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Compiled on 2021-12-07 from rev 59b94ff17754.

English Punctuation Guide

Punctuation symbol

. full stop (period USA)

? question mark

! exclamation mark

"" single quotation marks

'' double quotation marks

` apostrophe

- hyphen

, comma

: colon

; semicolon

... ellipsis

General rules

  • Put end-of-sentence punctuation inside quotation marks.
  • Put commas and other sentence punctuation outside of parentheses.
  • Put a comma (plus a space) before conjunction.
  • The semicolon ; is not widely used in English.

Capital letter

  1. A capital is used for the first letter of a new sentence, of quoted speech or proper nouns.
  2. The first letter of a sentence does not need to be capitalized if it is included in parenthesis within another sentence.
  3. A capital letter is always used for the first person singular subjective personal pronoun I.
  4. A capital is used for the first letter of key words in headings and titles. If such titles are hyphenated then both components are given capitalized first letters.
  5. A capital is used for the first letter of key words in historical events.
  6. A capital is used for the first letter of religions and many other religious words.
  7. A capital is used for the first letter of names of months and days of the week, but not of seasons.
  8. Holidays should also be capitalized.


[3] My boss and I agreed that I should make up for the time I  had lost.
[4] The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries
[4] The Centers for Disease Control
[4] Vice-President Dick Cheney
[5] The Battle of Waterloo
[5] The Great Fire of London
[6] Devout Christians do daily Bible study.
[7] After a long, hot summer she married him on a sultry Saturday in September.
[8] January 1 is New Year's Day.


  • Put one space after punctuation.
  • Put no spaces before punctuation, but always put a space between words.
  • Put no spaces after periods inside abbreviations.
  • Put no space before or after an apostrophe.
  • Put no space on the "inside" of quotation marks (often called "quotes").
  • Put no space on the "inside" of parentheses.

Exclamation mark, !


Oh! Wow! Brilliant!
It was shocking!

Apostrophe, '

  • Apostrophes next to the letter ('s) indicate possession or belonging.
  • They are also used to show missing letters in shortened words, especially in informal writing.
  • No space is needed before or after the apostrophe.


This is Lynne's web site.
It's a nice day today, isn't it? I've got an idea. Let's go out.

Comma, ,

  1. Separate items in long lists.
  2. Commas point out brief pauses in a complex sentence or a long prepositional phrase.
  3. Comma is included before the conjunction 'and' which comes before the final element of a list (for purists).
  4. Introduce a direct quote.
  5. Separate appositives (a noun, or noun phrase) or non-defining relative clauses.
  6. Use a comma if your subject has two or more adjectives describing it.
  7. You do not put a space before a comma, but you do need a space after one.
  8. We don't usually put a comma before the word 'and'.


[1] There were a lot of people in the room, teachers, students and parents.
[2] The teachers were sitting, the students were listening and the parents
    were just worrying.
[2] Although he wanted to come, he wasn't able to attend the course.
[3] I like reading, listening to music, and visiting with my friends.
[4] The boy said, "My father is often away during the week on business trips."
[4] His doctor replied, "If you don't stop smoking, you run the risk of a
    heart attack."
[5] Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, comes from Seattle.
[5] My only sister, who is a fantastic tennis player, is in great shape.
[6] The powerful, resonating sound caught our attention.

Colon, :

  1. Colons precede a list, an explanation or an example.
  2. The colon is used to separate two main clauses where the first is an introduction to the second.
  3. To introduce a direct quote (a comma can also be used in this situation).
  4. You do not put a space before a colon, but you do need a space after one.


[1] There are two main shopping areas in Nottingham: Broadmarsh Centre and
    Victoria Centre.
[2] The pilot had an awful realization: he had forgotten to turn off the gas
    at breakfast time.
[3] He announced to his friends: "I'm getting married!"

Full stop (period), .

  1. Full stops (periods in the USA) go at the end of sentences that are statements.
  2. They are also used to mark abbreviations. If such an abbreviation occurs at the very end of a sentence, the final dot is not written twice.
  3. You do not put a space before a full stop, but after one.


[1] My name is Lynn. I am a teacher.
[2] An overhead projector is often referred to as an O.H.P.

Hyphen, -


There were ninety-nine red balloons.

Question mark, ?

  1. Question marks go at the end of sentences that are questions.
  2. You need a question mark at the end of tag questions.
  3. For quotes within quotes, use single quotes.
  4. You do not put a space before a question mark, but after one.


[1] Is my name Lynn? Of course it is.
[2] It's a nice day, isn't it?

Semicolon, ;

  1. Semicolons are used to separate two sentences that would otherwise be joined with a word such as 'and', 'because', 'since', 'unless' or 'while'. 2 To separate groups of words that are themselves separated by commas.
  2. You do not put a space before a semicolon, but you do need a space after one.


[1] I'm looking forward to our next lesson; I'm sure it will be a lot of fun.
[2] They plan to study German, for their travels; chemistry, for their work;
and literature, for their own enjoyment.

Quotation mark (speech mark), "", ''

Double quotes "", single quotes ''.

  • Quotation marks (single or double) are used to show words that are directly spoken (direct speech).
  • Only the words actually being quoted are enclosed by speech marks.
  • You need a space before the opening speech mark, but no space after it, and a space after the closing one, but no space before it.
  • Another general rule is to use a comma after the introduction to quoted speech or writing.
  • Sometimes when writing a spoken sentence it is split in two. The speech marks must then be placed at the beginning and end of each part of the sentence. Commas are used to separate the spoken part from the rest of the sentence.
  • If you need a question mark or exclamation mark the markers that punctuate the quoted words are enclosed by the speech marks.


"Could everyone sit down please," said the teacher.
Jaime said, "I love you."
"I wonder," she said quietly, "whether people will ever truly understand each other."
"I don't understand," replied Nathan.
"Do you understand?" asked Nathan.
"I don't understand!" shouted Nathan.
Nathan replied, "I don't understand."
Nathan asked, "Do you understand?"
Nathan shouted, "I don't understand!"
He wrote in 1946 that, "The key word in digital computer is 'digital'."

Ellipsis, ...

  1. Ellipsis used to show that something has been omitted, indicate missing words in an incomplete quotation.


[1] Chomsky suggested that, "Language is a system that...can be described in
    an algebraic notation."

Dash, -, --

  1. The dash should be used when making a brief interruption within a statement, a sudden change of thought, an additional comment, or a dramatic qualification.

Parentheses ()

  1. Use parentheses to clarify, to place an afterthought, or to add a personal comment. Be sure to include the period after the closing parenthesis.


[1] Steve Case (AOL's former CEO) resigned from the Time-Warner board of
    directors in 2005.
[1] You will need a flashlight for the camping trip (don't forget the
[1] Most grammarians believe that parentheses and commas are always
    interchangeable (I disagree).

Brackets []

  1. Use brackets to signify an editor's note in a regular piece of writing. You can also use brackets to clarify or to revise a direct quote so that it appeals to your own writing.
  2. The first brackets are rounded, and brackets inside brackets are squared.


[1] "[The blast] was absolutely devastating," said Susan Smith.

Slash /

  1. Use the slash to separate "and" and "or", when appropriate.
  2. The slash can replace the word "and" to join two nouns.
  3. The slash is used when quoting lyrics and poetry to denote a line break. Be sure to add spaces between your slashes here.


[1] To register, you will need your driver's license and/or your birth
[2] The student/part-time employee has very little free time.
[3] "Row, row, row your boat / gently down the stream / life is but a dream."