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A Useful List of Punctuation Marks derived from Bennett R. Coles and other sources
Modified to comply with UK publishing advice.

Punctuation marks add clarity and order to written language.


Punctuation Marks at the end of sentences:

1) Full stop/Period . This punctuation mark is used to indicate the end of a sentence containing a statement of thought, opinion or fact, a story or any written account of events. It may also be used at the end of abbreviations (e.g. Johnson Ave. is the second turn on the right. This usage is becoming less common.)

2) Exclamation Mark ! This punctuation mark is used to express strong feelings, a strong emotion, for emphasis or to indicate screaming or shouting (e.g. ‘Apologise right now!’) In creative writing, exclamation marks are best used sparingly.

3) Question Mark ? This punctuation mark is used to end interrogative sentences. E.g. Where is the hospital? What is the time?       In works of fiction it can also be used to express doubt (e.g. ‘I’m supposed to say that?’)


Punctuation Marks in the middle of sentences:

4) Comma , This punctuation mark is used:

  • To separate three or more elements in a sentence that are related in some way (e.g. ‘The grocery list included apples, bananas, strawberries, grapes and oranges.’)

  • After introductory words before stating a main clause (e.g. ‘In other words, the best way to find it…’)

  • To create a pause (e.g. She implied that, without any doubt, he was going to be the suspect.)

  • To separate two interchangeable adjectives (e.g. He moved that large, bulky load down the street.)

  • To separate two independent clauses that are joined by the connectors and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet (e.g. She went away, yet her heart never did.

  • After a dependent clause that is used to start a sentence (e.g. After a thorough review, she published the report.)

  • To separate the name of a town from the name of its county (e.g. ‘I was born in Taunton, Devon.’)

  • As a pair of commas to separate a name from the sentence (e.g. When my partner, Chris, came home ...) 

  • To separate a statement from a question (e.g. ‘They all came home in the end, right?’)

  • To introduce or to end dialogue or a direct quotation (e.g. ‘Call her again,’ he insisted.)

  • As a pair of commas to indicate inclusion where this is intended (e.g. ‘Footballers, who don’t look after their bodies, have a short life.’–that is all footballers have a short life. This ‘inclusive’ use of a pair of commas has a completely different meaning from ‘Footballers who don’t look after their bodies have a short life.’–that is only some footballers have a short life.) Removing the phrase between a pair of commas does not disturb the flow of the sentence. (e.g. Footballers have a short life).

5) Colon : This punctuation mark primarily follows an independent clause with more information that expands on the original clause.

Colons have many applications in written language. For example, they can be used:

  • To separate a title from a subtitle (e.g. The Space Race: From Sputnik to Spacex)

  • To explain a subject (e.g. ‘This is how to mix the batter for better results: first, you…’)

  • To describe a situation (e.g. ‘There are two alternatives to this approach: assemble the parts first and then paint them or paint all parts at the factory before assembly.’)

  • Before a definition (e.g. ‘Here’s what XXX means: <explanation goes here>’)

  • To create a list of items (e.g. This recipe requires: 3 eggs, ¼ lb of butter, 2 cups of flour, …)

  • For literary references in some religious texts (e.g. Genesis 1:2)

  • To highlight statements made by characters in literary works (e.g. ‘To all of you: I never said that!’)

  • To separate hours, minutes and/or seconds (e.g. 9:30 a.m., 10:45:12)

  • After a salutation as alternative to comma (e.g. ‘Dear John:’)

  • To express mathematical ratios (e.g. 1:3)



6) Semi-Colon ; This punctuation mark is primarily used to combine two independent clauses that are related into a single sentence (e.g. The doctor saw the patient immediately; the slightest delay would have proved fatal.)

They can also be used to separate items on a list that contain commas themselves (e.g. On this tour we’ll visit Belgrade, Serbia; Minsk, Belarus; and Bucharest, Romania.)

Semi-colons create a kind of pause that is longer than the pause of a comma but shorter than the pause of a period at the end of a sentence.


Quotation Marks

7) Single Quotation Marks '  ' [Double in US] This punctuation mark is used:

  • To show dialogue in literary works (e.g. ‘Do I enter the room now?’ whispered Simon)

  • To highlight a quotation (e.g. I wonder where the expression ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’ comes from.)

  • To make words or phrases within sentences stand out (e.g. The best approach is to ‘ease’ into the spot slowly)

  • Sometimes used for titles of book, film, etc. (e.g. Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.) In UK, italics are more often used. (e.g. Hitchcock’s The Birds.)

8) Double Quotation Marks "  " [Single in US] This punctuation mark is used in a small number of special circumstances, specifically:

  • When there’s a quotation within a quotation (e.g. The sign read: ‘To swim in the “Restricted Area” you must always wear an approved flotation device’)

  • To denote technical terms in specialised fields (e.g. ‘The “villi” are responsible for the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine.’) In UK, italics are often preferred for technical or foreign language terms. (e.g. ‘The villi are responsible for the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine.’


Brackets: ( ), [ ], { }, < >

9) Parentheses ( ) This punctuation mark is used to add secondary context to the information in a sentence—e.g. The main thruster (which was designed to be expendable) was not recovered.

10) Square Brackets [ ] This punctuation mark is a specialised form of parentheses that is used:

  • To show parentheses within parentheses—e.g. (this study was published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers [IEEE])

  • To quote text that has been altered from the original—e.g. She accused the hospital [staff] of wrongdoing.

  • To show incorrect text in a quote together with the Latin term sic—e.g. She accused they [sic] of wrongdoing.

  • To show the phonetic pronunciation of a word—e.g. Kazakh or Qazaqşa [qɑˈzɑqʃɑ] is a branch of the Turkic language that’s spoken in Kazakhstan.

11) Curly Brackets { } This punctuation mark is used to show a list of equal choices (e.g. Choose a colour: {red, green, yellow, blue})

12) Angle Brackets < > This punctuation mark has very little use in written language and it’s mainly used to write code in computer languages. Sometimes it’s used to show a placeholder text (e.g. Enter your account ID: <your email address goes here>)


Dashes: -, –, —

13) Hyphen - This punctuation mark is used to join words together.

For example, 

  • Hyphenate multiple words that are grouped together as a single modifier to a noun (e.g. This is a best-in-show category.)

  • Hyphenate multiple words indicating a period of time that are used together as a modifier to a noun (e.g. That thirty-year-old man is looking for work.)

  • Hyphenate numerical fractions when spelled out (e.g. Two-thirds, three-quarters, etc.)

  • Hyphenate family relationships (e.g. Dorothy is John’s great-grandmother, Peter is Susan’s brother-in-law)

  • Hyphenate compound words to eliminate confusion (e.g. You should re-sign this cheque. instead of You should resign this cheque.)

  • Many words in common use that used to have a hyphen such as to-morrow, co-operative, co-worker are often written without as tomorrow, cooperative, coworker.

14) Em DashThis punctuation mark is used to create a break in a sentence in order to add more context. Type Ctrl +Alt + minus sign in the numerical keyboard. They can be used as a pair, just like commas, or as a single occurrence. Here are some examples:

  • Use of single em dash: This is a good example of the use of em dashes—the longest in the dash family.

  • Use of pair of em dashes: This is a good example of the use of em dashes—a useful punctuation mark—to illustrate a sentence break.

15) En Dash This punctuation mark is used mainly to show ranges of figures (e.g. “$200–$500”) and when the first part of a compound adjective is an open compound (e.g. He’s a New York–based photographer.) Type Ctrl + minus sign in the numerical keyboard.



16) Slash /  This punctuation mark is used:

  • To denote numerical fractions and dates (e.g. 2/3 or ⅔ and 20/11/1953)

  • To denote an option (e.g. and/or, his/her, etc.)

  • To denote prose, such as lines in poetry or song lyrics (e.g. Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too.)

  • To denote abbreviations (e.g. c/o or ℅ for in care of; n/a for not applicable)


17) Backslash \ This punctuation mark is used to code computer languages and has no use in written language. It can be inserted from Symbols.


Other Punctuation Marks:

18)  Apostrophe ’ This punctuation mark is used:

  • To denote possessive forms (e.g. Mary’s crayon, a dog's dinner, the dogs' home. The apostrophe goes after the s for plurals)

  • To denote contracted forms (e.g. don’t for do not; isn't for is not, it's as contraction of it is; who's as contraction of who is)

       In formal writing it's is never recommended. Use its for possession, e.g. the dog has lost its ball, and write it is in full.​

  • To denote abbreviated years (e.g. She was born in ’82)

  • To denote certain plurals (e.g. He was born in the 60’s. However, using 60s etc without the apostrophe is becoming more common in the UK.)


19) Ellipsis Alt+ Ctrl +Full stop. This punctuation mark of three full stops is used:

  • To show an omission (e.g. …as I was saying the worst is finally behind us.)

  • Or to add a pause in speech (e.g. I think so… do you?)


20) Asterisk * This punctuation mark is used:

  • To refer readers to a footnote (e.g. This information was obtained from the 10K report*)

  • To denote an inappropriate word (e.g. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck)

  • To denote a disclaimer (e.g. Restrictions apply*)


21) Interrobang ?!  Popular in the 1960s, this is a combination of question mark and exclamation mark (e.g. ‘You did what]’). It can be inserted in Microsoft Word from Windings2 in Symbols but can't be reproduced here.


22) Percontation Point or Rhetorical Question Mark.  This backwards Question Mark is used after irony or sarcasm. (e.g. ‘Oh, really’). This mark does not seem to be available on keyboards or in Symbols. It can be cut and pasted from Wikipedia but can't be reproduced here.

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