National Punctuation Day

24 Sep

As it’s defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, punctuation is “the practice, action, or system of inserting points or other small marks into texts, in order to aid interpretation; division of text into sentences, clauses, etc., by means of such marks.” We can find punctuation in nearly any text we come across, and it is often vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. In order to do this, though, it is important to be familiar with basic punctuation marks and their uses.

As LL Cool J identifies in his Punctuation Rap, there are four basic punctuation marks that most of us are familiar with: periods, question marks, exclamation marks, and commas. These are the four most commonly used punctuation marks.

  • A period (.) is used at the end of a sentence, after a mild command, after initials, and after most abbreviations.
  • A question mark (?) is used after a direct question, or when a sentence is half statement, half question.
  • An exclamation mark (!) is typically used to express strong emotion. It may be used to close questions that are meant to convey extreme emotion, and it can also be used to accompany mimetic sounds.
  • Commas (,) are complicated! A comma is used to indicate a division in a sentence, as in setting off a word, phrase, or clause, to separate items in a list, to mark off thousands in numerals, and to separate types or levels of information. There are at least 15 different ways to use commas; please click the link for a more in-depth review of these uses.

While periods, question marks, exclamation marks, and commas are the most commonly used punctuation marks, there are many other punctuation marks that come into play. These include:

  • An apostrophe (‘) is used to indicate the omission of one or more letters in a word; to indicate the possessive; or to indicate plurals of abbreviations and symbols. Do not use apostrophes for possessive pronouns or noun plurals. Click the link learn more about apostrophes and avoiding the apostrophe catastrophe!
  • Brackets ( [ ] ) are used to include explanatory words or phrases within quoted language; when quoting material to highlight the changing of a word or words; and to include parenthetical material inside existing parenthesis.
  • A colon (:) is used to mark a major division in a sentence to indicate that what follows is an elaboration, summation, or interpretation of what precedes. A colon is also used to separate groups of numbers, hours from minutes, and in constructing ratios.
  • An ellipsis (…) is used to mark an omission from a sentence.
  • Parenthesis ( ) are used to mark off an interjected explanatory or qualifying remark.
  • Quotation Marks (“) are used to indicate the beginning and end of a quotation. Please click the link to learn more about Direct Quotations and Stand-alone Quotations. Remember to include a quotation mark at the beginning of the quotation (this is an opening quotation mark) and at the end of the quotation (this is the closing quotation mark).
  • A semicolon (;) is the punctuation mark used to indicate a major division in a sentence where a more distinct separation is felt between clauses or items on a list than is indicated by a comma.

As we can see, there are many different punctuation marks, and they have many different uses. As LL Cool J reminds us, it is important to understand these uses to avoid confusion and to make sure that we are communicating appropriately. Click here to test your knowledge of punctuation marks. As always, visit our online scheduler to schedule an appointment in the Writing Center!

© Alyssa Ryan and The Christ College Writing Center (2013-2016)

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One Response to “National Punctuation Day”

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  1. Grammar Tips: Winter Review! | The Christ College Writing Center - December 9, 2015

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