Posted by: Jack Henry | February 27, 2020

Editor’s Corner: 14 English Punctuation Marks

Have you ever wondered how many English punctuation marks there are? I never did until I read a recent article from Daily Writing Tips. It turns out there are 14. Seriously! That seemed like a lot until I saw the list, which doesn’t include any surprises. It would have been kind of cool to find out there is one we never knew about.

I’m going to list them all for you and provide a little additional information, where necessary. Please indulge me—this is the kind of thing that delights me.

Punctuation Marks That End Sentences

  1. Period
    This lovely little undervalued piece of punctuation tells you that a sentence has come to an end. At the risk of starting WWIII, I’ll remind everyone that we only use one space after a period. I know that drives some of you crazy, but that’s the standard (in fact, it’s been the accepted standard since we moved from typewriters to word processors).
  2. Question Mark
    Use a question mark when you are asking a direct question: “Do you think he’ll bring donuts to work this Friday?” You do not need a question mark if you are merely wondering about something: “I wonder if he’ll bring donuts to work this Friday.”
  3. Exclamation Point
    We all love an exclamation point because it adds emphasis and enthusiasm to our writing. My loving suggestion here is to only use one at a time in professional writing. When you text your friends and family, use as many as your heart desires!

Punctuation Marks Within Sentences

  1. Comma
    Commas are what we scientifically call a punctuational bugaboo. Like many of you, these critters caused me the most confusion throughout my education. There are a number of comma rules to learn and quite a bit of optional comma usage—just to mess you up. Click here if you’re interested in delving a little deeper into the mighty comma and all its rules.
  2. Colon
    Colons can be used for two purposes: to introduce an example or series of items or to separate two independent clauses. I cheekily snuck a colon into the previous sentence to show how to use a colon to introduce an example. Look for more of that—I’ll be cheekily sneaking in examples in most of these explanations.
  3. Semicolon
    My mom told me that I should love people and like things, but she didn’t understand my relationship with the semicolon. I love semicolons; they let me (and you) join two independent clauses. Sure, you could use a period and create two separate sentences, but a semicolon is a uniter. Semicolons are the Joan of Arc of the punctuation world.
  4. Dash
    Dashes are not to be confused with hyphens, which are shorter, and which show up later in my list. There are two types of dashes, the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). The en dash is usually used to indicate a range of numbers. The em dash has more uses—it can be used in place of commas, parentheses, or even colons.
  5. Quotation Marks
    We use quotation marks for dialog, to set off a direct quotation, or to emphasize a word or phrase. In American English, we use double quotation marks (“) most of the time—but we use single quotation marks (‘) when we have a quote within a quote.
  6. Ellipsis
    Oh, what a fun piece of punctuation the ellipsis mark is! These three dots (…) indicate a pause or omitted information. There are two important usage rules for the ellipsis marks: use only three dots and…do not add space before or after the ellipsis mark.
  7. Parentheses
    We use parentheses for asides and additional information (they are very useful in long, complex sentences).
  8. Brackets
    Brackets are used to indicate that you’ve added something into a quote. Here’s an example: “The proper study of [hu]mankind is books.” -Aldous Huxley
    They are also used in programming code.
  9. Braces
    Braces are primarily used in mathematical expressions and computer programming, where they keep elements together, so we do sometimes use them in our documentation.

Punctuation Marks Within Words

  1. Apostrophe
    We editors have written about the poor misunderstood apostrophe on several occasions. They are much simpler than you think. There are only two purposes for apostrophes: to indication possession (e.g., It is Donna’s world) or to indicate missing letters or numbers (e.g., Dude needs to say goodbye to the ’90s).
  2. Hyphen
    I told you the much-loved hyphen was coming! It is last but not least in this list. We use hyphens to join two (or more) words into a compound word. My plea to you is to avoid using hyphens when you really should use dashes. See #7 above for electrifying information about dashes and how to use them.

And with that, I bid you adieu. Enjoy a properly-punctuated day today.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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  1. […] long ago, I shared information about the 14 English Punctuation Marks. I received a few responses that led me down an interesting rabbit […]

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