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English grammar punctuation guide
Punctuation includes various signs and symbols to make reading clearer. It shows readers what the particular sentence is stating and how readers should read that sentence.
You can say that sentences are the building blocks that we use in our writing. Sentences are statements, and punctuation makes them clear and meaningful.
Generally, every sentence starts with a capital alphabet and a period, question mark, or exclamation mark at the end of the sentence. It is the basic system that reflects that a sentence is thorough.
A sentence contains a subject and a verb to express a situation, condition, or thought in simple words. Sentences can be short or long while some are simple, and some sentences are complex. The basic sentence structure contains:
A subject + verb + thought = complete sentence
Technically speaking, a sentence is complete with just the subject and verb. For instance, the following sentences represent complete sentences.
Of course, by adding more descriptions, they become more complete thoughts.
The period, or Full stop or dot
The period also known as a “full stop” in the British variant, is the easiest punctuation mark in grammar. You use it to split the sentences. You will mostly see a full stop at the end of the sentences or the end of a thought. However, a sentence that is the question will not include a full stop at the end.
- Washington is the capital of America.
- He was born in Japan and now lives in China.
- The Dalai Lama is the leader of the Chinese people.
Represents an abbreviation
You will find a full stop or period in many abbreviations. However, you will not find a period in some abbreviations such as Dr., Mr., Mrs., and Ms. this mostly happens in British English. Similarly, the period will not be part of the abbreviations starting from the capital letters—for example, MA, Ph.D., or CIA.
Though, in American English, some of these abbreviations require periods. So, usage of period differs from variant to variant. When writing a piece of content, follow a single variant and don’t mix things.
- Our flight will arrive between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.
- They are coming on Sat., Mar. 6.
Ellipsis are three dots in a sentence. Often you will see them at the end of a sentence. These three dots state that only part or text of a particular sentence has been quoted, or the writer has left it to the audience to finish the sentence.
In the final game, my team scored six home runs, the other team, only three…
Full stop after a single word
Sometimes a sentence contains only one word, nothing else. In such sentences, you can use a full stop at the end of that sentence like you would use in a normal sentence. It usually happens when the subject is understood, like in any greeting or any command.
You should follow some principles when using the comma in a sentence. In English grammar, you can use a comma in many ways. The comma is mostly used to clear the meaning of a sentence. At the same time, you can also use a comma to emphasize any point or meaning.
A comma is also used to add ‘breathing spaces’ to any sentence. These are the most precise way to organize the structure of thought.
Using Commas to distinct words, or clauses
When preparing a list, commas are the perfect way to distinguish a list item from another item on the list. However, a comma is not used to separate the last two items of the list. The last items are usually alienated through “and” or “or.”
Commas in a series of sentences
- We met Albert, and we went for a swim, and then Albert went to school.
- I like your daughter, I might even love her, but she is not a very good piano player.
- For lunch, I had chicken soup, beef, chicken, cake, and juice.
- This evening I went to Magic Circus, Piccadilly, Hampstead, and Gatwick Airport.
The comma in a series of adjectives
You will also see a comma in a list of adjectives. Though, if an adjective is changing another adjective, there is no need to use the comma.
He was young, energetic, kind, and brainy.
The house you visited was shady, lifeless, and run-down.
He was wearing a lively yellow shirt.
The comma in a series of verbs
Chris ran towards me, fell, shouted, and collapsed.
The girls jumped, turned, twisted, and dove into the swimming pool.
The comma in a series of phrases
The truck smashed into the wall, turn over, slid along the highway, and finally stopped against a bush.
The cat jumped into the air, grab the Frisbee, landed, and ran off quickly.
The comma in enclosing details
A comma is also used to enclose clauses and other details. You can place the comma on any side of the sentence.
India, one of the most dominant nations in the world, has a massive population.
Tony’s grandmother, who was born in 1880, lived through the First World War.
Dogs, unlike cats, do not respect their owners.
My friend, Rose, likes to go diving.
The comma in Participial phrases
Hearing that his mother was in the hospital, Albert left work straight away.
Walking to the taxi stand that morning, Jerry knew it would be a special day.
Comma to tag questions
He lives in London, doesn’t he?
We haven’t met, have we?
Comma in Interjections
Yes, he will stay a bit longer, see you.
No, she isn’t like other school girls.
Stop, we didn’t mean to scare you.
Last words about comma
Use comma carefully as it can change the entire structure of a sentence or its actual meaning. Similarly, using a comma correctly is a responsibility of a writer, not a reader’s.
Perhaps it is one of the rarest punctuation in English grammar, and you can write for your whole life without using the semi-colon. The semi-colon “;” is a dot sitting above a comma. It reflects a pause in an ongoing sentence.
You can use a semi-colon between two separate sentences. Keep in mind that colon and semi-colon are two different punctuation types. So, don’t mix them both while writing. For example:
My sister is an insurance salesperson; we have comprehensive coverage.
You can also use a semi-colon as a “super comma” to make the sentence clearer, which already has multiple commas in it. Check this example:
I enjoy farming, my hobby, riding, my passion, and reading, my job.
The colors we can pick are yellow, red, and brown; blue, white, and pink; or golden, silver, and orange.
The semi-colon is not commonly used punctuation in English grammar. Instead, you will find a comma or a full stop in its place more often. So, while writing, try to limit the use of semi-colons unless and until you have a strong reason to do so, and be careful when using them in a sentence.
You will mostly find colon an independent sentence to divert a person’s attention to something that comes after the sentence. It can be anything, such as a quote, an event, an example, or any explanation. For example:
The college has a new dean: Anthony Robert.
The Ferrari comes in four bright colors: green, red, yellow, or black.
Adolf Hitler said it best: “When you are in doubt, tell the truth.”
However, you should not use a colon if the introductory clause relies on any other word or condition. Check the example below:
The Toyota comes in green, blue, yellow, and black.
An apostrophe is also from the family of a comma. Like a semi-colon, it is also a floating comma:’
You can use Apostrophes in two ways:
You can use it with a noun to show ownership: Robert’s cat, the neighbor’s plot sale.
You can use it in a contraction to show where something is (sometimes it can be a number as well): didn’t, the ’90s.
However, the main thing is to know where and how to use an apostrophe and when to use it in a sentence. Correct use of the apostrophe is vital because a mistake can change the meaning of a sentence. For example:
Jim refers to something Jim has.
Jim refers to more than one individual named Jim.
Jim refers to multiple persons named Jim, and they both have something.
Apostrophes to show Possessives
To possess something means to own it. Terms that state possessions are “possessives.” You can also use apostrophes to indicate possession.
To understand where to place the apostrophe and whether you should add it or not, ask yourself the following questions: “What or who does the possessing?”
If your answer ends with any alphabet other than the “s,” you can add an apostrophe along with “s.”
The kid’s toys, the uncle’s visit.
Similarly, if your answer ends with a word that contains “s” in the end, you should add an apostrophe after the alphabet “s.”
Three birds fly, the girls’ chocolate.
Rarely, a term that ends with “s” requires another sound to make the structure clear.
For example, Texas’s drink, the dress’s stitching, and my boss’s guidelines.
Try to speak the word loudly. If it requires another sound, you can easily notice it. Then add the apostrophe and “s.”
Some pronouns such as yours, ours, ours, their, theirs, his, her, hers, it’s, and whose don’t need apostrophes as they are already possessive.
Apostrophe in Contractions
Contract means reduction. In contractions, two words are reduced into one by eradicating the alphabets and squeezing the terms together. You can add an apostrophe to a place where you removed the alphabets.
Is not (A full form) → isn’t (A contractions, and apostrophe goes in the place of “o”)
You have (A full form) → you’ve (A contraction, and apostrophe goes in the place of “ha”)
However, you will find contractions common in English grammar, but these are not suitable for academic and business writing. Hence you should avoid them as much as possible.
In English grammar, you will find three types of punctuation at the end of the sentences. These punctuations are:
- Periods or Full stop
- Question marks
- Exclamation points
As stated earlier in this read, a period or full stop comes mostly at the end of a sentence. You will find most sentences end with a period.
Heavy rain causes a delay in M-5. (It is a statement)
Change your route to avoid traffic jams. (It is a mild command)
You can also use a dot after an abbreviation.
Jan. (for January)
- (for feet)
Ave. (for Avenue)
Ch. (for chapter)
Keep in mind that abbreviation is different from the acronym. Instead, an abbreviation is a short term of any phrase such as “ft.” for “feet.” On the other hand, an acronym is an entirely new phrase or word formed using the initials of a much longer word such as “NATO” for the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” or “FAQ” for “Frequently Asked Questions.” Similarly, you will find a period at the end of abbreviations, not at the end of acronyms.
The Question Mark?
Another commonly used as end punctuation is a question mark. You will see this end punctuation when the sentence is a direct question, not when the sentence includes indirect questions.
Has online registration begun? (It is a direct question)
We wonder if registration has begun. (It is an indirect question)
The Exclamation Marks!
Another end punctuation in English grammar is the Exclamation mark. You will find these marks after an expression in a sentence. Usually, such sentences convey strong emotions. Mostly you will find exclamation marks in college writings.
I don’t want to work here!
OH! That hurts!
Final Words about End Punctuations
When using the end punctuation, remember when and how to use them. These days many people use SMS or text messages, so they don’t know or forget how to use end punctuations. Mostly this happens when you are writing something formal like in a school or at a workplace.
Hyphens and dashes
Another commonly used punctuation in English grammar is the hyphen and dashes. The hyphen joins multiple phrases, whereas a dash separates phrases into parenthetical sentences. Many people think that these two are the same. It is not true. Both these punctuations look similar, but their uses are entirely different from each other. Let’s discuss both these in detail below:
As stated above, hyphens join multiple words, or you will see it as a part of words used to avoid confusion or vagueness. We will advise you to seek help from your preferred dictionary when you cannot use a hyphen.
Some Examples of Hyphens
You might come across certain situations where hyphens reserve clarity, such as when there is a chance of collision among the letters or where a prefix is added. Sometimes, you will see a hyphen in family relations.
In a few cases, a hyphen can also change the entire meaning of a phrase.
We are thinking of re-covering our sofa (= to use a new cover on sofa set)
We would like to recover our sofa set. (= from any other person who has stolen it)
Use of Hyphens in numbers
You will also find hyphen with compound numbers. For example:
You can also place hyphens in fractions between the numerator and denominator. See the example below:
Using a hyphen with a number forms an adjectival compound. Check the example below:
Australia has a 40-hour working week.
She won the 200-meter race.
William Shakespeare was a great nineteenth-century writer.
Dashes look like a hyphen, but usage is completely different. Dashes add parenthetical statements or comments. In such cases, dashes work like brackets. Moreover, dashes are less formal than the other English grammar punctuations. Usually, writers use dashes to emphasize a particular point in a sentence.
You may think he is a thief – he isn’t.
He might come to the dance party – you never know.
Brackets and parentheses
Another punctuation used in English grammar is a bracket and parentheses. Like some other grammar punctuations, both these look the same, but usage is entirely different. It can be confusing for beginners to figure out when to use a bracket and when to use parentheses.
The term “Bracket” refers to a square-shaped bracket [ ] in English grammar, whereas “parentheses” points to round brackets ( ). However, both these brackets types are commonly known as ’round brackets’ or ‘square brackets.’
Square shaped brackets represent special purposes or technical terms. Conversely, Round brackets work like commas, and you can use them to give further explanation or comment according to the central thought. However, there is an ongoing debate among grammarians. Some think that people can use parentheses in place of commas in all cases.
The college’s education report (June 2005) reflects that the literacy rate is rising in nearby areas.
I visited Paris (which was full of travelers) on my way to Germany for a football match.
English grammar includes many rules and punctuation that you cannot remember in a few days or weeks. And to some extent, we can say that no one remembers these rules and punctuations, even professional writers editors. So, if you want to master the art, practice is a key, and don’t hesitate to seek help from other resources when you need it.
We hope that this English Punctuation guide will help you understand the basic concept of grammar, and you will find it helpful.