Punctuation

The guidelines for punctuating sentences found in this section of the site apply mostly to what is called exposition, or factual writing. Exposition is designed, in the words of one dictionary, “to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand.” This is, of course, the kind of writing that appears on this site.

The “rules” of present-day punctuation are a set of agreements that have been worked out over a long time by printers and publishers. Once you understand syntax, you shouldn’t have much trouble understanding punctuation rules and applying them in your writing. The only trick is to reread your own sentences, feeling the rhythm and checking out the syntax (more or less the same activity), so that you see what you’ve actually written.

I’ve dealt largely with what we might call “everyday-formal” punctuation: those rules that writers need to keep in mind because the syntactic situations they apply to come up all the time in essays and articles. I haven’t dealt with such specialized things as footnotes and bibliography; instructions for these are abundantly available on the web.

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Punctuation Marks

These are the main punctuation marks used in English:

, comma
; semicolon
: colon
. period or full stop
dash
- hyphen
? question mark
! exclamation mark
apostrophe
( ) parentheses
[ ] square brackets
” “ double quotation marks
‘ ‘ single quotation marks

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