How to use Punctuation?
Imagine if you had a very long sentence longer than any other sentence speaking of different people place things and ideas that had absolutely no symbols to indicate where to slow down pause or accentuate your speech. We can all agree that since we are not usually the writer of all the material we read, we need punctuation to help us see from the writer’s perspective where to put certain emphasis in a sentence as well as where and in what matter that sentence should end. This is why we have punctuation marks. What is punctuation?
Punctuation is the system of signs or symbols given to a reader to show how a sentence is constructed and how it should be read. As we showed in the example above, sentences are the tools writer’s use to convey accounts.
Punctuation marks make the written text easier to read and understand. It is not an exaggeration to say that without punctuation, writing would not make sense. In this article, we will discuss the most commonly used types of punctuation and give some examples of how these can be used correctly in a sentence.
Sentences always must start with a capital letter.
- Jane Henry went to the matric dance with Micah Loudine
- When we stopped the car, the others jumped in
- We bought popcorn before we went in to the movie
Proper Nouns and Proper Adjectives need capital letters.
- Our family will visit Mexico next year
- We participated in the Mexican wave
The main words in titles of books, films or plays are written in capital letters.
- Lord of the Flies
- The Matrix
- Independence Day
The first word in Direct speech must always be capitalized.
- The teacher asked, “Is Michelle absent today?”
- My mother called me, “Jonah, it’s time to get ready for school.”
- My friend shouted, “Hey! Stop messing around I’m trying to concentrate!”
FULL STOPS ( . )
A full stop indicates the end of a sentence. When reading a sentence the reader will pause to show that the complete thought brought out in the sentence has now come to an end. Full stops are also found after certain abbreviations as shown below. However, it is important to note that with modern usage, full stops are often omitted.
- Dr. Talbot (the full stop shortens the title Doctor Talbot)
- Prof. Henry (the full stop shortens the title Professor Henry)
- Ms. Field (the full stop shortens the title Miss Field)
COMMAS ( , )
When you see a comma in a sentence, this indicates a pause in the sentence. There are a few reasons why commas can be used and we will discuss these points by point below with examples.
We use commas to separate words or phrases into a list. Note in the examples below that we do not include a comma before ‘and’ or ‘or’.
- We bought school books, pencils, pens and other stationery for the new term.
- We travelled through Sienna, Venice, Florence and Rome on our Italian adventure.
- Never did I think I’d see Tara, Thiloshni and Renita in a car together.
Commas indicate where one phrase or clause ends and another begins.
- Siya Kolisi helped South Africa win the rugby game, to the delight of the spectators.
- She went to the club, even though her mother advised against it.
Additional information, which could have been inserted in brackets or between dashes, may be separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma or commas.
- Shini obtained excellent results, a full house of seven distinctions!
- Mr. Jenkins, the principal, addresses the school.
We place commas before and afterwords such as however and nevertheless.
- Amahle was, however, late for the interview and that is why she lost out on the job opportunity.
- Nevertheless, we continued to engage with her.
Introductory words or phrases are separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.
- Once again, I was ignored by every one of my friends at the party.
- Next time, I will think twice before I ask her for help.
Avoid using a comma between two main clauses. This is referred to as the comma splice error. Rather use a full stop, semi-colon or conjunction. In the sentence example below, notice how the first example is incorrect because the sentence is more correctly broken up into two separate thoughts instead of one.
- A census was taken, the government needed statistics. (INCORRECT)
- A census was taken. The government needed statistics. (CORRECT)
SEMI-COLONS ( ; )
A semi-colon is a punctuation mark indicating a long pause that balances two equally important, related or parallel ideas. It also indicates opposite ideas (antithesis).
- She went by train; she would rather have flown.
- In the summer she swims; in winter she skates.
It joins two main, closely related independent clauses where there is no conjunction. In other words, the semi-colon will show that there is a relationship between the two clauses which is clear to the reader.
- She worked hard for the examination; she had nothing to fear.
- He loved his cat; they had grown up together.
A semi-colon may often be replaced by a full stop or by the conjunctions and, but, so, far and although.
- She worked hard for the examination so she had nothing to fear.
- He loved his cat. They had grown up together
COLONS ( : )
The colon indicates that a list, an explanation or an idea is following the mark.
- I need to buy the following items: lettuce, cucumbers, feta and oil.
- When I leave on Wednesday I mustn’t forget these things: hairband, lotion, charger.
A colon introduces a quotation.
- Nelson Mandela’s words were: “It always seems impossible until it’s done”
- Tilda said to me once: “Please keep it down!”
In scriptwriting of dialogue, a colon follows the speaker.
- Pepe: Can you come to town with me tomorrow?
- Buhle: No I can’t I have to help my sister with the washing.
- Pepe: Ok. Perhaps we can go on Sunday.
QUESTION MARKS ( ? )
Question marks occur at the end of a sentence asking a direct question. Rhetorical questions also end in a question mark. It is important to note that the last example below is an indirect question and therefore would not contain a question mark.
- Who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year?
- Could you please refrain from doing that?
- Do we even need an education?
- I wonder if he will be attending the party. (The question mark would be used if we said “I wonder: Will he be going to the party?”)
EXCLAMATION MARKS ( ! )
This type of punctuation mark is used to convey an exclamation (a sudden cry or remark) or interjection (interruptions) and are placed at the end of a statement instead of a full stop. They are used to accentuate and strengthen the tone of the message. They are often introduced by the verbs yelled, shouted, exclaimed and commanded.
- I am so scared!
- Just do it already!
- The officer yelled, “Attention!”
- The man was running after her shouting, “Don’t leave!”
Punctuation marks are used after sentences, phrases or words containing emotions such as anger, fear, happiness, anxiety, shock and misery.
- I am so fed up with your behaviour!
- The woman whispered, “I am terrified!”
QUOTATION MARKS (INVERTED COMMAS) ( ‘ ‘ ) or ( “ “ )
Quotation marks are used to indicate direct speech by a person i.e. word for word renderings. They can also be used to quote (or repeat) someone else’s words. Always remember that all other punctuation must fall inside of the quotation marks:
- Mr Shabalala said, “There will be no homework over the weekend.”
- Martin Luther King Jnr said, “I have a dream…”
- Vicky asked Cathy, “Will you come to the sleepover?”
Single quotation marks were traditionally used to indicate the titles of books and movies. In modern usage, however, these titles are often underlined without the use of quotation marks.
- ‘Spiderman’ or Spiderman
- ‘Jumanji – the Next Level’ or Jumanji – the Next Level
- ‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller or Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Quotation marks can be used to ‘excuse’ oneself for using slang terms or foreign words.
- Trevor was super ‘salty’ today.
- Our new minibus was used to ‘cart’ the soccer team around.
- I absolutely ‘ripped’ Mark for wearing those orange crocs.
Lastly, this type of punctuation can indicate metaphoric usage.
- I am the ‘baby’ of the family
- The waves just ‘knew’ I was about to stand up for the first time on my new board
When something is written in brackets, it is usually an explanation, an aside, or some additional information. It is often possible to use commas or dashes instead of brackets.
- The Chihuahua (the smallest dog in the world) can fit into a teacup or
- The Chihuahua – the smallest dog in the world – can fit into a teacup or
- The Chihuahua, the smallest dog in the world, can fit into a teacup.
HYPHEN ( – )
A hyphen is used to link prefixes to words, or it can link two words in order to form compound words. In order to facilitate spelling and pronunciation, a hyphen is inserted if a prefix ends in a vowel and the word joined to the prefix begins with the same vowel.
- anti–dandruff shampoo
A hyphen can help to differentiate meanings.
- She had to re–make the garment.
- The remake of How to Train your Dragon is very entertaining. (No Hyphen)
When writing, words that cannot be completed on one line are linked to the next line with a hyphen. It is important to note that you cannot place this hyphen just anywhere. Rather it should split up the word only between syllables.
- de–lightful or delight–ful
- tre–mendous or tremen–dous
- beau–tiful or beauti–ful
DASH ( — )
A dashed line is a slightly longer punctuation mark line than the hyphen. It serves a similar purpose to a comma, colon or semi-colon. It separates parts of the sentence and causes us to pause. The difference between a dash and a hyphen is that a dash separates parts of sentences, while a hyphen separates parts of the same word.
- There’s more to school than a syllabus – life-skills and friendships are also gained along the way.
- Don’t worry about your aunt – she’ll be just fine.
It can also be used to separate additional information in the same way we saw earlier in this article. When utilized this way a dash is interchangeable with commas or brackets. A dash can also divide a comment or afterthought from the main subject of the sentence.
- Next week we are travelling to Port Elizatbeth – the Windy City.
- I have to go babysit my brothers children – they are three and five years old.
- You can come anytime of the day – preferably in the afternoon.
Finally, a dash can be used to create a dramatic pause, leading to a climax or anti-climax.
- I ran to the window; I looked out and saw – the cat!
BULLETS ( * )
Modern communication is specially written word using word processors, the internet and email have resulted in the popular use of the bullet format. Although not necessarily correct English, the use of bullets in a presentation-like fashion is an effective way to:
- Itemise points in a simple and visual manner.
- Avoid using letters (a, b, c) or numbers (1, 2, 3).
- Use partial sentences to save time and space.
- Omit punctuation as sentences are incomplete.
ELLIPSES ( … )
The three ellipses dots indicate that a sentence is incomplete or that something has been omitted or left out from the sentence. We can usually guess the meaning from the context of the sentence.
- He walked to the edge of the cliff and…
- To be continued…
- You had better tidy your room or else…
ITALICS ( sloping writing )
Italics can be used once again in typed lettering to highlight and emphasize certain words or phrases such as titles and foreign words
- The Sound of Music is one of the best-loved films of the century.
- Déjà vu is the illusion of having experienced something previously.
Conclusion – What is Punctuation?
Punctuation, as we have learned in this article, are the written symbols and marks we use in sentences to make the written text easier to read and understand. It can add emphasis in places, make the reader change their tone or create suspense, amongst other things. Put simply, without punctuation, writing would not make much sense.
See if you can recall the uses of all fourteen of the different types of punctuation marks we have looked at in this article! Create your own example sentences to test your knowledge of the correct use of punctuation marks.
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