Grammar Hammer: Punctuation Saves Lives, Part II


Part one of our “Punctuation Saves Lives” series covered the heavy hitters of periods, commas, question marks, exclamation points, colons, semicolons, dashes and hyphens. Part two wraps up with brackets, parentheses, braces, ellipses, quotation marks and apostrophes.



Groups – brackets, parentheses, and braces

Use parentheses ( ) to contain additional thoughts or qualifying remarks (I consider these to be my “verbal asides”).

Brackets [ ] are most often seen in technical notations or explanations.


  • “Dogs are better than [sic] cats,” said Shannon.   
  • Eva took [her colleague] Caitlin out to lunch.

Braces { } are used to contain two or more lines of text to show they are part of a unit. You don’t often see braces in writing, but you will see them used in computer programming.

And finally, ones that aren’t related to each other at all – ellipses, quotation marks, and apostrophes

Ellipses ( … ) are used to indicate an omission of unnecessary words.

Quotation marks ( ” ” ) are used in pairs and mark the beginning and end of a quotation. They can also be used to indicate a “dubious” status of a word. A single quotation mark pair ( ‘  ‘ ) is to be used for quotes within a quote.

Apostrophes ( ‘ ) indicate possession (“That toy is Pip’s favorite.”) or the omission of some letters from a word (“Austin Powers is also known as the int’l man of mystery”).

Almost all of the source material I read in preparation for this series consistently state that there are 14 different punctuation marks. Where does that leave the simple underscore (_) or the various directions of the slash ( / or \ )? Are they relegated to web code and email addresses? What are your thoughts?

Have a grammar rule you’d like us to explore? Drop the team a line at [email protected].

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Author Catherine Spicer is the former manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

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