English punctuation is sometimes confusing even to native speakers.
You need to understand multiple considerations including the syntactic constructions used and the meaning of phrases and clauses to select a correct mark for every particular situation.
While many writers mix dashes with hyphens and adhere to a flexible style in their texts, this approach may not be applicable to formal writing and business writing.
Here Are Fifteen Punctuation Marks In English And How To Use Them:
The following brief manual from ProWritingAid will help you understand how to use these 15 punctuation marks in your texts.
1. Period (Full Stop)
This punctuation mark is used at the end of sentences and in such abbreviations as i.e., etc., and et al. However, many non-native speakers make the mistake of not using periods in indirect questions.
Wrong: John asked how did Janine feel?
Correct: John asked how did Janine feel.
Commas indicate small breaks between individual words or sentence parts. Use them to:
- Separate three or more nouns or verbs;
- Separate introductory phrases;
- Separate parenthetical elements and interrupters.
This punctuation mark is usually used to highlight the elements following it if they are related to some of the preceding words. They can also be used to separate independent clauses if the second one clarifies the meaning of the first one.
Example: Many European buyers will have to reconsider their shopping preferences by the end of 2022: sky-high inflation rates are predicted for most EU countries.
Semicolons are used to separate two or more independent clauses without conjunctions. Keep in mind that they are not interchangeable with periods or commas.
Wrong: They were out of bread; so Mike went to the store.
Correct: They were out of bread, so Mike went to the store.
Apostrophes are usually used for omissions and contractions such as they’re, it’s, or can’t. However, many speakers find it difficult to recognize their proper utilization in possessive constructions when used after the letter ‘s’ or plural nouns.
Wrong: Children’s toys;
Correct: Children’s toys.
Wrong: Smiths’s house
Correct: Smiths’ house
6. Question Mark
These punctuation marks are usually used at the end of sentences containing a question. However, there are some exclusions to this rule. The presence of indirect questions may lead to the use of a period mark instead of a question mark in some sentences.
Wrong: George asked why Jane was so obsessed with finding an ideal dress for the party.
Correct: George asked why Jane was so obsessed with finding an ideal dress for the party.
7. Exclamation Point
These punctuation marks should be used at the end of sentences containing exclamatory or declarative elements. They are usually utilized to show strong emotions, a sense of surprise, anger, or excitement. Additionally, they may be used in sentence fragments indicating instructions and imperative mood statements.
Example: Oh my God! How could you forget my birthday!
Example: Be careful! This liquid is highly flammable!
8. Exclamation Question Marks
In some situations, you may need to combine imperative and interrogative mood meanings, which calls for an exclamation question mark or an interrobang. It is usually used in informal speech and signifies strong disbelief, excitement, or anger.
Example: Are they out of their mind?!
Example: How could she do this to me?!
Hyphens are used to join multiple words or parts of words. They may also be required to form compound modifiers before the nouns they are related to.
Example: This smartphone is our top-of-the-line product in the current range.
However, hyphens should not be used if the noun in question comes before the compound adjective.
Wrong: This smartphone product is top-of-the-line.
Correct: This smartphone is top-of-the-line.
10. En Dash
Dashes are longer than hyphens and are usually used in the middle of the text to separate groups of words rather than parts of words. The first type is called en dash and is generally applied to separate ranges or numbers or spans of time.
Example: The information you are looking for can be found on pages 99 – 112 of the manual.
11. Em Dash
Em dashes are longer than en dashes and are frequently used as a more emphatic variant of colons.
Example: There are three things you should be wary of during your work — emergency evacuation plans, alarm types, and chemical hazards.
Parentheses are generally applied to isolate some information within the text. This is extremely helpful when you need to provide some clarifications but do not want them to make your sentences difficult to read.
Example: If you could not contact our office by phone (during our official working hours), please, contact John via social media.
Brackets are mostly utilized in direct quotations to add some words missed in direct speech. This information allows the reader to understand the meaning of the sentence that could be lost otherwise.
Example: “We called [the office of the company] three times and got no response.”
Ellipses are three dots that can be inserted in any part of the sentence to indicate some omitted information or introduce a pause in speech.
Example: John wanted to go to the cinema with the rest of his class but could not…
Example: “Is this… is this really happening?”
Slashes are widely applied in most writing styles including academic writing to replace the word ‘or’. This allows authors to avoid unnecessary repetitions and make the text easier to read and understand.
Example: You can call the office and/or leave a message on our social media profile.
English punctuation is a challenging discipline as demonstrated by the brief manual above. If you struggle with some of these spheres, you may use a punctuation checker to be 100% certain about the quality of your text.
Please, also note that the authors of fiction may use these instruments in a creative manner reflecting their personal style or conveying complex emotions and ideas.
Their approach may not be generalizable to formal writing, which is why we would advise you to adhere to conventional rules of grammar and syntax in most writing situations.