Punctuation marks are like traffic signals for writing. They tell us when to pause, stop, or give extra attention to something. Using them correctly helps readers understand your writing. Let’s explore some common punctuation marks rules and how to use them.
What is Punctuation?
Punctuation is a set of markings or symbols that we need to clearly explain the meaning of our sentences and to maintain the text flowing smoothly. It indicates when we should take a break, divides concepts, indicates when a phrase is quoting someone else’s words and performs one of several important tasks.
There are fourteen major punctuation marks in the English language, which are listed below.
- Comma (,)
- Exclamation Mark (!)
- Apostrophe (‘)
- Colon (:)
- Brackets 
- Semicolon (;)
- Ellipsis (…)
- Quotation Marks / Speech Marks (” “)
- Question Mark (?)
- Slash (/)
- Hyphen (-)
- Dash (– or —)
- Full Stop / Period (.)
- Parentheses ()
Punctuation Marks Rules
Punctuation marks are crucial in written language because they help convey the intended meaning, tone, and structure of sentences. Here’s a basic guide to the rules for some of the most common punctuation marks:
The Full Stop / The Period
The full stop, also known as a period, is one of the most fundamental punctuation marks in English writing. It is primarily used to indicate the end of a declarative sentence. Understanding its proper usage is crucial for clear and effective communication. Here are some essential rules and examples to guide you:
End of a Sentence: The most common use of a full stop is to mark the end of a declarative sentence, which is a statement.
- Example: “She went to the store.”
After Abbreviations: Often, full stops are used after abbreviations. However, this rule can vary, especially with the trend of omitting periods in some modern abbreviations and acronyms.
- Example with period: “Dr. Smith is here.”
- Example without period (modern usage): “NASA launched a new satellite.”
With Initials: Full stops are used between and after initials in a person’s name.
- Example: “J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter.”
In Numbers and Dates: In some regional varieties of English, such as British English, full stops are used in dates and to separate parts of a number. However, this is not a universal rule.
- Example in date (British English): “The meeting is scheduled for 12.11.2023.”
- Example in numbers: “The population is estimated at 1.5 million.”
In Quotations: When a full stop is part of a quoted sentence, it typically goes inside the quotation marks in American English but outside in British English.
- American English: “He said, ‘I’m going home now.'”
- British English: “He said, ‘I’m going home now’.”
Not Used with Other End Punctuation: A full stop is not used in conjunction with other end punctuation marks like question marks or exclamation points.
- Incorrect: “Are you coming with us?.”
- Correct: “Are you coming with us?”
Spacing: After a full stop, one space is typically used before the beginning of the next sentence. Using two spaces is considered outdated in most contexts.
- Example: “She loves to read. Her favorite book is ‘The Great Gatsby’.”
Ellipses: An ellipsis, which consists of three periods (…), is used to indicate an omission or a pause in writing. This should not be confused with the use of a single full stop.
- Example: “I don’t know… I think we should ask someone else.”
Avoid Overuse in Sentences: Using too many full stops in a sentence can make the text choppy. This is often seen in very short sentences used in succession.
- Potentially overused: “She walked in. She sat down. She sighed.”
- Improved flow: “She walked in, sat down, and sighed.”
In Digital Communication: In texting and online chats, full stops can sometimes imply a serious or formal tone. This is an evolving aspect of punctuation usage in digital communication.
- Casual: “Sure”
- More formal or serious: “Sure.”
The Question Mark (?)
The mark of interrogation
The question mark is used after a direct question.
- Where are you going?
- What is your name?
- Did you write a letter to your friend?
- Have you completed your work?
- Did you take part in games?
Do, does, did, is, are, am, was, were, has, have, had, shall, should, will, would, can, could, may, might.
- Why did you beat the dog?
Who, whom, whose, where, why, what, when, which, how.
- Who knocks at the door?
- What made you laugh?
- Who taught you English?
The question mark is used within parentheses to indicate that the date or other statement is doubtful.
- He was born in 1975 (?) and died after ten years.
- They must have paid a lot of money fifty rupees (?) for that meal.
- King Monty ruled between 1015 (?) and 1030 A.D.
- The divers discovered twelve (?) bronze statues among the undersea ruins.
- Some animals … a shunk? … is boring holes in the lawn at night.
The question mark may follow separate questions within a single interrogative sentence.
- Do you recall the time of the accident? The license numbers of a car involved? The names of drivers? Of the witnesses?
- Are you sure of his loyalty? Hid skill? His determination?
Do not use a question mark at the end of an indirect question.
- He asked me what I was doing? (Incorrect)
He asked me what I was doing. (Correct)
- He asked her if she would help him. (Correct)
- I wonder who wrote this song. (Correct)
The question mark is used in polite requests.
- Would you mind giving me your pen?
- Would you fetch the paper, Arslan?
- Would you please mind opening the window?
- Would you please accept his apology?
- Could you meet me in the evening?
- Could you accompany me to the bazar?
The Exclamation Mark (!)
The exclamation mark is used afterwords, phrases, and sentences expressing some strong emotions or sudden feelings of the mind.
- What a good idea!
- Aren’t they beautiful!
- What a spectacular view!
- Men are walking on the moon!
- Alas! I have lost the chance.
- Hurrah! We have won the match
- That really hurts!
- Ouch! that stings!
- I’d love to come!
- They are revolting!
- Go to your room!
- Be careful!
- O’ king ! Pardon me.
The Comma ( . )
The comma is the shortest pause and is used within a sentence to separate or set off words and groups of words.
The comma is used to mark off words used in addressing a person.
- Ali, do not find fault with others.
- Ali, I hope you and Jasmine can come to the party.
- I would be vary glad, Raiz, if you would do this for me.
- Please let me know, Mr.Aslam, when you will be in Lahore.
- Friends, come in.
When you mention a person’s title after his or her name or the name after the title.
- I saw Mrs. Parveen, your teacher, his morning.
- Khipil, the builder, did not attention to his work.
- My ideal teacher, M. R. Qureshi, is a very honest person.
The comma is used to make off a series of words of the same class like nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs.
- Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia are friends. (Noun)
- Rizwan, Arslan, Zeeshan appeared in the examination. (Noun)
- The boy purchased pencils, nibs, paper, and a dictionary from the shop. (Noun)
- In the room, we found old furniture, worn out clothes, and several books. (Noun)
- We left the room, switched off the lights, locked up the door, and went to the college. (Verb)
- Mrs. Kousar Parveen is kind, intelligent, hard-working, cooperative, and sincere.
- M.R. Qureshi worked honestly, diligently, willingly, and industriously. (Adverbs)
- You, he, and I help the poor. (Pronoun)
The comma is used between pair of words connected by “and”.
- High and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, all must die one day.
- Truth is fair and artless, simple and sincere, uniform and constant.
The comma is used to indicate the omission of a word or words in a sentence.
- What you do in your responsibility; what I do, mine.
- Some customers prefer the dictation machines with stands; the others, without.
- One of the persons involved in the accident is a mill owner; the other, a beggar.
- They went to Karachi; I, to Lahore.
- To err is human; to forgive, divine.
The comma is used between the day and year is a date.
- April 27, 2004
- January 15, 2004
The comma is used after and before certain words. Some of the words are: however, at last, of course, well, therefore, indeed, meanwhile, to sum up, first, no doubt, in fact, in short, after all, to say the last, to tell the truth, all the same, on the whole, finally, for instance, etc.
- She did not, however, help me.
- His behavior, to say the last, was rude.
- He is, to tell the truth, a fool.
- I must tell you, finally, never to come here again.
- Well, I know it.
- The result, on the whole, is not discouraging.
- She will get the job next month; meanwhile, she is working at home.
The comma is used to separate the reported speech from the reporting verb in direct speech.
- He said to me, “ I work hard”.
- The teacher said, “Do not make a noise”.
- “Fetch me a glass of milk”, said the master to his servant.
The comma is used after a negative and affirmative adverb (no or yes) that begins a sentence.
- Yes, I will come to you in the evening.
- No, I cannot help you in this matter.
The comma is used to separate an adverbial clause beginning with if, when, where, unless, until, after, before, since, though, because, etc, from the principal clause.
- If he comes to me, I shall help him.
- Though his plan was incomplete, he received general approval.
- Because she has come, I will go.
- Before the doctor came, the patient had died.
- Since I am hard up, I cannot lend you money.
The comma is used to mark off or separate one abbreviation from another.
- He is M.A., M.Ed., and L.L.B.
The comma is usually placed after the complimentary close.
- Yours sincerely,
- Very truly yours,
- Your sincere friend,
The comma is placed after a participle phrase, a simple infinitive or an infinitive phrase that introduces a sentence.
- Looking into this man’s record, we find he was arrested twice.
- Knowing your past record, I am sure, you will handle the job with distinction.
- To fly, one needs a strong pair of wings.
- To win this competition, we must trust each other completely.
NOTE: Do not place a comma after an infinitive that functions as the subject of the sentence.
- To sail the high seas was a childhood fantasy of mine.
- To write a book on grammar is not an easy job.
The comma is placed to set off a phrase of contrast at the end of a sentence.
- I told her to chop the onion, not dice it.
- He ordered the shrimp salad, not the chicken salad.
- The concert was loud, yet dull.
The comma is used to separate a declarative clause from an interrogative clause that follows it.
- She has beautiful eyes, doesn’t she?
- This is the place, isn’t it?
The commas are used to separate sets of three digits in numbers one thousand and greater.
Use a comma before a conjunction (and, for, but, or, nor, so, yet) linking two independent clauses. .
- I saw the game, but I don’t remember the score.
- She drove us to the market, and I bought another set of pens.
Do not use a comma before a conjunction that links a pair of words or phrases.
- He was genial, but shrewed. (incorrect)
- He was genial but shrewed. (correct)
- I phoned the store, and asked to speak with the manager. (incorrect)
- I phoned the store and asked to speak with the manager. (correct)
Do not place a comma before coordinate conjunction that connects two subordinate clauses.
- Because time is short, and because the matter is so urgent, we must act now. (incorrect) :
- Because time is short and because the matter is so urgent, we must act now. (correct)
The comma is used to separate a long subject, coming at the beginning of a sentence, from its verb.
- That a severe defeat had been suffered, was now obvious.
- The injustice of the punishment given to that great man, is now evident to all.
The comma is used to mark off a clause beginning with Relative Pronoun or Relative Adverbs (who, which, whom, whose, that, etc.) when they explain or add to the meaning of a Noun or a Pronoun that has gone before.
- Abid, who is a hard working student, came first in the examination.
- I have returned the book, which you gave me yesterday.
When two figures come together in a sentence, the comma is placed to separate them.
- In 1991, 435 employees attended the meeting.
The following will report at 9.30 sharp: Aslam, Akram, Zeeshan, and, Arslan.
We shall go to Smiths, Boots, Woolworths, and Marks and Spencer.
The Semi Colon ( ; )
The semi colon is a longer pause than the comma.
To mark off coordinate clauses connected by the following conjunctions.
Otherwise, therefore, so, then, for, yet, still, thus, however, furthermore, moreover, indeed, also, hence, else, but, nevertheless, consequently, accordingly, etc.
- Take care of your health; otherwise, you will be ill.
- Drink milk; for it is a perfect diet.
- I like the samples very much; therefore, I am going to order seven dozen.
- She did not work hard; consequently, she failed.
Sometimes, the semi colons are used in a sentence which is complete but does not have conjunction.
- It was morning; a cool breeze was blowing; the birds were twitting; the flowers were blossoming; the atmosphere was charming.
The semi colon may be used instead of ‘and’, ‘and then’, ’till’ etc.
- She came and she saw and then she went away.
She came; she saw; she went away.
- He looked at it, and then he hesitated and then he jumped.
He looked at it; he hesitated; he jumped.
The semi colons are used to separate a number of loosely connected co-ordinate clauses. For example;
- Reading makes a full man; speaking a witty man; writing an exact man.
- The semi colons are used to separate groups of similar units.
The chief commodities are butter, cheese, milk, eggs; lamb, beef, mutton; oats, barley, rye, and wheat.
THE COLON ( : )
The colon is used to represent even longer pause than the semi colon.
The colon is used to introduce a quotation.
- Bacon says: “Reading makes a full man, writing an exact man, speaking a ready man”.
- Shakespeare says: “Frailty, thy name is woman”.
The colon is placed before a list that appears at the end of a sentence.
- Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies are: Hamlet, King Lear, Othello and Macbeth.
- The great cities of Pakistan are: Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Multan.
- Please remember to bring three articles: a comb, a razor and a dozen of eggs.
The colon can be used instead of “but”, “then”, “so”, “because” etc.
- I refused the offer because I do not wish to go there.
In this sentence colon is used n lace of ‘because’
I refused the offer: I do not wish to go there.
- Speech is silver but silence is gold
Speech is silver: silence is gold.
The colon is used to introduce an explanation of some fact which has been mentioned before.
- No man should be too sure: the wisest comment mistakes.
- I cannot live in the house: it is damp.
The colon is used statements or sentences grammatically independent but closely related in sense.
- To err is human: to forgive, divine.
- Speech is silver: but silence is gold.
The colon is used to introduce some examples.
- The subject generally comes before the verb: “Rizwan reads his books”.
- The adjective generally precedes the noun: “He saw a black horse”.
The colon is used to separate hours from minutes when the time of day is shown in numerals.
8:40 6:30 11:15
The colon is used to indicate shares or proportions (ratios).
- Combine the three chemicals in a 3: 5: 1 ratio.
- Elder brother: 5 parts; younger brother: 4 parts; the youngest brother: 3 parts; the sisters: 2 parts.
The colon is not followed by a capital letter except a quotation is given.
- He advised: we should try our luck somewhere else.
- The Quaid said: “Unity, faith and discipline should be your principles in life”.
The colon is used to mark off the name of an author from the name of the book he has written.
- G.M. shahid : The learner’s English Grammar & composition.
The Quotation Marks/ Inverted Commas (“, ,”)
The quotation marks are used to report the exact words of the speaker.
- He said, “Life is not bed of roses.”
- She said, “I am going to Lahore.”
- “Fetch me a glass of water,” said he.
- “My dear brother, “said he, “I am going to Karachi.”
- “I am doing sums,” said he, “will you help me?”
The inverted commas are used for the title of a book, essay, poem, etc.
- “Hamlet” is a very good drama.
- “My Financial Career” is a very interesting story.
- The poem “We are Seven” is written by Wordsworth.
- I have read “The Great Expectations.”
Single quotation marks are used to show a quotation within a quotation.
- At the beginning of the class, the teacher said, “Where does
Shakespear speak of ‘quite desperation’ and what does he mean by this phrase?”
- He said to the students, “Do not cheat others, be honest as ‘honestly is the best policy’.”
The Dash ( __ )
The dash is used to indicate a sudden stop or change of thought.
- If my father were alive __ but why weep for the past.
- I wish I could come earlier __ but who could forestall fate?
The dash is used before and after the explanatory words.
- There was a time __ a golden time __ when I was young.
- There shall come a time __ a blessed time __ when Kashmir will become a part of Pakistan.
The dash is used before and after an enumeration.
- Everything was stolen __ utensils, clothes, watch.
- Friends, relatives, neighbors __ all deserted me .
The dash is used to indicate the intentional omission of some word or name.
- _____ is fond of gambling.
The dash is used to indicate hesitation.
- I ____ I am afraid I cannot lend you this book.
- I feel ____ I mean.
- Rich and poor, high and low, old and young __all fought for freedom.
- Relatives, friends, neighbors ___all came to see me.
The Hyphen ( – )
The hyphen is used to connect the parts of a compound word.
- Letter-writing contest
The hyphen is used to break a word at the end of a line.
If the figures more than twenty and less than hundred are written in words, the hyphen is placed between them.
Here is a short list of some words that need hyphens.
- all forms of in -law: brother-in-law, father-in-law.
- all great compounds: great-aunt, great-grandfather.
- all vice compounds: vice-chairman; vice-consul.
- all elect compounds: mayor-elect; president-elect.
- all self compounds: self-taught, self-assured.
Do not hyphen the following.
- any ache compound: toothache, backache.
- any book compound: textbook, notebook.
Hyphens are used to separate syllables in words.
Note: Please remember that each syllable in English word must contain at least one vowel. If none of the five regular vowels ( a, e, i, o, u ) is present, count ‘y’ as a vowel.
Hyphens are used to separate the words in the written form of a fraction.
- The vote passed by a two-thirds majority.
The Apostrophe ( ‘ )
To form the possessive of singular nouns and abbreviations of singular items, use an apostrophe plus s:
- a girl’s hat
- Rizwan’s car
- NATO’s future
- he C.O.’s orders
- shahid book
- the cow’s tail
To form the possessive of plural nouns not ending in s, add an apostrophe plus s:
- men men’s activities
- women women’s club
- children children’s park
To indicate that two or more persons own something jointly, add an apostrophe and s to the last of the nouns.
- Aslam and Akram’s shop.
- Rizwan, Arslan and Zeeshan’s house.
To indicate that two or more persons own two or more things separately, use the apostrophe and s with all the nouns.
- Aslam’s and Akram’s shop.
- Shahid’s , Hamid’s and Amin’s shops.
To form the possessive with singular compound nouns, add an apostrophe and s to the last word.
- My sister-in-law ‘s career.
- The editor-in-chief’s policy.
- Commander-in-chief’s orders.
To form the possessive of certain indefinite pronouns, add an apostrophe and s.
- someone’s coat
- no one’s fault
- everybody else’s joke
- one’s relatives
Note: With indefinite pronouns that do not take the apostrophe, form the possessive with ‘of’:
- the plan of most
- the hopes of many
- the cooking of few
Use the possessive case with nouns or pronouns followed by gerunds ( verb + ing =nour
- I dislike your whistling now.
- the crowd’s cheering
- her protesting
- our laughing
Use an apostrophe and s when necessary, in common phrase of time and measurement.
- 7 O’clock
- five rupee’s worth
- two weeks’ notice
- a day’s work
- our money’s worth
- a stone’s throw
Use an apostrophe and s to form the plural of figures, letters and abbreviations.
- Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
- Your u’s and n’s are not written properly.
- Two 5’s and six 8’s make fifty-eight.
- Many B.A.’s and M.A.’s are unemployed these days.
Use an apostrophe to mark the omission of a letter or letters in a contraction.
- You should have written. …..you should’ve written.
- This does not work. ………This doesn’t work.
- They will not stop. ……They won’t stop.
- I shall forgive him. ……..I’ll forgive him.
- I have finished. ……..I’ve finished.
- I cannot write it. ………I can’t write.it.
- He is not here. ……….He isn’t here.
Use apostrophe to mark the omission of numbers in dates. For example,
- 1981 …. ’81
- 1917 ’17
- 1941 ….. ’41
- the elections of ’84
- the hurricane of ’36
Note: Such shortened dates generally refer to famous historical events.
The apostrophe is placed after final‘s’ in a word when it is a plural noun.
- Girls’ school
- Workers’ union
- Writers’ society.
- Boys’ college
- Players’ arrival.
Brackets /The Parentheses ( )
There are usually two types of bracket “( )” “[ ]”.
- He is (as he always was) a rebel. zu(),
- . Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). (!) );
- They talked about Machtpolitik (power politics)
- His wife (he married about a year ago) is a member of this club.
Brackets is also used for reference.
- Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881)
- A discussion of integral circuits (see p.45)
Brackets is also used for reference letters and numbers e.g.
One of the selectmen supports the proposed change in traffic patterns for three reasons: (1) more customers would be attracted to the shopping area, (2) the hospital zone would become quieter, and (3) fire engines would be able to move more quickly than they now can.
Brackets are also used for synonyms
- There are many (apparent) difficulties.