The 14 Punctuation Marks in English Grammar [Explained!]

There are 14 commonly used punctuation marks in English. Before we study them, how many mistakes can you find in this image?

Scroll to the bottom of the page for the answer.

Here’s a visual guide to English punctuation that you can slap on your Pinterest, if that’s something you like doing:

Now let’s go through the list, starting with 3 ways to end a sentence.

Common Punctuation Marks and How to Use Them

Full stop

Other names: period, full point
Usage:

  1. As a full stop, it is used at the end of a declarative or imperative sentence.
  2. As a full point, it is used at the end of abbreviations.
  3. As a full point, it is also used at the end of initials.

Examples:

  • The food is delicious. (declarative)
  • Open a window. (imperative)
  • Dr. Goldberg is a well-known doctor. (abbreviation)
  • A. A. Milne wrote Winnie-the-Pooh. (initials)

Nowadays, it’s quite common to drop full stops for certain words. Some popular examples are MJ for Michael Jackson (initials), NASA for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (acronym), and FYI for for your information (initialism).

Question Mark

Usage: Used at the end of a question
Example: Do you want some chocolate?

Indirect questions don’t use a question mark, but direct questions do. That includes rhetorical questions (where you don’t expect an answer). Can the government find a solution? We’ll find out next week. 

Exclamation Mark

Other names: exclamation point
Usage: It shows strong emotion and is used at the end of an exclamatory sentence.
Example: I got a promotion!

Avoid using them in formal writing. This is bad: Dear Mr. Smith, I regret to inform you that your mother had a serious accident yesterday! The exclamation makes you sound happy or excited.


Now, let’s move on to punctuation marks that are used within a sentence. Some of them are tricky…

Comma

Usage: A comma is used:

  1. In a list of 3 or more things
  2. When a number is over 999
  3. With dates
  4. With addresses
  5. With quotations
  6. Between adjectives
  7. Between adverbs
  8. After introductory words and clauses
  9. To join independent clauses
  10. During pauses in breath, or for nonrestrictive elements

Examples:

  • My pets are a cat, a dog, and a goldfish. (list)
  • The genie in Aladdin’s lamp spent 10,000 years in captivity. (number)
  • Martin Luther King delivered his memorable ‘I have a Dream’ speech on August 28, 1963. (date)
  • We visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (address)
  • “We are all fools in love,” said Charlotte to Elizabeth. (quotation – note it goes before the quote marks here)
  • The food in the restaurant was delicious, filling, and cheap. (adjectives – putting the comma before the third item is called an Oxford Comma and that’s how I use commas)
  • The repaired car ran smoothly, quietly, and quickly. (adverbs)
  • Hey, look at that. (introductory)
  • My mother works in a bank, and my father owns a store. (independent clauses with a conjunction)
  • Uncle Benny, the donut shop owner, lives in our building. (pauses – separating relative clauses)

Semicolon

Usage: It separates two complete sentences that are closely related in thought.
Example: I am vegetarian; I don’t eat meat.

Imagine you read this in a story:

He’s rich. I want to marry him.

These are two separate statements. You might think there’s a connection between the two statements, but someone else might not think there’s a connection.

He’s rich; I want to marry him.

Here the semicolon removes the distance between the two statements. It’s much clearer here that she wants to marry the dude BECAUSE he’s rich.

Colon

Usage: You can use a colon:

  1. To list things
  2. To emphasize one thing
  3. Between two complete sentences where the 2nd sentence is an explanation for the first

Examples:

  • Mitch plays three instruments: piano, guitar, and flute. (list)
  • My dad gave me the best gift ever: tickets to my favorite Broadway show. (emphasis)
  • The teacher was amazed at Jose’s progress: He has been practicing day and night. (two related complete thoughts)

Apostrophe

Usage: An apostrophe is used:

  1. To show ownership
  2. In place of missing letters

Examples:

  • These are Jon’s shoes. (ownership)
  • The class president hasn’t missed a single day of school. (missing letters)

Note – when talking about ownership with the word ‘its’ there’s no apostrophe.

The dog is chasing its tail. It’s a happy dog!

Quotation marks

Usage: 

  1. Quotation marks are used to show someone’s exact speech or words.
  2. They are also used for titles of books, movies, stories, etc.
  3. Sarcasm.

Examples:

  • “Creativity is intelligence having fun,” said Albert Einstein. (exact words)
  • “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is a good fantasy novel for both children and adults. (book title)
  • He married a “dancer”. (She’s actually a stripper.)

Parenthesis

Other names: Curved brackets

Usage: 

  1. Parenthesis are used to enclose words that either add more detail or clarify.
  2. They are also used for enumerating within a sentence.

Examples:

  • I paid 40,000 Won (around $35) for this skirt. (more detail)
  • The guest speaker talked about  1) productivity, 2) focus, and 3) momentum. (enumeration)

Slash

Usage: 

  1. A slash is used to show alternatives and is used in set phrases like and/or, if/when, and man/woman.
  2. It can also be used to show opposite ideas or relationships.

Examples:

  • If a person dies without a will, what happens to his/her property? (alternatives)
  • I have a love/hate relationship with food. (opposite concepts)

My favourite example is from the movie Zoolander. A male model wins a prize for being the best ‘Actor/Model’ and not ‘Model/Actor’. In other words, we recognise him for his acting, first.

Hyphen

Usage:

  1. A hyphen joins two or more words to make compound words.
  2. We often use hyphens for numbers like Social Security numbers or phone numbers.

Examples:

  • The company needs a long-term solution. (compound word)
  • The phone number to the emergency center is 1-800-273-TALK. (string of numbers)

When should you use a hyphen? That needs its own article! Often when English gets a new word it is hyphenated, and over time it loses the hyphen. So e-mail becomes email, and ice-cream becomes ice cream.

Dash

Usage: There are two kinds of dashes – the en dash and the em dash.

  1. Longer than a hyphen, an en dash is used to show a range or connections.
  2. An em dash is twice as long in size as a hyphen. It can be used instead of a comma, a parenthesis, or a colon.

Examples:

  • Millenials are those born in the years 1983‒2000. (en dash)
  • Everyone—including picky Aunt Matilda—loved the freshly baked donuts. (em dash)

Uncommon Punctuation Marks

Brackets

There are 4 types of brackets. Out of the 4, only one is commonly used. The others are used more in Maths.

Types and Usage:

  1. Curved Brackets or Parenthesis – the most used out of all 4; already discussed above.
  2. Square Brackets – used to provide additional information
  3. Curly Brackets – used in prose for a list of similar choices
  4. Angle Brackets – used to emphasize information

Examples:

  • I paid 40,000 Won (around $35) for this skirt. (parenthesis)
  • The policeman [Officer Jones] said he would report the lost bicycle. (square brackets)
  • Choose your yogurt toppings {fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, granola, gummy bears} and then pay at the cashier. (curly brackets)
  • The French word /foh pahz/ is spelled <faux pas>. (angle brackets)

Ellipsis

Usage: It is used to show an omission of either letters or words. Because of this, an ellipsis is often used within quotations when unimportant parts need to be taken out.

Example: When Newton stated, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion…” he developed the law of motion.

If you were very observant, you’ll have noticed that I ended a section in this article with an ellipsis!


Others

Ampersand

This thing – & – is called an ampersand. Just means ‘and’.

Interrobang

This isn’t really a REAL piece of punctuation but you’ll see it quite a lot. It’s this: ?!

It’s useful for when you just can’t believe what is happening.

  • I sold our cat.
  • You did what?!

How Many Mistakes Did You Find?

There were FIVE mistakes.

  1. It should have an apostrophe and not a quote mark in You’re
  2. There should be a comma after writing
  3. There should be an apostrophe in aren’t
  4. It’s a question, so it should end in a question mark
  5. The guy’s hair is a big mistake.

Here’s the corrected version:

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