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All About English Punctuation: A Guide

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 11/29/2013

This punctuation guide summarizes the information available on Bright Hub Education on the use of punctuation marks in written English and includes links to more in-depth articles.

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    Punctuation

    English Punctuation marks are a convention of writing that help readers and writers to more easily read and understand writing. The following sections summarize the punctuation rules for the most frequently used punctuation marks in written English. Each section contains a link to a more detailed article on the specific punctuation mark or set of punctuation marks.

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    Apostrophes

    For the punctuation rules for apostrophes, please see the article The Use of Apostrophes in Written English. The three functions of apostrophes are to form possessive nouns, to form contractions and indicate omissions, and to pluralize lower case letters and words used as words. This article explains and provides examples of the three functions of apostrophes in written English.

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    Brackets and Braces

    The rules for the use of brackets and braces in written English are available in the article The Use of Brackets and Braces in Written English. In written English, brackets are used for five purposes: to clarify, to enclose parenthetical information, to indicate errors in quotations, to revise quotations, and to indicate word origin. Braces are used for two purposes: to enclose numeric sets and to indicate choices. This article explains and illustrates the seven uses of brackets and braces in written English.

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    Colons

    The rules for punctuating written English with colons are available at The Use of Colons in Written English. Colons perform eight functions in written English: introduce lists, introduce quotations, introduce elaborations and emphasizations, introduce rules and principles, introduce appositives, indicate time, mark Bible references, and signal business letter salutations. This article explains the eight uses of colons and provides examples to better illustrate these functions.

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    Commas

    The article The Use of Commas in Written English explains the punctuation rules for commas in written English. The ten functions that commas perform in writing are separating words in a series; separating independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions; separating coordinate adjectives; separating nonrestrictive modifiers; separating appositives that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence; separating adverbs and short parentheticals that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence; separating alternative or contrasted coordinate phrases; transitioning between quotations; and in dates, geographical places, numbers, personal titles, direct addresses, and brief interjections. This article explains the ten uses of commas.

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    Dashes and Parentheses

    The punctuation rules for using dashes and parentheses properly in written English are explained in The Use of Dashes and Parentheses in Written English. The seven related functions of dashes and parentheses in English are separating appositives, introducing emphasizations, enclosing clarifications, enclosing asides and additional information, introducing explanations, introducing an explanation of a preceding series, and enclosing numbers or letters in a list. This article explains the seven uses and provides examples to narrate these functions.

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    Ellipses, Single Quotation Marks, Slashes, and Interrobangs

    For the punctuation rules for ellipses, single quotation marks, slashes, and interrobangs, please see The Use of Other Punctuation Marks in Written English. Ellipses indicate omission in quotations and indicate pauses and interruptions in speech. Single quotation marks enclose direct quotations inside direct quotations and mark the translation of a foreign word of phrase. Slashes separate alternatives, represent the word per, appear in certain abbreviations, indicate line breaks, the translation of a foreign word of phrase, and divide informal representations of dates. Interrobangs ask questions with excitement or disbelief. This article explains the eleven uses of the ellipses, single quotation marks, slashes, and interrobangs in written English and provides examples of usage.

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    Hyphens

    The article The Use of Hyphens in Written English explains the rules for the use of hyphens in written English. Hyphens are used for seven reasons in written English: join compound numbers and fractions, join compound nouns, join coequal nouns, join compound modifiers, join phrases functioning as modifiers, join some prefixes and suffixes, and avoid confusion and misreading. This article explains the seven uses of the hyphen in written English and provides examples to narrate use.

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    Italicization

    The rules for using italicization in writing are explained in the article The Use of Italicization in Written English. The typographical technique of italicization, which is related to the use of punctuation marks, is used in English to identify titles of major works, to emphasize words and phrases, to identify letters and words used as words, to identify linguistic examples, and to identify foreign words and phrases. This article discusses the five functions of italicization and also includes examples.

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    Periods, Question Marks, and Exclamation Marks

    For the punctuation rules for periods, question marks, and exclamation marks, please refer to the article The Use of Periods, Question Marks, and Exclamation Marks in Written English. Periods mark abbreviations, function as decimal points to separate integrals from fractional parts of numbers, separate elements in poetry and play citations, and separate computer file names with computer file extensions. Question marks indicate uncertain dates and numbers. Exclamation marks indicate emphatic interjections that are not part of the grammatical structure of the main clause. Periods, questions marks, and exclamation marks all end sentences. This article explains and provides examples of periods, question marks, and exclamation marks in written English.

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    Quotation Marks

    The punctuation rules for the use of quotation makes in written English are available at The Use of Quotation Marks in Written English. Quotation marks perform four functions in written English: enclose direct quotations, identify titles of minor works and parts of wholes, highlight novel uses of words and phrases, and indicate the translation of a foreign word or phrase. This article explains the four uses of quotation marks and provides examples to narrate these functions.

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    Semicolons

    For the punctuation rules for the use of semicolons in writing, please see the article The Use of Semicolons in Written English. The three functions of semicolons are to join two related clauses, to join two clauses in which the second begins with an adverb or parenthetical, and to separate items that contain commas in a series. This article explains and provides examples of the three functions of semicolons in written English.