Punctuation Marks: All You Ever Wanted to Know About Them!

There are three principles which can lead you to success in writing — style, meaning, and grammar. Clarity and precision are things that always impress those who read and evaluate your texts, and demonstrate your educational and personal qualities. Grammar and punctuation are vital not only for your academic success, but also when you text a date you want to impress, correspond for a job interview, chat with your colleagues, and so on.

There are 14 punctuation marks used in English grammar. You probably know most of them, but it does not hurt to repeat them. They are the period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, hyphen, parentheses, brackets, braces, apostrophe, quotation marks, and ellipsis. If you use them correctly, your writing will be much easier and appealing to read.

Of course, there are certain differences between punctuation in British and American English. They are not major, but they are still important. For example, in American English, such popular abbreviations like Mr., Ms., and Mrs. have periods. In British however, no periods are used. When writing the time, British English employs periods—where noon would be 12.00. In the same case, the American system uses colons (12:00). The names of the punctuation marks can also be different. Look at the table before we move on to find out how to use them.

  British English American English
The ” . ” symbol is called a full stop a period
The ” ! ” symbol is called an exclamation mark an exclamation point
The ” ( ) ” symbols are called brackets parentheses
The ” [ ] ” symbols are called square brackets brackets
The position of quotation marks Joy means “happiness”. Joy means “happiness.”
The punctuation for abbreviations Dr, Mr, Mrs, St, Rd, Ct Dr., Mr., Mrs., St., Rd., Ct.

Sentence Endings: The Period, Question Mark and Exclamation Point

Let’s begin with sentence endings. Sentences are an integral part of any text or message. You can end a sentence with the period, question mark, or exclamation point. The period (.) is usually used to end simple declarative sentences. In most cases, they complete statements that do not carry any special emotional meaning and do not infer a question.

Mary and Tom got married in 2020.
He loves playing baseball.

A question mark (?) usually indicates a direct question and is also placed at the end of a sentence.

When did Mary and Tom marry?
Does he love playing baseball?

The exclamation point (!) is used to showcase an emotion or to add special emphasis.

Wow, Mary and Tom are getting married!
He loves playing baseball so much!

Comma, Semicolon, and Colon

Inside a sentence, there are also plenty of punctuation marks to be used. The most common ones are the comma, semicolon, and colon. They all indicate a pause in the sentence, so they are often misused among each other. Here is how to know when to use each of the symbols:

The comma is used to separate logical parts of a sentence. It includes ideas or elements that are inside the structure of a sentence. A comma can also be used to separate repetitive parts of a sentence, such as numbers, dates, or objects that are similar to each other. A comma is also used after a greeting and the end of a letter, before and after mentioning someone’s name.


To separate logical parts of a sentence: When he came home, the sun was shining.
To separate repetitive parts: I love movies such as “Pretty Woman”, “When Harry met Sally”, and “You’ve got mail”.
To indicate a salutation: Thanks for all your help, Mark.

The semicolon (;) is usually used when connecting independent clauses. How will you know when to use commas or semicolons? A semicolon connects extra independent parts of a sentence. If you put a period between them, the sentence will still work. This will not be the case with a comma, where clauses depend on each other.

Sylvia was happy; she knew that he would fall in love with her pretty soon.
As you can see, these two sentences can be easily separated.

A colon (:) can be used in three cases.

  1. When you introduce a quotation, an explanation, an example, or a series.

It was up to her to take the following actions: graduate, find a job, and become a partner at her law firm.

  1. You can put a colon between independent clauses. It’s like the case with a semicolon, but here the second part of the sentence explains the first.

I didn’t want to go to Brazil: I already had plans to go to Italy with my husband.

  1. The colon can also be used for emphasis when you want to single out one particular part of your sentence:

She was sure of one thing: her friends.

Time, ratio, business correspondence and references — these are other cases where a colon can be used.

Dash and Hyphen

The dash and hyphen are also quite common punctuation marks. Although they look similar, they are very different.

A dash is used to separate words into statements, and also to indicate range or connections.

She said explicitly — Yes!

A hyphen is used to join two or more words together into a single concept. This way we get a compound term.

She is a well-known doctor working part-time.
I went on a Rome-Paris flight.

Brackets, Braces, and Parentheses

Symbols like brackets, braces, and parentheses are used to include words that are a further explanation of the following part of a sentence or are considered a group. Brackets ([ ]) are notations which are mostly used for technical explanations, or to clarify meaning. The important part about brackets is that if you remove the information in the brackets, the sentence will still make sense.

He [John] was the first one to graduate in the family.

Braces ({ }) look similar but they are mostly used in Math and computer programming to show units.


Parentheses ( ( ) ) are curved notations which are used to showcase thoughts or qualifying remarks. An important point about parentheses is that they can be replaced by commas without changing the meaning—in most cases.

Mary Stuart (whose maiden name was Lockhart) went to buy a bottle of milk.

Apostrophe and Ellipsis

The final and less used three punctuation forms are the apostrophe, quotation marks, and ellipsis. An apostrophe (‘) is mostly used when: there is an omission of a letter or letters from a word, in the possessive case, or for plurals of lowercase letters.


Omission of letters:
 I’ve wanted to do it for a long time.
Possessive case: Kate’s dog is a Golden retriever.
Plural for lowercase letters: There are 3 p’s in the word “hippopotamus”.

The ellipsis includes three periods (…) and is used in writing or printing to indicate an omission or pause in the thoughts of the writer. Ellipses are also useful for omitting unnecessary words that do not interfere with the meaning of the overall sentence.

I do not know about that…
She was counting — one, two, three…

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks (” “) are primarily used to quote the words of another person.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she said.

There are several instances in which you can use quotation marks. You can use them with direct quotes to quote someone’s message, with titles of certain works, to show other meanings from what was said literally, and to write words as words.

Quotation marks are usually used for a direct quote. When you change the sentence into the indirect quote, the quotation marks become unnecessary.


Direct quote: “I like the snow,” said Alice.
Indirect quote: Alice said that she liked the snow.

So the important rule to remember is: “Quotation marks are used only with direct quotes”. You can quote not only a person, but also a written source.

There are two forms of direct quotations: run-in and block quotations. What are they and what is their difference? Run-in quotations are usually shorter. Their format is the same as the surrounding text. Block quotes are longer quotes that are separated from the surrounding text. Block quotations can even appear as a separate paragraph (or a series of paragraphs). They can also have a different font, a change in the line spacing, or have a wider margin.

The Father said, “Prospects for growth are really good.”
In “American History,” the writer supposes,
From the revolutionary war… (3)

So, the main rules about quotation marks are that if you open them, you need to close them as well. Where the quote starts and where it ends should be clear. Sometimes, the text inside quotation marks is capitalized, in other cases, it’s not. So if you’re quoting a complete sentence, you should start the quote with a capital letter. This is the case even if you start the sentence, not the quote itself.

She used the following phrase: “My life is a miracle.”

But, if you’re quoting a phrase or part of a sentence, you don’t have to start with a capital letter:

She considered them “rich and successful, like Hollywood stars.”

There are also single quotation marks. They look like this – ‘good day’ – and can be used instead of parentheses for translations.

Her ‘good day’ was Bonjourno in reality.
He considers the word “Stars” lucky for his company.

There are also differences in formatting quotations in America and British style. Please, see the main differences for yourself.

Style issue American Style British Style
To enclose a quotation, use… Double quotation marks Single quotation marks
To enclose a quotation within a quotation, use… Single quotation marks Double quotation marks
Place periods and commas… Inside quotation marks Outside quotation marks
Place other punctuation (colons, semi-colons, question marks, etc.)… Outside quotation marks* Outside quotation marks*

*Place other punctuation inside quotation marks when that punctuation is part of what is being quoted, such as a quoted question.

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