DailyWritingTips

Correct Use of Punctuation: See How Proper Punctuation Can Alter the Meaning of Your Sentences

Above all else, punctuation is the key to unlocking good writing. Punctuation in writing is like notes in music. They provide rhythm and emphasis to your sentences. But that’s only possible if you use them correctly!

In this next writing tip, you’ll get to know the 14 types of punctuation marks, their usage and some examples. I also provided a chart of the symbols and their punctuation names to give you a cheat sheet!

Punctuation and Typographical Marks Chart

Below is a list of 14 fundamental punctuation marks. You probably know some of these symbols already. But others are rarely found in formal and informal writing. Save this forever!

Symbols

Symbols

Symbols

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Symbols

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Symbols

Symbols

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Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Punctuation Names

Examples

Examples

Examples

Examples

Examples

Examples

Examples

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Examples

.

Period

I got this pouch embossed.

?

Question mark

How many toy trains does he have?

!

Exclamation point

Wow! You’re a good driver.

,

Comma

I like the film, but the color grading is poor.

:

Colon

Here are some fun ideas for the party: dance-off, board games, scavenger hunt.

;

Semicolon

I’ll visit you once I finish work; that’s a promise.

Hyphen

I have ninety-nine problems, but chicken tenders can solve all of them.

Dash

How long is a Tokyo–LA flight?

The cat—and I’m afraid of four-legged animals—was so adorable.

( )

Parentheses

His favorite team (Los Angeles Clippers) has a chance to win the title.

[ ] { }

Brackets

The staff writer said the “[head] of basketball operations was disappointed.”

The colors {red, green, lilac, red} are for the accent wall.

“ ”

Quotation marks

Dylan called it a “splendid affair.”

Apostrophe

Some of Jerry’s gadgets are missing.

`

Ellipsis

According to the staff writer, the “president… was disappointed.”

/

Slash

Sheila can’t decide whether to go for a run or stay home and relax/watch a movie.

Types of Punctuation Marks

Types-of-Punctuation-Marks

Let’s touch on the most common types of punctuation marks and how to use them. 

1. Period (.)

The period is one of the most common punctuation marks. Anyone knows the answer to “What is a period used for?” because it’s simply for ending declarative sentences. You can also use it to finish imperative sentences. 

A period also indicates complete sentences. Using it to separate sentences helps make your writing clearer. Here are some examples:

  • Please take care of the shoes I’m lending you.
  • She’s going to the gym tomorrow.
  • Monte Carlo is my comfort movie every time I feel lonely.

You’ll also find a period in abbreviations, as in “Mrs.” and “Mr.”

2. Question Mark (?)

In grammar, a question mark is a familiar punctuation mark used to end interrogative sentences. It’s known for being a one-job punctuation mark because it simply communicates questions. These sentences can be in the form of a direct question or an indirect question.

A direct question is an interrogative sentence that asks an “ordinary” question. For example:

  • How does it feel to be living my dream?
  • What are the parts of a plant cell?
  • Why do I have to retake this subject?

An indirect question is a more polite way of making a request or asking for information. For example:

  • Could you give me your mobile number for future transactions?
  • Do you know where I can find Mr. Johnson?
  • Would you mind grabbing a few vegetables before you go home?

3. Exclamation Point (!)

One of the most basic punctuation marks is the exclamation point. The punctuation symbol for this is a straight vertical line with a period at the bottom. Use it at the end of an exclamatory sentence to show strong emotion.

Examples:

  • Happy birthday, Emma!
  • Ugh! I can’t stop myself from spending money on books.
  • Wow! The sunset is breathtaking.

4. Comma (,)

One common cause of grammar mistakes in American English is the lack of commas. Use the comma to separate ideas and independent clauses. It’s usually found before a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). 

You can also use the comma to set off nouns as direct addresses. You need to include this punctuation mark, whether the name is at the beginning or end of the sentence. 

Examples:

  • Millie, you look stunning in your beaded dress.
  • This house used to be orange and blue, but they changed it to lilac and yellow.
  • The partner I have chosen is you, Jacob.

5. Colon (:)

A colon is used to introduce additional information. It can also connect clauses like an em dash and a comma. You’ll find this punctuation mark in any kind of writing. For example:

  • Meg has three options after college: apply as an instructional designer, learning engineer or curriculum specialist.
  • Somehow, everyone forgot the important announcement: Jade and Ryan are getting married.

Colons also have other uses on a regular basis:

  • I started working at 8:30 p.m.
  • The correct rice-to-water ratio is 1:2.

6. Semicolon (;)

Like commas, parentheses and em dashes, a semicolon’s function is separating elements within sentences. Use it to join a clause and a larger clause without a conjunction.

Example:

  • Let’s go to the library to finish the essay; Tuesday would be great.

7. Hyphen (-)

In the English language, a hyphen is used to form compound words. Another usage of the hyphen is to divide a word where there’s not enough space for the whole word. You can also use it to avoid the awkward doubling of vowels in a compound term.

Examples:

  • The president-elect withdrew his candidacy after being exposed for plunder.
  • The correct spelling of goodbye is g-o-o-d-b-y-e.
  • My mother has a well-stocked pantry.

8. Dash (–)

There are two types of dashes, which differ in both size and purpose.

An en dash (–) shows range in time periods, distance and more. 

Examples:

  • Incorrect: Chicago-New York train (hyphen)
  • Correct: Chicago–New York train (en dash)

Some people also use it to separate complex compound words. The symbol is longer than a hyphen but shorter than an em dash. The odd name comes from the simple fact that it has the same width as the lowercase letter n.

Examples:

  • Please refer to pages 60–73.
  • She’s a National Book Award–winning author.

One of the most common punctuation mistakes we make is getting confused between a hyphen and a dash. Note that an en dash doesn’t join compound words the way hyphens do.

An em dash (—) functions like a comma, colon or parenthesis in introducing a clause. It can separate independent clauses from subordinate clauses to help a writer expand on an idea.

Some people consider the em dash as more suitable for informal writing. But you’ll find this double hyphen in different types, even in the most formal writing.

Example:

  • The operating hours—9 a.m. to 9 p.m.—are the best choice for this business and its customers.

9. Parentheses ()

In English grammar, parentheses are used to add information to a sentence, allowing for the inclusion of additional details that may not naturally fit. The use of this punctuation makes the sentence clearer. For example:

  • The family’s arrival (which I only learned about now) was shocking.
  • I swear I saw a ghost (Do you believe in them?) during our stay at the old house.

10. Square [ ] and Curly { } Brackets 

Square brackets are rarely found in any piece of writing. But you use them to clarify information within quotes. In short, it’s like parentheses for direct quotations to clarify the quote. For example:

  • According to the author, “grammar resources [should be] widely accessible to language learners.”

Curly brackets, braces or squiggly brackets are used to group a set. They’re commonly found in mathematical sets. 

Example:

  • I already have some venue options {Pier Sixty, Tribeca Rooftop, The Foundry} for the wedding.

11. Quotation Marks (“ ”)

Quotation marks or inverted commas are used to make direct quotations or repetitions of someone’s exact words or famous quotes. 

The two types of quotation marks are single quotes (` ‘) and the more common double quotation marks (“ ”). Single quotation marks are used to enclose a quote within a quote, while double quotation marks are used to indicate a direct quote.

Punctuation styles differ between British English and American English. In American English, periods and commas are placed inside the quotations, even if they’re not in the original material, while British English places them outside quotations.

Here are some examples of sentences: 

  • “The teacher told me, ‘You are one of my best students,’” I said to my mother.
  • Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent inspiration.”

12. Apostrophe (‘)

There is a wide variety of apostrophe rules you need to follow. First, you need to use an apostrophe in contractions. A contraction is when two words are shortened by omitting some letters to form one word. For example:

  • Do not—don’t.
  • I am—I’m.
  • She will—she’ll.

Another function is to show the possessive form of a noun.

Examples:

  • That bag is Cornelia’s.
  • Will’s dedication is impressive.

You can also use it to form the plurals of letters and numbers.

Examples:

  • Three A’s.
  • Ten 12’s.

You’ll also find the apostrophe in foreign languages. French uses it in articles when a vowel has been dropped.

A common misuse of the apostrophe is placing it before an S to make nouns plural. Here’s an example:

  • Incorrect: I ate bacon’s for breakfast.

13. Ellipsis (…)

The ellipsis is a writing tool used for indicating words removed from a quote. It shows sentence endings while letting the reader know it’s incomplete. For example:

  • “I can’t believe it,” she whispered, her voice trembling with disbelief and excitement. “This is truly a dream come true…”

14. Slash (/)

Knowing how to use the slash will improve your knowledge of grammar. Use this punctuation mark to show relationships, alternatives and fractions. You can also use it to substitute “per” in measurement.

Examples:

  • The home economics instructor started the class with the house/home discussion.
  • Bring a notebook/notepad so you can jot down your ideas.
  • ½ of the crowd went home after the band’s performance. 
  • The speed limit is 80 miles/hour.