How to Use English Punctuation Marks Correctly

The following lesson looks at the most common punctuation marks used in English.

Punctuation comprises certain marks that show the relationship of words, or used to place emphasis on words.

This lesson clearly explains the full stop and comma. It evaluates the semicolon and colon. It appraises the quotation marks, question mark, exclamation mark and hyphen. It examines the dash and ellipsis. It identifies the slash and parentheses. And it shows you how to correctly use all the punctuation marks.

How to Use Punctuation Marks Correctly

Full Stop

The punctuation mark full stop (.) is used to close sentences. A new sentence that follows a full stop has a capital letter.

  • Honesty is the best policy.
  • Sweet are the uses of adversity.
  • A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Full stop is also used in writing abbreviations. This is becoming less common in British English.

Examples :

  •  oz. for ounce (s)
  • Prof. for professor
  •  i.e. for in other words and
  • e.g. for example.

Punctuation Marks in EnglishPin


Comma reflects pauses in speech.

A listing comma is used to separate items in a series or list. In British English, the last two items in a list are not usually separated by a comma unless these are long.

  • The Three Musketeers were AthosPorthos and Aramis.
  • I went to ChinaJapanMalaysia and Singapore.

A joining comma is used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence. It is usually followed by a connecting word like and, or, but, while or yet.

  • We can go swimmingor we could stay here.
  • I decided to come home earlier than I had plannedand the others spent the evening at the local disco.

A gapping comma is used to show that certain words have been omitted instead of repeated.

  • Jane decided to order the home-made steak pie and Alicethe duck special. (The omitted words are decided to order.)

When subordinate clauses begin sentences, they are often separated by commas.

  • After I left schoolI went to London.

If words or expressions interrupt the normal progression of a sentence, we usually separate them off by commas.

  • Johnhoweverdid not turn up.
  • We were, believe it or notin love with each other.

We use commas to mark off a noun or phrase in apposition.

  • Milton, the great English poet, was blind.
  • Paul, the apostle, was beheaded during the reign of Nero.

Comma is used to mark off a participial phrase from the rest of the sentence.

  • Driven by rain, we took shelter under a tree.
  • Caesar, having conquered his enemies, returned to Rome.

A non-defining relative clause is separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.

  • Sailors, who are generally superstitious, say it is unlucky to embark on a Friday.




comma rulesPin

Question Mark

Question mark (?) is used to close direct questions. A new sentence that follows a question mark has a capital letter.

  • What are you doing?
  • Did you get my letter?
  • Why do we try to reach the stars?

Note that we do not use question marks after indirect questions.

  • He asked me if I had received his letter.
  • I asked her what time it was.

Question MarkPin

Question MarkPin

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks (‘…’ “…”) are also called speech marks.

Quotation marks are chiefly used to set off direct speech.

  • ‘Can I help you?’ she asked.
  • Pope says, ‘The proper study of mankind is man.’

We often use quotation marks round words when we give them special meanings.

  • A textbook can be a ‘wall’ between teacher and class.
  • People disagree about how to use the word ‘disinterested’.


We use apostrophe (’) for three main reasons.

Missing letters

It is used in writing a contraction to show the place of the omitted letters.

  • can’t (= cannot)
  • it’s (= it is)
  • I’d (= I would/had)
  • who’s (= who is/has) Possessives

We use apostrophes in writing most possessives.

  • the girl’s father
  • three miles’ walk
  • two weeks’ work
  • my parents’ wedding

Possessive determiners and pronouns do not have apostrophes.

  • This is yours. (NOT … your’s)
  • Whose is that coat? (NOT Who’s …)

Special plurals

Apostrophe is used in the plurals of letters, and often of numbers and abbreviations.

  • Mind your p’s and q’s.
  • It was in the early 1960’s.


Hyphen (-) is the short lines that we put between words.

  • ex-husband
  • blue-green

Hyphen is used when…

Two-word compound adjectives are hyphenated when the second word ends in -ed or -ing.

  • green-hued
  • blue-eyed
  • broken-hearted

Other two-word adjectives which contain the sense of ‘between’ are also often hyphenated.

  • Indo-Pak relations
  • Anglo-French connections
  • blue-green (between blue and green)
  • The New York-Paris flight.

Longer phrases used as adjectives before nouns are also often hyphenated.

  • an out-of-work singer

Two-word compound nouns are hyphenated when the first word is stressed.

  • running-shoes
  • bus-driver
  • paper-shop

The prefixes co-, non- and ex- are sometimes separated from what follows by hyphens.

  • co-operation
  • non-alignment
  • ex-husband


Nowadays there is a growing tendency to avoid hyphens. Most common short compounds are now written as single words with no separation between them.

  • weekend
  • takeover

Less common or larger compounds are written as completely separate words.

  • living room


Dash (–) is common in informal writing. They can be used in the same way as colons, semi-colons or brackets.

  • There are three things I can never remember – names, faces and I have forgotten the other.

A pair of dashes is used to separate a strong interruption to the sentence.

  • My mother – who rarely gets angry – really lost her temper

Exclamation Marks

The exclamation mark (!) is placed at the end of an utterance which is an exclamation or which merely expresses strong emotion.

  • What a lovely painting it is! (exclamation)
  • How beautifully she sings! (exclamation)
  • You must leave at once! (strong emotion)
  • I can’t believe this! (strong emotion)

Exclamation MarksPin


The punctuation mark colon (:) is almost always used after a complete sentence. Its function is to indicate that what follows is an explanation or elaboration of what precedes.

  • We decided not to go on holiday: we had too little money.
  • Mother may have to go into hospitalshe has got kidney trouble.

A colon is used when famous sayings are quoted.

  • In the words of Murphy’s Law: ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.’
  • Solomon says: ‘Of the making of books there is no end.’

A colon can introduce a list.

  • We need three kinds of supporteconomic, moral and political.
  • These are the things we have to take with us: a flask of tea, some biscuits, sandwiches and fruit.

A colon is never preceded by a white space, and it is never followed by a dash or a hyphen.

  • In British English, it is unusual for a capital letter to follow a colon (except at the beginning of a quotation). However, this can happen if a colon is followed by several complete sentences.
  • In American English, colons are more often followed by capital letters.


Semicolons (;) are sometimes used instead of full stops, in cases where sentences are grammatically independent but the meaning is closely connected.

  • Some people work best in the mornings; others do better in the evenings.
  • Women’s conversation is cooperative; men’s is competitive.

Comma is not usually possible in cases like these.


Use parentheses () around extra non – essential information that is too important to omit.

  • The two brothers (Richard and Sean) were learning how to play guitar.


Use ellipsis () to show that parts of sentences are left out.

  • To be continues…
  • You’ll never believe what I saw…

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5 years ago

Thank you. This is indeed helpful. Wondering what is the name for ^ this symbol?

Safrin Rahman Muslima
Safrin Rahman Muslima
2 years ago

How can I talk fluently with American or British accent

Abebe Demelash
Abebe Demelash
2 years ago

Thank it is very essential

Abebe Demelash
Abebe Demelash
2 years ago


Abebe Demelash
Abebe Demelash
1 year ago


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