punctuation marks

What is Punctuation?

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Punctuation is the system of symbols that we use to separate written sentences and parts of sentences, and to make their meaning clear. Each symbol is called a "punctuation mark".

Punctuation Marks

The following table of commonly used English punctuation marks shows:

punctuation mark name example
full stop or period full stop or period I like English.
comma comma I speak English, French and Thai.
semi-colon semicolon I don't often go swimming; I prefer to play tennis.
colon colon You have two choices: finish the work today or lose the contract.
hyphen hyphen This is a rather out-of-date book.
dash dash In each town—London, Paris and Rome—we stayed in youth hostels.
question mark question mark Where is Shangri-La?
exclamation mark exclamation mark
exclamation point (AmE)
"Help!" she cried. "I can't swim!"
slash or forward slash slash, forward slash or oblique Please press your browser's Refresh/Reload button.
backslash backslash C:\Files\jo.doc
double quotation marks double quotation marks "I love you," she said.
single quotation marks single quotation marks 'I love you,' she said.
apostrophe apostrophe This is John's car.
underline underline Have you read Harry Potter?
underscore underscore [email protected]
round brackets round brackets I went to Bangkok (my favourite city) and stayed there for two weeks.
square brackets square brackets The newspaper reported that the hostages [most of them French] had been released.
ellipsis ellipsis mark One happy customer wrote: "This is the best program...that I have ever seen."

Punctuation Styles

Although there are general rules for English punctuation, there can be differences of style. For example, some people don't put a full stop (period) after abbreviations (Dr, Ltd); others do (Dr., Ltd.). Some people don't use an apostrophe in the plural form of dates (1990s); others do (1990's). Some prefer single quotation marks ('example') rather than double quotation marks ("example").

These differences in punctuation style can be found between:

British/American punctuation BrE AmE
BrE includes punctuation inside quotation marks only if part of the quoted material Helpful means "ready to help". Helpful means "ready to help."
BrE tends to use more "open punctuation" for abbreviations Mr, Mrs, Dr, Rd Mr., Mrs., Dr., Rd.
The (  ) symbols are called brackets parentheses
The [  ] symbols are called square brackets brackets

The above differences are shown as guidelines only, and are not always observed. The most important thing in any single work (be it examination essay, business report, newspaper or book) is to choose one style and be consistent throughout.

Anyone seeking guidance at an advanced level is recommended to consult a style guide (often included in good dictionaries) for their particular variety of English or editorial style. Style guides for newspapers and other publications are often available on the Internet and may be found by searching for "[name of publication] style guide" or similar.

See also: Typing Signs and Writing Symbols, e.g. * # & % $