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Punctuation Rules

When writing, punctuation marks serve to make the meaning clear and separate parts or ideas, e.g., clauses and sentences. The information below contains the proper usage for punctuations marks.

Period Question Mark Exclamation Point Quotation Marks
Single Quotation Apostrophe Comma Parentheses
Colon Semicolon Hyphen Ellipsis
Bullets Slash Underlining or Italics Brackets

Rules of Punctuation

Period – .
Rule 1: Use a period at the end of a statement sentence.
Example: Dogs bark.
Rule 2: Use a period at the end of a command sentence.
Example: Go to school.
Rule 3: Use a period at the end of most abbreviations.
Example: Mrs., Ave. and St.
Rule 4: Use a period for decimals and money.
Example: $10.05 and 2.75

Question Mark – ?
Rule 1: Use a question mark at the end of a question sentence.
Example: What is your name?
Rule 2: Use a question mark to express doubt.
Example: You combed your hair?

Exclamation Point – !
Rule 1: Use an exclamation point to show strong emotion with a word.
Example: Wow!
Rule 2: Use an exclamation point to show strong emotion with a sentence. Example: I love you!

Quotation Marks – ” ”
Rule 1: Use quotation marks to show a direct quote.
Example: He said, “The water is cold!”
Rule 2: Use quotation marks to set off a title of a short poem.
Example: She read, “O Captain My Captain.”
Rule 3: Use quotation marks to imply sarcasm or someone else’s use of a term. Example: My little sister is “in charge” tonight.

Single Quotation – ‘ ‘
Rule 1: Single quotation marks are used inside quotation marks.
Example: He said, “You think she is ‘nice’ to you?”

Apostrophe – ‘
Rule 1: Use an apostrophe to form a possessive.
Example: Connor’s tennis racket
Rule 2: Use an apostrophe to show missing letters when forming a contraction. Example: don’t, can’t & isn’t
Rule 3: Use an apostrophe to form the plurals of a symbol.
Example: Three A’s and two B’s

Comma – ,
Rule 1: Use a comma to separate items in a series.
Example: One, two, three
Rule 2: Use a comma to separate things in a list.
Example: Milk, eggs, cheese
Rule 3: Use a comma to separate parts of a date.
Example: April 24, 1999
Rule 4: Use a comma after the greeting in a friendly letter.
Example: Dear Bob,
Rule 5: Use a comma after the closing of a letter.
Example: Sincerely,
Rule 6: Use a comma to separate the city and state in an address.
Example: Philadelphia, PA
Rule 7: Use a comma to separate a name and a degree title.
Example: Bob Smarts, M.D.
Rule 8: Use a comma between inverted names.
Example: Smith, John refers to John Smith
Rule 9: Use a comma in written dialogue between the quotation and the rest of the sentence.
Example: He said, “Knock it off.” “Ok,” she replied.
Rule 10: Use a comma between more than one adjective.
Example: The little, white mouse
Rule 11: Use a comma to denote a descriptive or parenthetical word or phrase. Example: Sue, the teacher, is very nice.
Rule 12: Use a comma between a dependent and independent clause.
Example: After the baseball game, we got ice cream.
Rule 13: Use a comma to separate independent clauses.
Example: I like her, and she likes me.
Rule 14: Use a comma to denote incidental words.
Example: Of course, I will go with you.

Parentheses – ( )
Rule 1: Use parentheses to show supplementary material.
Example: The table (see below) contains important information.
Rule 2: Use parentheses to set off a word or phrase more strongly than with commas. Example: Emma (the singer) was ready.
Rule 3: Use parentheses to provide sequence.
Example: Directions: (1) Get ingredients. (2) Mix them.

Colon – :
Rule 1: Use a colon to introduce a series.
Example: It has three characteristics: smart, loveable and hairy.
Rule 2: Use a colon to show a subtitle.
Example: The book: How to succeed.
Rule 3: Use a colon to separate clauses.
Example: The game rules are this: keep it clean.
Rule 4: Use a colon after a business letter greeting.
Example: Dear Mr. Black:
Rule 5: Use a colon to separate hours and minutes or to show a ratio.
Example: 12:00 a.m. 4:1 ratio (4 to 1)

Semicolon – ;
Rule 1: Use a semicolon to separate sentence parts more strongly than a comma. Example: July was hot; August was scorching.
Rule 2: Use a semicolon to separate sentence parts that contain commas. Example: She was tired; therefore, she went to bed.

Hyphen (Dash) –
Rule 1: Use a hyphen for compounds words that are adjectives.
Example: the brick-face brownstone
Rule 2: Use a hyphen to show a period of time or space between.
Example: 1999 – 2010, Philadelphia – New York City
This is commonly referred to as the en dash.
Rule 3: Use a hyphen to show the insertion of a word or phrase.
Example: Denise – a smart student – gave the teacher an apple.
Note: This is commonly referred to as the em dash. This is also called parenthetical material; it can be designated using a hyphen, commas or parentheses at the writer’s choice.

Ellipsis – . . .
Rule 1: Use an ellipsis to show that words have been left out.
Example: The girl … until dark.
Rule 2: Use an ellipsis to show a pause for suspense or to heighten mood.
Example: And the winner is …. Kelly.

Rule 1: Use bullets to show the items in a list.
Example: Things to do tomorrow

  • Eat,
  • Sleep and
  • Exercise.

Slash, Virgule, Stroke, Diagonal – /
Rule 1: Use a slash to show lines of poetry. Example: Twinkle, twinkle, little star/ how I wonder what you are …
Rule 2: Use a slash to set off numbers or symbols.
Example: /a/ first idea, /b/ second idea
Rule 3: Use a slash to indicate phonemes.
Example: /c/ is the first phoneme in the word, cat.
Rule 4: Use a slash to show a fraction.
Example: ¾ and ½

or Italics
Rule 1: Use underlining or italics for titles of long written works, e.g., book, play, magazine. Example: Dolch’s book Problems in Reading lists 220 sight words.
Rule 2: Use underlining or italics for foreign words which are not regularly used in English. Example: He did pro bono work to help out a friend.

Brackets (Crotchets) – [ ]
Rule 1: Use brackets or crotches to denote additional words inserted into a quotation. Example: “They [children] must get 60 minutes of exercise a day.”

Source: Fry, E.B., Ph.D. & Kress, J.E., Ed.D. (2006). The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists 5th Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

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  • You rock – thanks for providing this info!!


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