How to Use English Punctuation Correctly

With the dawn of the Internet, the birth of Internet slang, and the growing age of SMS, many individuals are forgetting the fundamental aspects of English punctuation. 

Punctuation Mark
Use to...
( . ) Period
End a sentence: Dinner was delicious.
( ? ) Question Mark
End a sentence and denote inquiry: What time is it?
( ! ) Exclamation Point
End a sentence and denote excitement or emphasis: Watch out for that tree!
( , ) Comma
Denote a break within a sentence or direct address of a person or group: Mary, listen to me.

Separate any of the following:
- Two or more adjectives: He is a charming, attentive listener.
- Items in a list: Please buy eggs, milk, butter and flour.
- The name of a city from the name of a state: I live in Salt Lake City, Utah.
- Two independent clauses: The waiter still hasn’t taken our order, and the play starts in five minutes.
- Direct quotations: Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
( ; ) Semicolon           
Separate two related but independent clauses: I asked Anne to look at my computer; she has a knack for them.

Separate a series of items that already contain commas:
- For our wedding colors, I chose white, the color of innocence; red, the color of passion; and yellow, the color of lemons.
- I have lived in Detroit, Michigan; Paris, France; and Sydney, Australia.

( : ) Colon
Introduce a list.
For Christmas, I would like the following presents: a hula hoop, a hippopotamus, and my two front teeth.

Introduce a statement that expands upon the clause before the colon.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
( - ) Hyphen
Add a prefix: Trans-Atlantic flights are costly.

Create compound words: Spider-Man is my favorite superhero.

Write numbers as words: I have lived in this house for thirty-three years.
(– or —) Dash
Make a brief interruption within a sentence or a parenthetical phrase: Johnny asked me—with a straight face, I might add—if he could borrow the car for the weekend.
( “ ) Double Quotation
Enclose a direct quotation: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”
( ‘ ) Single Quotation
Denote possession: I believe that is Allen’s pen.

Denote contraction: I know it’s his because of the distinct monogram.

Denote a quotation within a quotation: He told me just last week, “I do enjoy this monogrammed pen. My wife said, ‘Allen, it isn’t like people go around mistaking your pens for theirs all day.’”
( ( ) ) Parentheses
Indicate clarification: Please bring home some real butter (as opposed to margarine).

Indicate an afterthought or personal commentary: Anyone can edit Wikipedia (not that there’s anything wrong with that).


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