In English grammar, there are 14 different punctuation marks that I think of as the “primary” punctuation marks – the period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, parentheses, brackets, braces, ellipses, quotation marks, and apostrophes.
These are the marks that help us with sentence structure, help us clarify meaning, and distinguish between different sets of ideas.
Putting all of these into smaller groups, we can look at them like this:
The Full Stop – the period, question mark, and exclamation mark
All three of these punctuation marks indicate the end of the sentence. Periods end declarative sentences. Do I really need to explain when to use a question mark? Exclamation points should be self-explanatory!
The Pause – the comma, semicolon, and colon
The comma was rated as the punctuation mark you were most grateful for according to Grammarly back in 2012. I covered a few common mistakes people make with commas in this post “A Comment About Commas” and later in this post “Comma Drama.”
My favorite examples:
- Let’s eat Grandma!
- Cathy finds inspiration in cooking her family and her cats.
The semicolon continues to be the punctuation mark that befuddles people the most. To put it simply, semicolons separate independent clauses that are related to each other, but could stand on their own if you wanted them to.
You use colons before a list or an explanation. Look forward to a more in depth explanation on colons in a future post.
Connections and Breaks – the dash and hyphen
Dashes come in two forms: the en dash (-) and the em dash (–). En dashes are used to connect numbers or connect elements of a compound adjective (Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States from 1861-1865).
An em dash (so-called because the size of the dash is about the size of the letter M) can be used to separate clauses, introduce a phrase for added emphasis, or what I’m most guilty of – indicate a break in thought or sentence structure.
Hyphens create compound words, particularly modifiers (“She was a well-known cook.”). Hyphens are also used in prefixes (“I wonder if they had any kind of pre-nuptial agreement?”).
Next week, we’ll conclude with a quick overview of brackets, parentheses, braces, ellipses, quotation marks, and apostrophes.
Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this post originally appeared on PR Newswire’s Beyond PR blog. Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire and has never been inspired to cook her family or her cats.