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English Grammar


Punctuation Marks


1. Apostrophe: indicates possession when added to a noun. An apotrophe also indicates that one or more letters have been left out in a contraction.

—Philippa Foot’s mid-century philosophy is influential in certain academic corners.

—I don’t speak French.


2. Brackets: indicate words, punctuation, and formatting inserted into a quote but not present in the original source.

—“Fourscore and seven [eighty-seven] years ago. . .”


3. Colon: introduces a list, summary, or important conclusion. A colon must follow an independent clause and may not come between a verb and its object.

—Incorrect: John gave his mother: a quilt, a book, and a bouquet of lilies.

—Correct: John gave his mother three things: a quilt, a book, and a bouquet of lilies.


4. Comma: indicates slight pauses in reading, and differentiates sentence parts. Commas are used in the following situations.

Before a coordinating conjunction that connects two independent clauses

—I thought it would rain, and it did.

After an introductory phrase

—After the rainfall, the sun came out.

To separate items in a series

­—I like rock, pop, jazz, blues, country, and hip-hop.

To set off a parenthetical or nonrestrictive phrase

—Amateur salsa dancers, many of whom have little familiarity with traditional Spanish music, often mistake very different dances such as the mambo and the samba.

Between the day and year of a date

—On August 8, 1976, the world of music changed forever.

To set off quotations that occur within a sentence

—Sarah said, “I love you,” and she meant it.

—“It always happens this way,” he replied, “and I never know what to say.”

To subdivide numbers into groups of three digits



To indicate direct address

—”Greg, give me the remote control.”

To separate noncumulative adjectives

—The hot, humid, nasty day made Alison irritable.

To indicate omissions of verbs in parallel clauses:

—Jenny likes the Mets; Pedro, the Angels; and Frank, the Marlins.


5. Dash: sets off a parenthetical phrase or points attention to a summary conclusion.

—The new fabric—introduced at the fashion show two years ago—has become extremely popular.

—Her lips, her eyes, her taste in poetry—they all were perfect.


6. Ellipsis: three periods separated by two spaces that indicate omissions in quoted material.

—“And so, my fellow Americans, . . . ask what you can do for your country.”


7. Exclamation mark: ends declarative and imperative sentences with a sense of excitement or urgency.

—Get out of here!


8. Hyphen: joins linked words together, especially if they are being used together as an adjective.

—That kind of devil-may-care attitude will get you nowhere.


9. Parentheses: set off a loosely related phrase.

—His idea (formed during long hours of driving in heavy traffic) was to begin riding the train.


10. Period: ends sentences that are not questions.

—It was a cloudy day.


11. Question mark: ends sentences that are questions; indicates a query.

—Was the house haunted?


12. Quotation marks: serve several purposes. They can:

represent text as speech:

—“I would have been great,” he insisted.

indicate material excerpted from another writer’s work:

—Not every love affair is “star-cross’d.”

indicate titles of poems and short stories:

—Shelley’s “Ode to a Skylark” is an extended meditation on spontaneous artistic creation.

Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. Question marks, exclamation marks, semicolons, colons, and dashes go outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quotation.


13. Semicolon: used to join independent clauses by taking the place of a conjunction. Semicolons are also used to separate items in series that contain commas within single-item descriptions.

—Betsy liked to sew; it was her passion.

—He had an old, unraveling sweater; a newer sweater; and a faded, torn pair of jeans.


14. Slash: used to indicate multiple possibilities:

—Speak to the senator and/or the president.


15. Solidus: same symbol as the slash; indicates line breaks in quotations of multiple lines of poetry

—“Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, / And so live ever, or else swoon to death.”