Commonly Used and Misused Punctuation Marks
- Use commas to separate items in a series.
Example: Our itinerary included Rome, London, and Madrid.
- Use a comma before and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet, when they join independent clauses (unless the clauses are short).
Example: The story gets off to a slow start, but it gets exciting toward the end.
- Use commas to set off nonessential clauses and phrases.
Example: My father, who started this company, really knows his stuff.
- Use a comma after introductory elements.
Examples: Well, how do you do?
Before you leave, turn off the lights.
- Use commas to set off an expression that interrupts a sentence.
Examples: The article in The Herald, our local paper, is about writing skills. Cabs in New York, I'm certain, obey the speed limit.
- Use a comma in certain conventional situations (to separate items in dates and addresses, after the salutation and closing of a letter, and after a name followed by a title).
Examples: January 1, 1992
New York, NY
Albert Schweitzer, Ph.D.
Don't use unnecessary commas. Use them sparingly and only to clarify issues. Commas in the wrong places can be confusing.
- To form the possessive case of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an s.
Examples: Bob's car; One's home.
If the addition of an "s" produces an awkward sound, add only the apostrophe. Usually this is when there is already a double "s" sound.
Examples: Moses'; for old times' sake; for goodness' sake.
- To form the possessive case of a plural noun, add an apostrophe after the s.
Example: girls' teams.
If the plural form of the word does not end in s, add an apostrophe and an s.
Example: women's team.
- Use an apostrophe to show where letters have been omitted in a contraction.
Examples: can't = can not; it's = it is.
- Use a semicolon between independent clauses not joined by and, but, nor, for, yet, and so.
Example: Read what you've written; don't just pass it on.
- Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by such words as for example, besides, nevertheless, etc.
Example: I think he's right; however, it's difficult to know.
- Use a semicolon between items in a series if the items contain commas.
Example: Winners in the competition were Bill, first place; Amy, second place; and Jeff, third place.
- Use a colon to mean "note what follows."
Example: When you go to training, take these items: paper, pencil, and an alert mind.
- Use a colon before a long, formal statement or quotation.
Example: We remember Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: Four score and seven years ago....
- Use a hyphen to divide a word at the end of a line.
Example: If you are not sure where to hyphen-
ate a word, look it up in the dictionary.
- Hyphenate a compound adjective when it precedes the word it modifies.
Examples: fast-moving train, long-distance runner.
- Use a dash to indicate an abrupt break in thought.
Example: The truth is--and you probably know it--we can't do without you.
- Use a dash to mean namely, in other words, or that is before an explanation.
Example: It was a close call--if he had been in a worse mood, I don't think I'd still be here.
Quotation Marks ("")
- Put periods and commas inside quotes.
- Put colons and semicolons outside quotes.
- Vary placement of exclamation and question marks according to meaning.