6 Punctuation Rules You Must Never Overlook by Ethan Miller
Punctuation is a crucial aspect of any language. It can make a string of random words meaningful. Punctuation rules are necessary to convey the right meaning.
Punctuation marks give a sense of expression to the words as they display how the words would sound when spoken. A sense of excitement, shock, awe, cheer, hesitation, etc., everything can be expressed using the right symbols. But if used incorrectly, it ruins the tone of a sentence and can lead to misinterpretation. Nobody wants that.
So here you go. A few simple punctuation rules that are often overlooked while writing.
Rule 1: Using commas
Commas are one of the most important and most frequently used punctuation marks (separator) that are easily misplaced in a sentence, giving it a completely different meaning.
Let’s eat, grandpa.
Let’s eat grandpa.
There are nearly 16 rules for using the comma right, but here are a few areas where we are prone to make mistakes.
While introducing active speech in a sentence, you must use a comma to separate a quote from the subsequent sentence but never when the sentence precedes the quote. Example: “Stop the car,” he said. / He said “Stop the car”. You can also avoid the comma if the sentence within the quotations contains an object or subject. Example: Telling “Please stay with me” was my mistake. In this sentence, me is the subject.
An appositive comma is often missed out in the flow while writing a sentence. It goes unnoticed at first, but the flaw is visible when you give the sentence a closer look. An appositive comma comes after an inessential part of a sentence Example: I asked Jim, who’s my friend, to come over. The line who’s my friend is inessential in the sentence and hence, is followed by a comma.
The Oxford comma appears when a series of items are stated and is used at the end of the series, especially to avoid confusion. Example: My favorite snacks are fries, rolls, bagels, cheese and crackers, and donuts. The last comma before and donuts is an Oxford comma which denotes that donuts are a separate item unlike cheese and crackers which are treated as one. Oxford commas are often missed (or dropped intentionally) in a sentence as it seems unnecessary to add an extra character.
Rule 2: Using Colon and Semicolon
A colon (:) is a punctuation used before the start of an explanation, series of items or a quotation.
A semicolon (;) acts like a comma and is used to give a longer pause before a sentence.
Never start the sentence that follows a colon with a capital letter unless it’s a quote with a quotation, or a combination of two or more words that complete a sentence.
Example 1: You’re required to buy the following things: curd, bread, flour, and butter.
Example 2: He got what he deserved: a raise in his pay.
Example 3: Our teacher tells us three things: Wake up early. Study hard. Be honest.
Example 4: The captain made an announcement: “We are ready to take off.”
Don’t use a colon after a preposition or verb when mentioning a list of items that directly follows them in the sentence.
Example 1: I had breakfast with Jim, Jill, Jake and Jonathan.
Example 2: I’ve read Harry Potter, Twilight, and Lord of the Rings.
Use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses if one or more commas are already used in the first clause. Example: You may think I don’t care, but I will come over soon; and that’s a promise. Also, a semicolon separates a series of places where there are commas used in between. Example: St. Louis, Missouri; Houston, Texas; LA, California...
Don’t use colons and semicolons interchangeably.
Rule 3: Using M Dash, N Dash, and Hyphen
The M Dash (or em-dash) is the longest of the dash symbols that shows an interruption in the sentence. Say, while adding a parenthesis or introducing a change of thought. Example: When I picked up the cans—all 6 of them—I noticed that one was leaking.
The N Dash (or en-dash) is shorter than the M Dash and is used to separate a time period or indicate a range. Example: 2012–2016, pages 50–55, etc.
(Joanne says: don't get hung up about N dash and M dash the only people who seem to know these are proof editors, and editors.
The hyphen is a small dash that is used to break connecting words, compound verbs, nouns and adjectives. Example: Two-bedroom apartment, State-of-the-art security, etc.
Again, you must never use these three dashes interchangeably as they serve different purposes. If you think it’s hard to remember the difference, write it down or even better, make flashcards with simple tools like Cram to note them down.
Remember, dashes are mostly used in informal writing and are replaced by commas, brackets and colon in formal writing.
Rule 4: Using the Ellipsis
An ellipsis (...) is a series of three dots that are used at the end of a sentence. They have two different purposes. One, to denote that a few irrelevant words from a sentence or phrase have been removed to save space. Two, by authors to show a poignant pause between two sentences.
Example 1: Today, after so much hard work, we won the match.
Today...we won the match.
Example 2: I know I may be wrong but...I still want to do it.
An ellipsis always has three dots. Not two, not four, but three. Writers sometimes forget this rule and put an extra dot or two in their flow of words and miss it while revising their work. Afterall, it’s just an extra dot; but editors will point it out.
Rule 5: Using the Exclamation Mark
An exclamation mark (!) was invented as a note of admiration which can be used after any word that expresses excitement, shock, astonishment or any other strong feeling. It makes an immediate impact on reader’s mind and helps them better understand a scene or a situation.
Example: Oh Yes. I won the Gold.
Oh Yes! I won the gold!
See the difference? Generally, in formal writing, only one exclamation mark is used after a sentence. But we see while reading books or stories that the author sometimes uses multiple marks to state the extremity. Example: No!!! You must not read from that book!!!
Exclamation marks are also used in combination with question marks to show a sign of protest and shock. Example: What do you mean you don’t have my money!?!?!?!? Although an exclamation is used freely in informal writing, it should have a minimal or preferably no use in formal articles and papers.
Rule 6: Using Quotations (double and single)
Quotations (“”) are the most useful punctuation marks that find their place in both formal and informal writing. They are used a lot in research papers and books while using a scientist’s or an author’s quote that makes a vital point and cannot be paraphrased, or simply when using an active speech.
While using quotations, any other punctuation mark that comes before a quote in a sentence must be outside the quotations and a punctuation that comes after the quote must be within the quotations. Example: He said “I’ll never see you again!” and left. Quotations are also used to imply a tone of sarcasm. Example: The cop didn’t believe that Joe “accidently” got the knife. If a quote runs into two or more paragraphs, always start the new para with a quotation mark, and close the quotations only once at the end.
There’s a confusion among writers about when to use single quotation marks. In British English, the writers mostly use the single quotations, while American English uses the double.
Keeping it American, single quotations should be used when there is a title or a quote within a quote.
Example 1: The teacher asked “Did you all write the book report on ‘The Lord Of The Flies?’”
Example 2: Mom told me “Your dad had called and he says ‘tell Tim not to go out today.’”
Never use quotation marks unnecessarily to highlight words. You can underline or italicize them instead.
Punctuation marks are very important and even the most difficult sentences can be explained by using the right punctuations. Today, it has become easy to revise and remember the important rules of grammar with tools like GrammarBook. To be a good writer, keep yourself abreast with the grammar rules and your words will fall into the right place.
Ethan Miller is a private ESL teacher who also works as an online tutor. Apart from his passion for teaching, he loves to write and holds a degree in creative writing. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Miller loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can follow Miller on Facebook and Twitter and check out his blog.
For more information about punctuation for American and British users check out the book and online course by Joanne from how to spell