently used—and misused—mark of punctuation. They indicate pauses and separate elements; they also have several conventional uses, as in dates.
Unclear To be successful teachers with Phds must continue to learn.
Clear To be successful, teachers with Phds must continue to learn.
Unclear Though very tall Monica was not an overbearing woman.
Clear Though very tall, Monica was not an overbearing woman.
The comma is used
1. before and, but, or, nor, and sometimes so, yet, and for that link independent clauses:
I tried to convince him, but he wouldn’t listen.
You must like her, or you wouldn’t keep calling her.
I won’t have anything to do anymore with him, nor will you.
He didn’t keep his promise, and we believed him!
If the independent classes are short, the comma is not generally used:
Miss another class and you’ll be suspended.
I’m sorry but I can’t stay any longer.
Turn the heat down or it will burn
2. after each item of a list or a series of expressions
At the farewell party, we had: mixed rice, pulav, stew, white rice with sambar,
chips, pickles, pappad and beeda.
The drawing was of a modern, sleek, swept-wing airplane.
3. in direct speech
“Tell me,” he asked, “how know all that.”
I replied, “I heard it on the radio.”
4. after a person’s name while addressing that person
Somu, will you stop that nonsense?
I should be very glad, Sumathi, if you would do me this favour.
5. after words like yes, no, sir, well, oh
I agree with you, yes.
No, I won’t have anything to do with him.
Let me deal with it, sir.
Well, you may be right.
Oh, what a mess!
6. on either side of expressions that appear in between the main clause
You know, of course, I don’t take coffee.
She will, however, have no choice.
Mr Joshi, your English teacher, is the Principal now.
John, seeing that his guest was having breathing difficulty, ran to phone for a doctor.
My father, who owns a pawn shop, is marrying again.
[The clause is a non-restrictive relative clause.]
7. after a long introductory clause/phrase
Because we haven’t been provided the assistance promised to us, we are sorry
we’re unable to make further progress.
Despite our best efforts to win the match, we lost by an innings.
Jogging through the park has become a popular form of recreation for city dwellers.
‘Jogging through the park’ is a ‘gerund phrase’ used as the subject of the sentence and so
it should not be separated by a comma. But see this:
Jogging through the park, I was caught in a sudden downpour.
Here, the phrase is not the subject but only an introductory phrase.
8. after connectives
Your idea is good; however, the Management may not like it.
9. after transitional expressions
Within a paragraph, transitional expressions clarify and smooth the
movement from idea to idea. Conversely, the lack of transitional
devices can make for disjointed reading.
therefore, as a result, consequently, thus, hence convey ‘result’.
for example, for instance, specifically, as an illustration indicate ‘examples’.
similarly, likewise provide comparison
but, yet, still, however, nevertheless, on the other hand indicate contrast.
moreover, furthermore, also, too, besides, in addition help add information.
now, later, meanwhile, since then, after that, before that time convey time.
first, second, third, then, next, finally, ultimately express sequence.
10. replace verbs in certain elliptical constructions
Some were punctual; others, late. [The comma replaces were.]
Note: Don’t use a comma to join two independent clauses.
It was 500 miles to the factory, we arranged to fly.
Use a period between them
It was 500 miles to the factory. We arranged to fly.
11. as part of convention in dates, addresses, place names, long numbers
July 14, 2007 [but not in ‘7 September 2007’]
2, 6th Cross Street, Thirumal Nagar, Poonamallee
Poonamalee, Thamizhnadu [but not in: Thamizhnadu 600 056]
3. Semicolons [;]
1. when there is a pause greater than for a comma but not as great a pause for
completion of thought.
You do your job well; I’ll pay you well.
You’ve done extremely well; I’m happy about it.
2. before transitional expressions
You must obey me; otherwise, you’ll lose your inheritance.
The test results are not complete; therefore, I cannot make a recommendation.
3. separate items in a series if they are long and contain commas
To the winners, we give prizes; to the losers, consolation; and to the
spectators, a good show.
4. Colons [:]
1.They introduce summaries, explanations, series, long or formal quotations and
statements introduced by ‘the following’ or ‘as follows’.
Your performance is very poor: yours answers are wrong or inadequate, your
spelling is awful and you have a poor hand.
My wife asked me to buy: a kitchen knife, a gas lighter, a box of matches, a
kilo of sugar, lizol, a dozen eggs.
Jesus said: “Love they neighbour as thyself.”
2. link numbers signifying different nuouns.
11:30 [11 hours, 30 minutes] Bhagavad Gita 2: 56 [chapter 2, verse 56]
3. after salutation in a formal letter [ in AmE]
To whom it may concern:
Dear Ms. Wright:
1. set off parenthetical elements more sharply and emphatically than commas.
Only one person—the Chairperson—can authorize such project.
However, if two independent clauses are short and closely related—and there
is no danger of confusing the reader—the comma may be omitted.
2. emphasise a sharp turn in thought.
He was lying—or was he?
3. emphasise contrast.
Parenthetical information may not be essential to a sentence—in fact,
parentheses de-emphasize the enclosed material—but it may be interesting or
helpful to some readers.
4. set off explanatory expressions.
A questionnaire—a series of questions on a particular topic sent out to a
number of people—serves the same purpose as an interview but does so on
paper, by e-mail, or on the Web.
The two meanings of grammar—how the language functions and how it ought
to function—are easily confused.
6. Square Brackets ([ ])
1. enclose a word or words inserted by the writer or editor into a quotation.
Mr Perumal wrote that “the earth does not revolve around the son [sic] at a
According to the newspaper report, “The vehicle slammed thru [sic] the railing
and into the oncoming traffic.”
3. make a sentence grammatically correct.
Never [has] such [an] error occurred before.
7. Parentheses/ Brackets ( )
1. separate extra information (digressive or explanatory) from the rest of the sentence.
Capitalize the names of stars, constellations, and planets (Saturn, Andromeda,
Milky Way, Orion).
The first word in the salutation (Dear Mr. Smith:) and complimentary close
(Sincerely yours,) of a letter is capitalized.
The term parts of speech describes the class of words to which a particular word
belongs, according to its function in a sentence (naming, assenting, describing,
joining, acting, modifying, exclaiming).
In legal language, party refers to an individual, a group, or an organization. (The
injured party sued my client.)
An infinitive is generally preceded by the word to (which is usually a preposition
but in this use is called the sign, or mark, of the infinitive).
2. enclose numerals or letters that indicate sequence.
The flyer consists of (1) introduction, (2) background, (3) course details, and (4)
1. join words to form compound words.
self-esteem, weak-bodied, lower-level
2. with prefixes and suffixes.
anti-American, anti-inflammatory, ex-president, president-elect
3. write compound numbers.
4. split a word at the end of a line (according to ‘syllables’ only).
ESL Dictionaries. English-as-a-second-language (ESL) dictionar-
ies are more helpful to the non-native speaker than are regular dic-
tionaries or bilingual dictionaries.
You’ll find a word in a sentence in 13 split with a hyphen.
9. Apostrophes (’)
1. show possession.
My friend’s brother, the students’ uniforms
2. indicate omission.
I’ve (I have), it’s (it is/ it has), can’t (cannot), ’08 (2008)
3. make plurals ( with ‘s’) of a word, a number, an abbreviation.
The Americans roll their r’s.
During the 1990’s
There are five and’s in the sentence.
There are five Ph.D.’s in our Department.
It’s also possible to write 1990’s as 1990s, Ph.D.’s as PhDs.
10. Full stops (BrE)/ Periods (AmE)
1. indicate the end of a declarative or imperative sentence.
He’ll arrive soon. Come home soon.
2. indicate decimal points
38.9 degrees Celsius, 10.8 percent
3. mark abbreviations
Jan. etc. e.g. i.e. a.m.
4. mark internet addresses (said as ‘dot’)
The full stop is not generally used with
· accepted abbreviations: BA, PhD, USA, NATO
· initials : V V S Laxman
· titles : Mr Mrs Ms Dr
12. Questions marks (?)
1. mark a direct question
Where have you been? You’ve returned the book?
2. mark a series of separate items within an interrogative sentence.
Do you remember the date of the contract? its terms? whether you signed it?
3. express doubt about a period of time
Mark Stevenson (?1777-1855)
13. Exclamation marks (!)
1. indicate strong feeling.
What a pity! Wow! No!
In informal written English, you can use more than one exclamation mark, or an excla-
mation mark and a question mark.
14. Quotation marks (“ ”/ ‘’)
Some writers use single quotation marks instead of double to mark direct quotations.
1. mark direct quotations.
He said, ‘Where did you go?’
“I’ve never been there,” he said. “Have you?”
15. Ellipsis Marks (…)
1. indicate omission of words from quoted material.
‘The computer can become a threat to man. It can endanger his survival and
privacy. It can worsen the unemployment problem…’
16. Slashes (/)
are also known as slant line, diagonal, virgule, bar, solidus and shilling.
1. indicate choice.
single/ married/ widowed/ divorced,
have a pudding, and/or cheese
2. mark omissions.
miles/hour miles per hour)
3. separate the numerator from the denominator.
¾ (three quarters)
4. separate date from month and month from year, in informal writing.
Note: Don’t use this form to write the date in formal and/or international
correspondence because 5/2/08 would mean ‘May 2, 2008’ in
American English and in British English mean ‘5 February 2008’
To be safe, write 5 February 2008 or February 5, 2008.