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Using Punctuation

Using various punctuation marks is very important when writing because with them, reading would be very difficult. There are only a few punctuation marks that are commonly used, and we're going to describe them, when to use them, and why. Let's get started:

Jump To: Commas | Periods | Semi Colons | Colons | Apostrophes | Question Marks | Exclamation Points

The basis of a comma is to separate a sentence into smaller segments. There are several places that a comma is needed:

1. To separate independant clauses. These clauses include: and, but, for, yet, or, not, and so.
Example: We won the game, but I wanted to keep playing anyway.

2. To separate an introductory phrase or clause in your sentence. These are usually noted by beginning with after, because, if, regardless, since, when, and while.
Example: Regardless of the results, she felt she performed very well.

3. When introductory words are used. These words include: at any rate, however, and well.
Example: However, I do not feel the ends justified the means.

4. To separate supplemental clauses, words, and phrases in a sentence. Many of these words and phrases are the same as described above.
Example: On Wednesday, the last day before vacation, I will be leaving early.
Example 2: The speakers you have are very loud. They are not, however, the loudest I have ever heard.

5. To separate words in a list, when there are more than two words. The last word is usually preceeded with "and."
Example: To make cookies, you will need flour, sugar, oatmeal, and chocolate chips. (Note: The comma before the "and" is optional.)

While there are more commas uses, those are the most common ones and should be mastered. Look for "Advanced Comma Usage" on soon!


The most common use of a period is to end a thought (a sentence.) Every sentence that is not a question or exclamation should end with a period. If the sentence is not over (thus not requiring a period), but is introducing a slighly different thought or supporting idea, you should use a semi-colon rather than a period.

This is an example of a sentence ending with a period.

This is an example of a sentence ending with a period; it also has a semi colon to separate another idea.

Periods are also used to represent abbreviations. For example, the abbreviation for "Mister" is Mr., which ends with a period but is not the end of the sentence.


Semi Colons
There are a few major uses for semi colons. The most popular use of the semi colon (;) is to separate complete thoughts that could stand by themselves as complete sentences, but due to their closely related idea, the sentences support each other into one.

Example of using semi colon to join to major thoughts that could stand on their own:
Many more people have donated blood this year than last year; blood banks have been very well stocked.
Each phrase before and after the semi colon could be used as a sentence by itself, however, since the idea is closely related (and supportive), it makes sense to use a semi colon instead of having two shorter sentences.

A semi colon can also be used to replace a comma and the word "and" in many sentences.
I finally finished the assignment, and I was happy to move onto another subject.
This sentence can be rewritten as:
I finally finished the assignment; I was happy to move onto another subject.

And another popular method of using semi colons is to separate words and phrases that already contain commas within them. For example, if you have a list of Cities and States, each pair could be correctly separated by using a semi colon.
The store has new openings in Puyallup, Washington; Oakland, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Moscow, Idaho; and Eugene, Oregon.


Many times, colon and semi colon placement can be confusing. There are, however, a few simple rules to follow that will make it so you never misuse the punctuation again!

Below are the situations you will want to use a colon rather than a semi colon.

1. To explain something you just said in a sentence.
Example: A computer hard drive is very slow compared to RAM: a hard disk drive can be up to 100 times slower than RAM.

2. To restate something you just said in a sentence.
Example: A hard drive will usually fail more often than RAM: the moving pieces in the hard drives eventually wear out while RAM has no moving parts.

3. To show that you are about to show a list.
Example: The following companies all make computer hard drives: Western Digital, Maxtor, Seagate, and IBM.


Apostrophes are pretty simple; there are two times that you'll use them, and both are easy to remember.

Below shows the two uses of apostrophes.

1. To show that the word you're using is a contraction.
Example: You're going to be rich!
The apostrophe in "you're" is there because it is a contraction; we are combining the words "you" and "are."

2. To show that the word you used is in a possessive form.
Example: The cats' whiskers were long and milky white.
The word "cats'" has the apostrophe at the end, showing that the whiskers "belong to" the cat. Without the apostrophe, "cats" would be saying that there are multiple cats (plural of cat), and the sentence would therefore be flawed.


Question Marks
Question marks are one of the easiest of all, but are commonly misused.

A question mark is placed at the end of a sentence that is asking a question.

A question mark is not used at the end of a sentence that is saying that somebody asked a question.

1. What is the weather like where you live? [CORRECT]
2. He asked her what the weather was like where she lives? [INCORRECT!]

The second example should not be used. It could be fixed in a variety of ways:
1. He asked her: "What is the weather like where you live?" [CORRECT]
2. He asked her what the weather was like where she lives. [CORRECT]
3. "What is the weather like where you live?" he asked her. [CORRECT]


Exclamation Points
These little guys are simple! While overused from time to time, they aren't often misused. Exclamation points (!) are used at the end of a sentence that has somebody yelling, extra excited, or just plain loud. Generally speaking, they are mostly used on short sentences since longer sentences tend to lack the urgent emotion that should be visible with exclamation points.

Run for your lives!
Holy Toledo that ball was hit hard!



That's it for the popular punctuation marks! Select another Writing Topic in the Writing Lesson Center!


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