Commonly Used and Misused Punctuation Marks

Comma (,)

  1. Use commas to separate items in a series.
    Example: Our itinerary included Rome, London, and Madrid.
  2. 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.
  3. Use commas to set off nonessential clauses and phrases.
    Example: My father, who started this company, really knows his stuff.
  4. Use a comma after introductory elements.
    Examples: Well, how do you do?
    Before you leave, turn off the lights.
  5. 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.
  6. 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
    Dear Shirley,
    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.

Apostrophe (')

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Use an apostrophe to show where letters have been omitted in a contraction.
    Examples: can't = can not; it's = it is.

Semicolon (;)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Colon (:)

  1. Use a colon to mean "note what follows."
    Example: When you go to training, take these items: paper, pencil, and an alert mind.
  2. Use a colon before a long, formal statement or quotation.
    Example: We remember Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: Four score and seven years ago....

Hyphen (-)

  1. 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.
  2. Hyphenate a compound adjective when it precedes the word it modifies.
    Examples: fast-moving train, long-distance runner.

Dash (--)

  1. 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.
  2. 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 ("")

  1. Put periods and commas inside quotes.
  2. Put colons and semicolons outside quotes.
  3. Vary placement of exclamation and question marks according to meaning.