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".
The following table of commonly used English punctuation marks shows:
- a graphical representation of each punctation mark (black) with text block (grey)
- name of punctuation mark with link to more information
- very simple example sentence (more examples on individual pages)
|full stop or period||I like English.|
|comma||I speak English, French and Thai.|
|semicolon||I don't often go swimming; I prefer to play tennis.|
|colon||You have two choices: finish the work today or lose the contract.|
|hyphen||This is a rather out-of-date book.|
|dash||In each town—London, Paris and Rome—we stayed in youth hostels.|
|question mark||Where is Shangri-La?|
exclamation point (AmE)
|"Help!" she cried. "I can't swim!"|
|slash, forward slash or oblique||Please press your browser's Refresh/Reload button.|
|double quotation marks||"I love you," she said.|
|single quotation marks||'I love you,' she said.|
|apostrophe||This is John's car.|
|underline||Have you read Harry Potter?|
|round brackets||I went to Bangkok (my favourite city) and stayed there for two weeks.|
|square brackets||The newspaper reported that the hostages [most of them French] had been released.|
|ellipsis mark||One happy customer wrote: "This is the best program...that I have ever seen."|
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:
- Individual writers
Here it may be just a matter of personal preference.
Most newspapers and book publishers have their own "house rules" (also called "style guide") that include specifications on the exact style of punctuation that they want their writers to use.
- British and American English
There are a few distinct differences between British punctuation (increasingly called "logical punctuation") and American punctuation. The table below outlines the most common of these. Click on a link for more details.
|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.