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Punctuation: Usage at a Glance

The importance of punctuation and its usage should be understood by students and writers.

1. The full stop, which is also known as the period, is what I want to discuss first.


The presumptuous dot, also the embryo of geometry, brings the sentence to a close and allows the speaker time to think what to say next or closes the talk once for all.

When a new sentence is started, we use a capital letter.

Misplaced period and omitting it totally, and not using capital letters can give ambiguity to the sentences and sometimes convey just the opposite.

Nowadays the text language has made spellings easier for school children and they have stopped caring for correct spelling and punctuation. This trend gives nightmares for the English teachers. Correction of test papers has become an ordeal, especially so with misplaced full stops.  Read the following sentences and you will understand.

“Never give in. Said sir Winston churchill you will never succeed. If you get disheartened you will conquer. When you persevere success is elusive….”

(You would have guessed. The passage is, “Never give in, said Sir. Winston Churchill. You will never succeed if you get disheartened. You will conquer, if you persevere. Success is elusive….)

I hope none of Sir Churchill’s admirers read this. I found this in one of the answer papers of my students.

2.  Commas, when you misplace them, create more vagueness. Can you guess what the following sentence actually conveys?

A woman without her man is savage. (A woman, without her, man is savage)

Commas are used more often than the other punctuation marks. Though the commas are used in many contexts for the purpose of separating, let me mention a few.

        I.            We use commas to separate dependent clauses from independent clauses when the former comes first in a sentence or noun phrases and clauses in apposition, when the dependent clause is a non-defining clause.  E.g. After I had a cup of coffee, I went out.  My mother, who is a teacher, taught me.

      II.            We use commas for joining two independent clauses when we have connecting words like but, yet, whereas etc. E.g. He had finished the work, yet he stayed on.

    III.            We use commas in parenthesis. Commas perform the action of brackets. E.g. The Taj Mahal, which is on the banks of Yamuna, offers a magnificent sight.

    IV.            To avoid repetition, we leave out certain words. In such sentences commas are used.       E.g. I checked all the front seats and the others, he did.

      V.            In names when the surname is used first, we use commas. E.g. Milton, John.

    VI.            In nominative address we use commas. Example: I tell you, girl, go ahead.

  VII.            We use commas in listing. E.g. I like ice-creams, chocolates, sweets and fruits. I finished my work, closed the doors, left the key under the door mat and went out.

3.  Colon is used when you give detail of a topic you have introduced. E.g. This is for the attention of the students:  Those who come late will have to pay a fine.(The British use small letter to begin the sentence after the colon; the Americans use capital letter.)

Usually a colon follows a complete sentence. A listed form is also introduced after the colon.          E.g. Answer the following questions: (A list of questions).

You present your article’s title along with a subtitle. Then you use colon to separate them.              E.g. Healthy skin: The do’s and the don’ts.

Colon is used to denote the ratio. E.g. The ratio is 7:9.

When you write time in hours, minutes and seconds numerically, you use colon to separate them.

4.  Semicolon is used between independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction. It is also used between independent clauses linked by a conjunctive adverb or a transitional phrase.             E.g. a) I can only give a clue; you must do the rest. (b) I like to give suggestions; however, I don’t expect them to be followed.

When a long sentence has too many commas and is in peril of a possible confusion, we use semicolon for the longest pause.

The difference between colon and semicolon is, colon gives a longer pause than the semicolon. Colon separates a topic from the listings or details that follows. A semicolon shows the connection between two main clauses where there is no linking word.

5.  The question mark is used after a direct question.

6.  The exclamation mark is used after interjections and after phrases and sentences expressing sudden emotion or wish.

7.  The dash is used to indicate an abrupt stop or change of thought. E.g. Had I inherited the wealth – why feel sorry now?

8.  The hyphen is a shorter line than the dash. It is used to connect the parts of compound words. E.g. passer-by. Hyphen is also used to connect parts of a word divided at the end of a line.

9.  Parenthesis or double dashes are used to separate a phrase or a clause that does not grammatically belong to the main sentence. E.g. He had breakfast (if you can call it that) before starting out.

10.  The apostrophe is used in possessives. E.g. Joan’s book.

Apostrophe is used in omission of letters, which usually occurs in poetry. E.g. e’en, good mornin’,  etc.

We use apostrophe in contractions like can’t, don’t etc.

In plurals of letters and figures like, “Dot your I’s and cross your t’s.”

11.  Capitals are used to begin sentences, each fresh line of poetry, to begin all proper nouns, the pronoun “I” and interjection “O”.

12.  Inverted commas are used to enclose the exact words of the speaker or a quotation.

13. Italics are used to lay stress on a particular part of a passage in order to catch the attention of the reader. They are like this: Italics.

14.  The ellipsis, also known as the omission marks, is used to denote that certain part has been omitted from the quoted passage. It is also used where some purposeful omission adopted. It can also denote the passage of time. E.g. It has been a long time since this happened…

There are some slight differences of practice in the US and UK. The most common usage is given in this article.





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