Punctuation is the name given to characters in text that aren't numbers or letters. Punctuation tells us where a sentence begins and ends and where the pauses in it are; it delineates clauses and shows where to place emphasis. From this it can be seen that punctuation is extremely useful, and is something all writers ought to know how to use. Most badficcers have a problem with it, it appears.

Incorrect or nonexistent punctuation is a charge. However, it is not enough to warrant assassination or exorcism in and of itself (unless you're in the Department of Technical Errors). Charging for using or not using the Oxford Comma is considered slightly spurious.

Punctuation's best friends are spelling, capitalization, and grammar. Use all of them for best results, and to get the six extra marks on your English GCSE.

Common Punctuation Marks Edit

Full stop: .
Also known as a period. This denotes the end of a sentence.
Comma: ,
Denotes the beginning of a new clause in a sentence.
In dialogue only, it may indicate a pause.
Colon: :
Used to introduce a list or an example.
Semicolon: ;
Joins two separate but related ideas in a sentence. Use sparingly.
Apostrophe: '
Used to denote a contraction or a possessive.
Exclamation mark: !
Shows excitement or anger or similar emotions.
Should not be used to convey volume.
Question mark: ?
Denotes that the sentence is a question.
Quotation marks: ' ' " "
Set dialogue apart from narration or indicate a direct quotation. May also indicate an ironic usage of a word or phrase.
Single quotes are preferred in British usage, double quotes in American.
In dialogue, the last bit of punctuation (there should at least be a comma) should ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks, British or American.
Brackets (or parentheses): ( )
An aside or a separate clause should be put inside brackets. Different sets of brackets can be nested within each other.
Square brackets: [ ]
Curly brackets: { }

On Semicolons Edit

The semicolon is probably the most difficult punctuation mark to use correctly. Writers who have just discovered it tend to over-use it, usually putting it in places where a comma or an entirely new sentence would be better. Even writers who ought to know better sometimes mistakenly use it in the place of a colon, since the two are very similar in function. To help avoid these things, here are a few tips:

DON'T use a semicolon if:

  • you're not one hundred percent sure of it. When in doubt, just leave it alone.
  • a comma makes just as much sense in the sentence. The comma is probably the safer choice.
  • a period and a new sentence makes just as much sense. As above, a new sentence is probably the safer choice.
  • you're indicating an example or the start of a list. For these, you definitely want a colon.

DO use a semicolon if:

  • you have a long list in which the list items contain commas. Charge lists, for example. Use semicolons to separate each list item.
  • no conjunction (e.g. and, but, because, therefore) is present and a comma would be wrong. To borrow Lynne Truss' example: "I loved Opal Fruits; they are now called Starburst, of course" (Eats, Shoots & Leaves). You could of course have two different sentences here, but the semicolon nicely indicates that the two thoughts are connected.

Punctuation Help Edit

Guide to Punctuation by Larry Trask, former Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex.

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