How To Use Punctuation Correctly | Basic Guide To English Punctuation
Punctuation in English
Punctuation means the correct usage of points or stops in writing. Using correct punctuation is very important to get across your message correctly. Poor punctuation in writing also puts off the reader and reduces your chances of being read / taken seriously. The main stops are as follows:
1. Full stop or period (.)
2. Comma (,)
3. Semicolon (;)
4. Colon (:)
5. Question mark (?)
6. Exclamation mark (!)
7. Inverted commas (“ ”)
8. Hyphen(-) and Dash (-- )
9. Apostrophe (’)
We shall introduce below each of the above punctuation marks. This is only an introduction to basic punctuation and is not intended to be an exhaustive resource.
Use of the full stop or period [.]
1. This point is used at the end of a statement.
He saw me.
2. The full stop can be used in abbreviations.
She is an M.P.
(Here M.P. is an abbreviation for 'member of parliament'.)
The full stop represents the greatest pause and separation.
Use of the comma [,]
The comma represents a short pause and is used:
1. to separate two or more words of similar ideas in a sentence.
Balu, Gopal, Hari and Govind are in class IV.
2. to separate each pair of words connected by “and”.
The town hall was filled with people — rich and poor, big and small.
3. to mark off words used in addressing people.
How are you, Rajeev?
4. for proper nouns and their titles or identification.
Pandit Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, declared the games open.
5. to avoid repetition of a verb.
Ram got a pen; Hari, a book.
(Here, the comma replaces the verb got.)
6. to mark off a direct quotation from the rest of the sentence.
“Study well,” the teacher advised Ravi.
Use of the semicolon [;]
When a pause of greater importance is needed than that shown by a comma, a semicolon is used.
As Ceaser loved me, I wept for him; as he was fortunate, I honour him.
It is used:
1. to separate the clauses of a compound sentence, when they contain a comma.
2. to separate a series of loosely related clauses.
Use of the colon [:]
The colon represents a more complete pause. It is sometimes used along with a dash after it. It can be used:
1. to introduce a quotation.
Oscar Wilde says:- "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."
2. before a list.
The students who have secured a first class are: Rajeev, Raj and Gokul.
Use of the Question Mark [?]
When a sentence is in the form of a question, then a question mark is used instead of a full stop.
Have you seen my cat?
A question mark is not used after an indirect question.
He asked me whether I had seen his cat.
The exclamation mark [!]
The exclamation mark is used after words, phrases or sentences expressing sudden emotion or feelings.
Hurrah! We won!
Oh no! We lost the game.
Use of inverted commas [" "]
To show the correct or exact words used by the speaker or a writer, we use inverted commas.
He said, “I am going to Mumbai tomorrow.”
Use of the hyphen [-] and the dash [–]
The hyphen is in the form of a short dash (-) to connect compound words.
The dash (–) is longer than the hyphen. It shows an opposite idea or thought.
I should have listened to him – but why should I?
Use of the apostrophe [ ' ]
The apostrophe is used:
1. when a letter is omitted.
'I have', can be written as I’ve
2. in possessive nouns.
John’s book, mother's cup
3. to form plurals of letters and figures.
Seven two’s and four three’s
Use of capital letters
Capitals are used:
1. at the beginning of a sentence.
There are seven days in a week.
2. to begin all proper nouns and adjectives derived from them.
Rama, Sita, India, Indians
3. for all nouns and pronouns which refer to the Deity.
We are blessed by the Lord with abundant crops.
We have full faith in God.
4. to write the pronoun 'I'.
Ravi and I went to the market.
Why is punctuation important?
Here is a small illustration to show the importance of punctuation. The improper use or omitting of a punctuation mark can sometimes change the meaning of the sentence completely. For example look at these two sentences; the second one is constructed identical to the first one except that the comma after 'on' is missing.
1. Father said, “Turn the water on, Balu.”
2. Father said, “Turn the water on Balu.”
In sentence 1, father instructs Balu to turn the water on.
In sentence 2, father wants water to be sprayed on Balu.
Here, the comma makes a big difference to the meaning. The second sentence will result in a very wet Balu!
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