The 7 Critical Types of Punctuation Marks: Basics of Grammar in English, Part 2

This is an addition to part 1. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so as well.

notebook with large red Punctuation mark

It is estimated that less than 10% of Americans write and punctuate Grammar in English correctly. Given that number, is it any surprise that more than 30 million people use Grammarly’s AI services to fix their writing. The problem with this is that, first it will erase your own writing voice with the AI’s, making your writing not sound like you. Second, it can get expensive, up to $150 per year for a bot’s services! It can be a lot cheaper and make your writing more personal to edit your righting yourself or get an editor that keeps your unique writing voice to do it for you.

What is Punctuation

Punctuation is the method of using spaces, written conventional symbols, and other written devices to clarify information and aid understanding between the user and the reader. The main way that punctuation is used is to direct the readers on how to read the sentence. Writers are not behind the reader’s shoulder to explain their logic or sentence structure, so they use punctuation to direct the reader to read their writing the way the writer meant it. This is critical for technical writers.

1. Periods, Exclamation marks, Question marks, and Ellipses

Periods, exclamation marks, and question marks are all ways to end a sentence. A period is the most common way while exclamation marks show emotion when they end a sentence and question marks show a sense of confusion and make a sentence a question when they end a sentence.  When used with an interjection, exclamation marks and question marks show emotion at the start of a sentence.

Periods can also be used for contractions or abbreviations of words or numbers like ‘etc.’ and ‘1.5’. Periods are also used at the end of common American titles like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Lastly, periods are found after initials and numbers or letters on lists or outlines.

Ellipses are used to show that letters or words have been omitted from a sentence. This can be due to removing redundant information or when using a quote and only needing part of the full quote. Beware that misuse of ellipses will lead to misinformation, so use them ethically!

2. Commas and Apostrophes

Commas vs. Apostrophes

Commas and apostrophes look nearly identical, depending on the font chosen or handwriting of the writer. The main way to tell which is which is that commas are found at the bottom of words while Apostrophes are found at the top of them.


A comma is used to separate words, phrases, and clauses in lists. They are also used to suggest pauses within a sentence like between an independent clause and a dependent clause or a phrase. Commas are also used to combine independent clauses (full sentences) when combined with a conjunction. 

The oxford comma is the comma used at the end of a list of three or more items before the conjunction: lions, tigers, and bears. Some people use the oxford comma, and some people don’t use it. Some writing styles and fields require one or the other, so check if the oxford comma is used in your field and style. Personally, I find using it is less confusing in some cases- ‘My favorite flavors are vanilla, strawberry, and mint’ rather than ‘My favorite flavors are vanilla, strawberry and mint’.

Other uses of commas include:

  • Separation of dates from years: July 4, 2011
  • Ending a quotation: “Hey,” he said.
  • Setting off appositives or nonrestrictive clauses and phrases
  • Setting off words, phrases, or clauses for contrast
  • When not using a comma would result in reader confusion

Commas are also used in different ways in other fields like math or music, so double check the rules for the field and the kind of document you are writing.


An Apostrophe is used to show possession – Mom’s dress – or can shorten and combine a phrase with contractions like ‘can not’ to ‘can’t’. It can be used to show the omission of numbers, words, or letters – like ‘84 or o’clock – when the other numbers, words, or letters are common knowledge or not commonly used anymore.

Apostrophes are used for possessive nouns, not pronouns, so ‘its’ when used possessively does not have an apostrophe. When a possessive noun already ends in ‘s’ (both plural or singular), like Moses, the apostrophe is placed after the existing ‘s’ and no extra ‘s’ is added. Apostrophes rules also include:

  • Use when there is a plural of a number or figure – four five’s make a book in go fish.
  • Can be used when talking about multiple people with the same name – the two Anne’s went down.
  • Used without an ‘s’ when the noun is a classical or religious – Hercules’ strength.
  • When two or more people, either use multiple apostrophes or just one at the end.

3. Colons

A colon is a punctuation mark that has two dots, one on top of the other. A semicolon is a type of colon, but this article will be talking about them separately.

Writer Writing in notebook in front of laptop

A colon is used to expand on or introduce a new topic or information. It also can introduce a list of items, phrases, or clauses. For example, ‘his favorite animals are large cats: lions, tigers, and leopards’. It can also be used to combine independent clauses when they are related to each other. E.g. The tap was leaking: we called a plumber.

4. Semicolons

A semicolon is a punctuation mark that is a dot over a comma. They are used to combine independent clauses usually without a conjunction. There can be a conjunction after a semicolon; although, it is not often used.

5. Parentheses and Brackets

Parentheses are punctuation marks that take the form of two curved lines around a word or a group of words. Parentheses are used to expand on a topic or idea (or sometimes used for quick quotations). 

Brackets take the form of two halves of a square with word(s) in between them. Within a sentence, brackets are used to add technical information or other information that the writer or editor thinks that the reader needs to understand concepts presented. E.g. He stood 800 km [about 497 miles] above sea level.

6. Quotation Marks

These marks show up as two diagonal short dashes at the top of words. Quotation marks are used to show that the writer is using and/or repeating another person’s words. In stories, they can show what is exactly said by a person or character rather than a summation of the words. E.g. “Stupidity is a talent for misconception.” said Edgar Allen Poe.

When broken up, multiple sets of quotation marks are used: “Wow!,” she cried, “That’s expensive!” Make sure that all quotation marks are within the quotation marks, including the comma that shows the separation of the quotations and the authors words. Also, when separating a quote, only capitalized the first part unless it is an interjection as used above. When making a quotation within a quotation, use single marks (apostrophes) to denote the quoted quotation.

7. Dashes and Hyphens

Em dashes

An em dash is a line that is the width of a ‘m’. This dash is placed where information interrupts a sentence — an appositive or dependent clause for instance. It can take the place of commas, parenthesis, colons, and semicolons. It can be used to:

  • Mark less important words
  • Create emphasis of more important words
  • Indicate changes of topic

En dashes

An en dash is a line that is the width of a ‘n’ and is half the size of an em dash. It is used to show ranges of numbers, time, distance, etc. and is used for sports scores: The teals lost 3-1.


A hyphen is shorter than an en dash, and is used to:

  • Hyphenate words: deep-fried
  • Link prefixes to root words: trans-Atlantic
  • Write out numbers: Thirty-Three
  •  Indicate word breaks: twelfth-century


Punctuation is the method of using spaces, written conventional symbols, and other written devices to clarify information and aid understanding between the user and the reader. The main forms of punctuation in English Grammar are periods, exclamation marks, question marks, and ellipses; commas and apostrophes; colons; semicolons; parentheses and brackets; quotation marks; and dashes and hyphens.

Around 400 million people speak English as a mother tongue, and an additional 700 million speak English as a foreign language, according to EnglishLanguageGuide. Make sure those people can understand your writing, or why write at all?

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