Suppose you are presenting a speech. If you speak too quickly, your audience will not be able to understand what you are saying. It is important to stop and take a breath a few times as you read from your notes. But how do you know where to pause, where to change your voice, and where to stop? The answer is easy. You can use the punctuation marks you encounter as a guide for your pacing.
Punctuation marks provide visual clues to readers, telling them how they should read the sentence. Some punctuation marks tell you that you are reading a list of items while other marks tell you that a sentence contains two independent ideas. Punctuation marks tell you not only when a sentence ends but also what kind of sentence you have read. This chapter covers different types of punctuation and the meanings they convey.
One of the punctuation clues to reading you may encounter is the commaA punctuation mark that tells the reader when to pause or when a word is part of a list.. The comma is a punctuation mark that indicates a pause in a sentence or a separation of things in a list. Commas can be used in a variety of ways. Look at some of the following sentences to see how you might use a comma when writing a sentence.
You may notice a comma that appears near the beginning of the sentence, usually after a word or phrase. This comma lets the reader know where the introductory word or phrase ends and the main sentence begins.
Without spoiling the surprise, we need to tell her to save the date.
In this sentence, without spoiling the surprise is an introductory phrase, while we need to tell her to save the date is the main sentence. Notice how they are separated by a comma. When only an introductory word appears in the sentence, a comma also follows the introductory word.
Ironically, she already had plans for that day.
Look for the introductory word or phrase. On your own sheet of paper, copy the sentence and add a comma to correct the sentence.
When you want to list several nouns in a sentence, you separate each word with a comma. This allows the reader to pause after each item and identify which words are included in the grouping. When you list items in a sentence, put a comma after each noun, then add the word and before the last item. However, you do not need to include a comma after the last item.
We’ll need to get flour, tomatoes, and cheese at the store.
The pizza will be topped with olives, peppers, and pineapple chunks.
You can use commas to list both adjectives and nouns. A string of adjectives that describe a noun are called coordinating adjectivesA series of adjectives that come before the noun they describe.. These adjectives come before the noun they modify and are separated by commas. One important thing to note, however, is that unlike listing nouns, the word and does not always need to be before the last adjective.
It was a bright, windy, clear day.
Our kite glowed red, yellow, and blue in the morning sunlight.
On your own sheet of paper, use what you have learned so far about comma use to add commas to the following sentences.
Commas are sometimes used to separate two independent clauses. The comma comes after the first independent clause and is followed by a conjunction, such as for, and, or but. For a full list of conjunctions, see Chapter 2 "Writing Basics: What Makes a Good Sentence?".
He missed class today, and he thinks he will be out tomorrow, too.
He says his fever is gone, but he is still very tired.
On your own sheet of paper, create a compound sentence by combining the two independent clauses with a comma and a coordinating conjunction.
The presentation was scheduled for Monday. The weather delayed the presentation for four days.
He wanted a snack before bedtime. He ate some fruit.
The patient is in the next room. I can hardly hear anything.
We could go camping for vacation. We could go to the beach for vacation.
I want to get a better job. I am taking courses at night.
I cannot move forward on this project. I cannot afford to stop on this project.
Patrice wants to stop for lunch. We will take the next exit to look for a restaurant.
I’ve got to get this paper done. I have class in ten minutes.
The weather was clear yesterday. We decided to go on a picnic.
I have never dealt with this client before. I know Leonardo has worked with them. Let’s ask Leonardo for his help.
In conversations, you might interrupt your train of thought by giving more details about what you are talking about. In a sentence, you might interrupt your train of thought with a word or phrase called interrupting wordsWords or phrases that describe a noun, separated from the rest of the sentence by commas. Interrupters can come before or after the noun they describe.. Interrupting words can come at the beginning or middle of a sentence. When the interrupting words appear at the beginning of the sentence, a comma appears after the word or phrase.
If you can believe it, people once thought the sun and planets orbited around Earth.
Luckily, some people questioned that theory.
When interrupting words come in the middle of a sentence, they are separated from the rest of the sentence by commas. You can determine where the commas should go by looking for the part of the sentence that is not essential for the sentence to make sense.
An Italian astronomer, Galileo, proved that Earth orbited the sun.
We have known, for hundreds of years now, that the Earth and other planets exist in a solar system.
On your own sheet of paper, copy the sentence and insert commas to separate the interrupting words from the rest of the sentence.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
You also use commas when you write the date, such as in cover letters and e-mails. Commas are used when you write the date, when you include an address, and when you greet someone.
If you are writing out the full date, add a comma after the day and before the year. You do not need to add a comma when you write the month and day or when you write the month and the year. If you need to continue the sentence after you add a date that includes the day and year, add a comma after the end of the date.
The letter is postmarked May 4, 2001.
Her birthday is May 5.
He visited the country in July 2009.
I registered for the conference on March 7, 2010, so we should get our tickets soon.
You also use commas when you include addresses and locations. When you include an address in a sentence, be sure to place a comma after the street and after the city. Do not place a comma between the state and the zip code. Like a date, if you need to continue the sentence after adding the address, simply add a comma after the address.
We moved to 4542 Boxcutter Lane, Hope, Missouri 70832.
After moving to Boston, Massachusetts, Eric used public transportation to get to work.
Greetings are also separated by commas. When you write an e-mail or a letter, you add a comma after the greeting word or the person’s name. You also need to include a comma after the closing, which is the word or phrase you put before your signature.
I would like more information about your job posting.
Dear Mrs. Al-Sayf,
Thank you for your letter. Please read the attached document for details.
On your own sheet of paper, use what you have learned about using commas to edit the following letter.
March 27 2010
14 Taylor Drive Apt. 6
New Castle Maine 90342
Dear Mr. Timmons
Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I am available on Monday the fifth. I can stop by your office at any time. Is your address still 7309 Marcourt Circle #501? Please get back to me at your earliest convenience.
On your own sheet of paper, use what you have learned about comma usage to edit the following paragraphs.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Another punctuation mark that you will encounter is the semicolon (;)A punctuation mark that indicates a pause and joins two independent clauses or separates a list when the list already requires commas.. Like most punctuation marks, the semicolon can be used in a variety of ways. The semicolon indicates a break in the flow of a sentence, but functions differently than a period or a comma. When you encounter a semicolon while reading aloud, this represents a good place to pause and take a breath.
Use a semicolon to combine two closely related independent clauses. Relying on a period to separate the related clauses into two shorter sentences could lead to choppy writing. Using a comma would create an awkward run-on sentence.
Correct: Be sure to wear clean, well-pressed clothes to the interview; appearances are important.
Choppy: Be sure to wear clean, well-pressed clothes to the interview. Appearances are important.
Incorrect: Be sure to wear clean, well-pressed clothes to the interview, appearances are important.
In this case, writing the independent clauses as two sentences separated by a period is correct. However, using a semicolon to combine the clauses can make your writing more interesting by creating a variety of sentence lengths and structures while preserving the flow of ideas.
You can also use a semicolon to join items in a list when the items in the list already require commas. Semicolons help the reader distinguish between items in the list.
Correct: The color combinations we can choose from are black, white, and grey; green, brown, and black; or red, green, and brown.
Incorrect: The color combinations we can choose from are black, white, and grey, green, brown, and black, or red, green, and brown.
By using semicolons in this sentence, the reader can easily distinguish between the three sets of colors.
Use semicolons to join two main clauses. Do not use semicolons with coordinating conjunctions such as and, or, and but.
On your own sheet of paper, correct the following sentences by adding semicolons. If the sentence is correct as it is, write OK.
The colon (:)A punctuation mark that is used to indicate a full stop. Colons can introduce lists, quotes, examples, and explanations. is another punctuation mark used to indicate a full stop. Use a colon to introduce lists, quotes, examples, and explanations. You can also use a colon after the greeting in business letters and memos.
Dear Hiring Manager:
To: Human Resources
From: Deanna Dean
Use a colon to introduce a list of items. Introduce the list with an independent clause.
The team will tour three states: New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
I have to take four classes this semester: Composition, Statistics, Ethics, and Italian.
You can use a colon to introduce a quote.
Mark Twain said it best: “When in doubt, tell the truth.”
If a quote is longer than forty words, skip a line after the colon and indent the left margin of the quote five spaces. Because quotations longer than forty words use line spacing and indentation to indicate a quote, quotation marks are not necessary.
My father always loved Mark Twain’s words:
There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.
Long quotations, which are forty words or more, are called block quotations. Block quotations frequently appear in longer essays and research papers. For more information about block quotations, see Chapter 11 "Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?".
Use a colon to introduce an example or to further explain an idea presented in the first part of a sentence. The first part of the sentence must always be an independent clause; that is, it must stand alone as a complete thought with a subject and verb. Do not use a colon after phrases like such as or for example.
Correct: Our company offers many publishing services: writing, editing, and reviewing.
Incorrect: Our company offers many publishing services, such as: writing, editing, and reviewing.
Capitalize the first letter following a colon for a proper noun, the beginning of a quote, or the first letter of another independent clause. Do NOT capitalize if the information following the colon is not a complete sentence.
Proper noun: We visited three countries: Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Beginning of a quote: My mother loved this line from Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.”
Two independent clauses: There are drawbacks to modern technology: My brother’s cell phone died and he lost a lot of phone numbers.
Incorrect: The recipe is simple: Tomato, basil, and avocado.
On your own sheet of paper, correct the following sentences by adding semicolons or colons where needed. If the sentence does not need a semicolon or colon, write OK.
Don’t give up you never know what tomorrow brings.
Our records show that the patient was admitted on March 9, 2010 January 13, 2010 and November 16, 2009.
Allow me to introduce myself I am the greatest ice-carver in the world.
Where I come from there are three ways to get to the grocery store by car, by bus, and by foot.
Listen closely you will want to remember this speech.
I have lived in Sedona, Arizona Baltimore, Maryland and Knoxville, Tennessee.
The boss’s message was clear Lateness would not be tolerated.
Next semester, we will read some more contemporary authors, such as Vonnegut, Miller, and Orwell.
My little sister said what we were all thinking “We should have stayed home.”
Trust me I have done this before.
Quotation marks (“ ”)Punctuation marks that are used in pairs to enclose direct quotations and titles of short works. set off a group of words from the rest of the text. Use quotation marks to indicate direct quotations of another person’s words or to indicate a title. Quotation marks always appear in pairs.
A direct quotationAn exact account of what someone said or wrote. Direct quotations must be enclosed in quotation marks. is an exact account of what someone said or wrote. To include a direct quotation in your writing, enclose the words in quotation marks. An indirect quotationA restatement of what someone said or wrote. An indirect quotation does not use the person’s exact words. You do not need to use quotation marks for indirect quotations. is a restatement of what someone said or wrote. An indirect quotation does not use the person’s exact words. You do not need to use quotation marks for indirect quotations.
Direct quotation: Carly said, “I’m not ever going back there again.”
Indirect quotation: Carly said that she would never go back there.
Most word processsing software is designed to catch errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. While this can be a useful tool, it is better to be well acquainted with the rules of punctuation than to leave the thinking to the computer. Properly punctuated writing will convey your meaning clearly. Consider the subtle shifts in meaning in the following sentences:
The first sentence reads as an indirect quote in which the client does not like the manuscript. But did he actually use the word “garbage”? (This would be alarming!) Or has the speaker paraphrased (and exaggerated) the client’s words?
The second sentence reads as a direct quote from the client. But who is “he” in this sentence? Is it a third party?
Word processing software would not catch this because the sentences are not grammatically incorrect. However, the meanings of the sentences are not the same. Understanding punctuation will help you write what you mean, and in this case, could save a lot of confusion around the office!
Quotation marks show readers another person’s exact words. Often, you will want to identify who is speaking. You can do this at the beginning, middle, or end of the quote. Notice the use of commas and capitalized words.
Beginning: Madison said, “Let’s stop at the farmers market to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner.”
Middle: “Let’s stop at the farmers market,” Madison said, “to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner.”
End: “Let’s stop at the farmers market to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner,” Madison said.
Speaker not identified: “Let’s stop at the farmers market to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner.”
Always capitalize the first letter of a quote even if it is not the beginning of the sentence. When using identifying words in the middle of the quote, the beginning of the second part of the quote does not need to be capitalized.
Use commas between identifying words and quotes. Quotation marks must be placed after commas and periods. Place quotation marks after question marks and exclamation points only if the question or exclamation is part of the quoted text.
Question is part of quoted text: The new employee asked, “When is lunch?”
Question is not part of quoted text: Did you hear her say you were “the next Picasso”?
Exclamation is part of quoted text: My supervisor beamed, “Thanks for all of your hard work!”
Exclamation is not part of quoted text: He said I “single-handedly saved the company thousands of dollars”!
Use single quotation marks (‘ ’)Punctuation marks that are always used in pairs to enclose a quotation within a quotation. to show a quotation within in a quotation.
Theresa said, “I wanted to take my dog to the festival, but the man at the gate said, ‘No dogs allowed.’”
“When you say, ‘I can’t help it,’ what exactly does that mean?”
“The instructions say, ‘Tighten the screws one at a time.’”
Use quotation marks around titles of short works of writing, such as essays, songs, poems, short stories, and chapters in books. Usually, titles of longer works, such as books, magazines, albums, newspapers, and novels, are italicized.
“Annabelle Lee” is one of my favorite romantic poems.
The New York Times has been in publication since 1851.
In many businesses, the difference between exact wording and a paraphrase is extremely important. For legal purposes, or for the purposes of doing a job correctly, it can be important to know exactly what the client, customer, or supervisor said. Sometimes, important details can be lost when instructions are paraphrased. Use quotes to indicate exact words where needed, and let your coworkers know the source of the quotation (client, customer, peer, etc.).
Copy the following sentences onto your own sheet of paper, and correct them by adding quotation marks where necessary. If the sentence does not need any quotation marks, write OK.
Yasmin said, I don’t feel like cooking. Let’s go out to eat.
Where should we go? said Russell.
Yasmin said it didn’t matter to her.
I know, said Russell, let’s go to the Two Roads Juice Bar.
Perfect! said Yasmin.
Did you know that the name of the Juice Bar is a reference to a poem? asked Russell.
I didn’t! exclaimed Yasmin. Which poem?
The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost Russell explained.
Oh! said Yasmin, Is that the one that starts with the line, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood?
That’s the one said Russell.
An apostrophe (’)A punctuation mark that is used with a noun to show possession or to indicate where a letter has been left out to form a contraction. is a punctuation mark that is used with a noun to show possession or to indicate where a letter has been left out to form a contraction.
An apostrophe and the letter s indicate who or what owns something. To show possession with a singular noun, add ’s.
Jen’s dance routine mesmerized everyone in the room.
The dog’s leash is hanging on the hook beside the door.
Jess’s sister is also coming to the party.
Notice that singular nouns that end in s still take the apostrophe s (’s) ending to show possession.
To show possession with a plural noun that ends in s, just add an apostrophe (’). If the plural noun does not end in s, add an apostrophe and an s (’s).
Plural noun that ends in s: The drummers’ sticks all moved in the same rhythm, like a machine.
Plural noun that does not end in s: The people’s votes clearly showed that no one supported the management decision.
A contractionA word that is formed by combining two words. In a contraction, an apostrophe shows where one or more letters have been left out. is a word that is formed by combining two words. In a contraction, an apostrophe shows where one or more letters have been left out. Contractions are commonly used in informal writing but not in formal writing.
I do not like ice cream.
I don’t like ice cream.
Notice how the words do and not have been combined to form the contraction don’t. The apostrophe shows where the o in not has been left out.
We will see you later.
We’ll see you later.
Look at the chart for some examples of commonly used contractions.
|it’s||it is, it has|
|she’s||she is, she has|
|there’s||there is, there has|
|who’s||who is, who has|
Be careful not to confuse it’s with its. It’s is a contraction of the words it and is. Its is a possessive pronoun.
It’s cold and rainy outside. (It is cold and rainy outside.)
The cat was chasing its tail. (Shows that the tail belongs to the cat.)
When in doubt, substitute the words it is in a sentence. If sentence still makes sense, use the contraction it’s.
On your own sheet of paper, correct the following sentences by adding apostrophes. If the sentence is correct as it is, write OK.
Parentheses ( )Punctuation marks that are used in pairs to contain information that is secondary to the meaning of a sentence. are punctuation marks that are always used in pairs and contain material that is secondary to the meaning of a sentence. Parentheses must never contain the subject or verb of a sentence. A sentence should make sense if you delete any text within parentheses and the parentheses.
Attack of the Killer Potatoes has to be the worst movie I have seen (so far).
Your spinach and garlic salad is one of the most delicious (and nutritious) foods I have ever tasted!
On your own sheet of paper, clarify the following sentences by adding parentheses. If the sentence is clear as it is, write OK.
A dash (—)A punctuation mark used to set off information in a sentence for emphasis. is a punctuation mark used to set off information in a sentence for emphasis. You can enclose text between two dashes, or use just one dash. To create a dash in Microsoft Word, type two hyphens together. Do not put a space between dashes and text.
Arrive to the interview early—but not too early.
Any of the suits—except for the purple one—should be fine to wear.
On your own sheet of paper, clarify the following sentences by adding dashes. If the sentence is clear as it is, write OK.
A hyphen (-)A punctuation mark that combines words that work together to form a single description, or it breaks a word across two lines of text. looks similar to a dash but is shorter and used in different ways.
Use a hyphen to combine words that work together to form a single description.
The fifty-five-year-old athlete was just as qualified for the marathon as his younger opponents.
My doctor recommended against taking the medication, since it can be habit-forming.
My study group focused on preparing for the midyear review.
Use a hyphen to divide a word across two lines of text. You may notice that most word-processing programs will do this for you. If you have to manually insert a hyphen, place the hyphen between two syllables. If you are unsure of where to place the hyphen, consult a dictionary or move the entire word to the next line.
My supervisor was concerned that the team meet-
ing would conflict with the client meeting.
Each sentence contains a punctuation error. On your own sheet of paper, correct each sentence by adding the correct punctuation. The headings will let you know which type of punctuation mistakes to look for. If the sentence does not need corrections, write OK.
Each sentence contains a punctuation error. On your own sheet of paper, correct each sentence by adding commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, parentheses, hyphens, and dashes as needed.
The following paragraph contains errors in punctuation. On your own sheet of paper, correct the paragraph by adding commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, parentheses, hyphens, and dashes as needed. There may be more than one way to correct the paragraph.
May 18 2011
Dear Hiring Manager
Allow me to introduce myself in my previous position I was known as the King of Sales. I hope to earn the same title within your company. My name is Frances Fortune. I have thirteen years experience in corporate sales and account management. I have been the top rated seller for two years in a row in my previous position. Clients recognize me as dependable honest and resourceful. I have a strong work ethic and great interpersonal skills. I excel at goal setting and time management. However you don’t have to take my word for it I will be happy to provide personal and professional references upon request. Youre welcome to contact my previous employer to inquire about my work performance. I look forward to speaking with you in person in the near future.
Read the following paragraph. Edit by adding apostrophes, parentheses, dashes, and hyphens where needed. There may be more than one correct way to edit some sentences. Consider how the punctuation you choose affects the meaning of the sentence.
I was a little nervous about the interview it was my first in years. I had to borrow my roommates suit, but it fit me well. A few days ago, I started to research the companys history and mission. I felt like I was well qualified for the job. When I arrived, I shook hands with the interviewer she had a strong grip! It nearly caught me off guard, but I did my best to smile and relax. I was a little distracted by all the books in the womans office she must have had a hundred books in that tiny room. However, I think my responses to her questions were good. Ill send her an e-mail to thank her for her time. Hopefully shell call me soon about the position.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Review some of the recent or current assignments you have completed for school or work. Look through recent business and personal e-mails. Does your work contain any errors in punctuation? Correct the errors and compile a list of the types of errors you are correcting (commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, quotation marks, parentheses, dashes, hyphens, etc.). Use this list as a reference for the types of punctuation marks that you should review and practice.
If you do not find many errors—great! You can still look for ways to add interest to your writing by using dashes, semicolons, colons, and parentheses to create a variety of sentence lengths and structures.