Punctuation Marks: How and when to use them

Punctuation Marks: How and when to use them

By English Tutor:

Definition: Punctuation marks are any of the marks that are used to punctuate writing.  They are fairly easy to identify in a sentence and in a paragraph of writing. These include: comma, colon, full stop, question mark, exclamation mark, inverted comma and dashes.
Punctuation marks come from punctuate which is to interrupt at intervals. Some punctuation marks are easy to use in a sentence or a paragraph, however, others are not as easy to assign if their function is not understood.

  1. Full stop (.):  a full stop or a period is used in writing to indicate the ending of a sentence or verbally to express that there is no further discussion on the matter.
    I knocked on the door. There was no reply. I knocked again.
  2. Commas (,):  are used in grammar to indicate a short pause in a sentence and separate words, phrases, or clauses. They are not as obligatory in sentences as full stops, exclamation marks, or question marks and their position is often a matter of style or choice. Using them makes it easy to follow a sentence and its meaning.

*       To separate words in a list: e.g. Roses, tulips, daises and lilies are my favorite flowers.

*       To separate clauses or phrases: e.g. If you calm down, take a deep breath, take your time, concentrate and think ahead, then you are likely to pass your driving test.

*      To separate main clauses, especially long ones, linked by a conjunction such as and, as, but, for, or: e.g. We has been looking forward to summer all winter, but unfortunately it rained throughout the season.

*     Before and after a clause or phrase that gives additional, but not essential information about the noun it follows: e.g. Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, was first climbed in 1958.

*       To separate an introductory word or phrase, or an adverb or adverbial phrase that applies to the whole sentence, from the rest of the sentence: e.g. Oh so that’s where it was!
As it happens, however, I never saw her again.
By the way, did you hear what happened to Lwazi's car?

*       To separate a tag question from the rest of the sentence: e.g. you live in Pretoria right?

*       Before a short quotation: e.g. it was Gandhi who said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

*       Before or after 'he said', etc when writing down conversation: e.g. “come back soon”, she said.

3. Colon (:):  A colon is not the strictest of punctuations and may be used in the following instances.

*       A semi colon may be used to introduce a list of items. E.g. these are our options: we take the bus to the station and see the bits or we take the car and see it all.

*      Informal writing before a clause or phrase that gives more information about the main clause: e.g. the children had been neglected for a long time: They were hungry and needed baths and fresh clothes.

*       To introduce a quotation which may be intended: e g. as Paris Hilton writes: Life is too short to blend it, so dress up everyday and stand out in the crowd.

  1. Semicolon (;): a semicolon indicates a short pause in a sentence, between a comma and a colon in length. They are used to link statements: e.g. I sent her a bunch of flowers; it was the least I could do.
    Semicolons are also used when there is a long listing in a sentence to separate when commas might be confusing: e.g. in the car were: Vezi, my house mate; Lwazi, my best friend; Ralph, the dog; and me.
  1. Question marks (?): a question mark is an easy punctuation to assign a sentence. They are use to indicate that a sentence is a question. Questions themselves vary in the form they come in: e.g.
    are you going out tonight?
    Tina will be coming won't she?
    Candy is late?
    Note: Question marks are not used after indirect questions or polite requests. This grammatical rule might rejected or highlighted by your pc or your own eye when you write it down and might take a few chances at training to remember it: e.g. Toni asked if there was any toast left over.
    Can you please send an invoice.

  1. Exclamation Mark (!): an exclamation mark is used to indicate the way a sentence should be pronounced. They must be used in imperatives or sentences giving orders:
    e.g. stop! Be quiet! Look out!

When an exclamation mark is used, it changes the tone of the statement.
E.g. it was so cold.         It was so cold! (Stronger)
They were very silly.      They were very silly! (Less serious)
I am going to my room.  I am going to my room! (Angry)

  1. Apostrophes ('): Apostrophes are used to show either a missing letter or possession. An apostrophe and an S are added to a singular noun to show possession. These examples will help to clarify each context.
    E.g. that is Ian's bike.
    The bird'swing is broken.

    If the noun is plural and does not end in S then an apostrophe and an S is added.
    E.g. the men's coats are hanging in the foyer.
    The sheep's wool is in the garage.

If the noun is plural and ends in S an apostrophe only is added after the S.

E.g. you should mind you own bees' knees.
The girls' books are on their way to their school.

Strictly speaking, numbers such as the 1990's are plurals but they are often with an apostrophe.

Almost any first name or surname followed by an S should have an apostrophe but this is often missed out by sign writers and logo designers on modern shops.

Woolworth's is usually written Woolworths.

  1. Dashes or hyphens (-): A hyphen or dash is a general-purpose mark that can be used in the place of commas, semicolons, brackets. In sentences it represents a short pause. It is frequently used in less formal writing.
    E.g. I left my watch – my new one – in the taxi.
    Lwazi made a new appointment at the dentist's – he had missed the last one.
    Don't forget to lock the door when you leave – you forgot it last night.

    In some books use dashes in place of inverted commas.
     – Well, Sir, She began…
    – A learner rather, Stephen said.
    – I foresee, Mr. Darcy that you will not be with us much longer with the way that things have been going between you and Miss Elizabeth that past few days. Or perhaps I am wrong?
    Hyphens are also used to join words

  2. Inverted commas or speech marks (“” ''): Inverted commas or speech marks are used to show the beginning and end of direct speech, titles, or quotations.“Open the door Adam,” she cried.
    Martha asked, “Which one comes next”?
    Charles Dickens wrote 'Our mutual friend.'
    The words 'Romeo oh Romeo where for art thou Romeo' are famously known from the play Shakespeare wrote 'Romeo and Juliet'.

Single inverted commas (') are often used for titles and quotations whilst double inverted commas (“) are more frequently used to enclose speech.
Quotation marks are also used to show that a word or phrase is being used in an unusual way – or that the word itself is the subject of discussion.

E.g. what rhymes with 'orange'?
He said he 'found' the money.
Braille allows a blind person 'see' with their hands.

Founder and Editor in Chief of the Readers Cafe Africa

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