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How to Punctuate Any Sentence with Grace and Ease

Updated on October 8, 2014

Correct Punctuation Can Be Easy!

As a copy editor and writer, it's my job to know how to punctuate any sentence with grace and ease.

Because I'm one of those annoying people who has a couple of eyes that see misspelled words and an ear for bad grammar, this is the perfect job for me.

But if your eyes and ears don't naturally lean this way, have no fear! I'll outline how you, too, can punctuate your own sentences with grace and ease.

Learn to edit your writing to make it clear and error free.

Photo Credit: rapeze artists in circus, lithograph by Calvert Litho. Co., 1890. In the Public Domain.

Use Proper Punctuation

To get your point across, punctuation

is important. Here's an example:

"Woman, without her man, is nothing."

"Woman: without her, man is nothing."

Punctuation -- The Period - Full Stop

A period looks like this . .

The period's use: to stop a thought.

Example: Heather stayed in bed all day.

In this sentence, there is one thought and the period ends that thought.

Because when we write, we can sometimes get verbose (that is, we can sometimes go on and on yammering away, blah blah blah), it's important to know when to stop.

The period is used to stop a thought in its tracks. When several thoughts are mushed together and a period is forgotten, that is called a run on sentence.

Here's an example of a run on sentence: Heather stayed in bed all day she read all of her book and started another. A period is needed after "day" and the word "she" should be capitalized to start the new sentence.

The Serial Comma

Use it or not?

The debate continues of whether to

use a comma after the last item in a list.

I prefer to use the serial comma

because it is crystal clear.

Tom, Dick, and Harry wore the company

uniform, cap, and pocket protector.

Punctuation -- The Comma - Pause

A comma looks like this , .

The comma's use: to pause or separate items in a list or words in a sentence or to separate two complete sentences (a compound statement) when using a conjunction

Example: Heather ate lunch with Tom, Mike, and Sarah, and then she drove home.

In this sentence, commas separate items in a list (Tom, Mike, and Sarah) and allow a pause between the two complete sentences (the first phrase: Heather ate lunch with Tom, Mike, and Sarah, and the second phrase: then she drove home). The conjunction "and" separates the two complete sentences.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!

The phrase "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," which is the title of this great grammar and punctuation book comes from a classic case of the improper use of commas.

It began when someone wrote something along the lines of "The panda eats shoots and leaves."

It was incorrectly punctuated as "The panda eats, shoots, and leaves" like he's some common restaurant criminal!

 

Read Your Writing Aloud

When you pause,

you might need a comma.

When you complete a thought, you probably need a period, question mark, or exclamation point.

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition
The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

This is the best short book that touches on all of the grammar and punctuation issues you'll ever need.

 

Punctuation Marks -- Colons and Semicolons - Let me introduce you and let's pause to link like thoughts

A colon looks like this : .

The colon's use: to introduce new information that you just talked about

Example: Heather ate lunch with her three of her best friends: Tom, Mike, and Sarah.

In this sentence, the colon introduces the three friends.

A semicolon looks like this ; .

The semicolon's use: to pause or separate thoughts that are related but interdependent

Example: Heather ate a big lunch; at dinnertime, she still felt full.

In this sentence, the semicolon could also be replaced by a period, but since the two complete thoughts are related, the semicolon works.

Punctuation People - A Fun, Quick Look at Common Punctuation Marks

Exclamation Points - Shock! Awe! Surprise!

A exclamation point or exclamation mark looks like this ! .

The exclamation point's use: to end a statement that shows strong feelings

Example: That was the best lunch ever!

In this sentence, the exclamation mark shows how the diner felt about the quality of lunch.

Spell Check

Run a spell check if you're a bad speller.

Your readers will thank you.

Punctuate -- Question Marks - Ask a question

A question mark looks like this ? .

The question mark's use: to end a statement that asks a question (also called an interrogative statement)

Example: Are you coming to lunch with us?

In this sentence, the question mark ends the thought and indicates a question has been asked.

Parentheses Examples

Apostrophes are often used incorrectly.

The apostrophe in 1950's should only be used

when it shows possession.

For example: Her 1950's vintage dress is cool.

When talking generally about that decade,

1950s is correct (not '50s or 1950's).

Proper Punctuation -- Apostrophes - Possession, Contraction

An apostrophe looks like this ' .

The apostrophe's use: to show possession or to use in contractions

Example: Heather's dessert arrived, but she couldn't eat it all.

In this sentence, the dessert belonged to Heather so the word Heather's shows whose dessert it was. The word couldn't is a contraction for the words could and not.

Apostrophes

The words its and it's are both correct:

Here's how to use them:

Its is an adjective that shows

possession like hers and his.

"The dog smelled its food before eating it."

(Note: The dog wouldn't smell it is food,

would it? So, we wouldn't use the word it's.)

~*~*~*~*~*~

It's is a contraction for it is.

"It's a crying shame about Mary."

(Note: It is a crying shame about Mary.)

~*~*~*~*~*~

Its' is not a word.

Parentheses

Parentheses contain extra information.

(This could be details or dates that aren't

necessary for the meaning of the original sentence.)

Brackets are often used within parentheses.

(The details could include the color of clothing

[yellow shirt, khaki pants, brown shoes].)

Parentheses and Brackets - Extra information

Parentheses look like this ( ) .

Note: The singular word indicating one of these punctuation marks is called a parenthesis.

Parentheses are used: to contain information that is extra; the information could be deleted or omitted and not change the meaning of the sentence

Example: Heather's dessert (a piece of cherry pie) arrived before her salad.

In this sentence, the parentheses describe what kind of dessert Heather ordered.

Brackets look like this [ ] .

Brackets are used: most often to include more information within parentheses and in mathematics

Example: Heather wrote a restaurant review (for the Hometown News [June 16, 2012]) of her dining experience.

In this sentence, the parentheses contain the name of the paper where Heather wrote the review. The brackets contain the date when the review was published.

Parenthese / Brackets

When using parentheses or brackets, the period (or question mark or exclamation point) goes inside the end parenthesis or end bracket if the information

is a complete sentence.

Example: I saw the dog sitting by the road.

(The dog was tired and thirsty.)

But if the information is not a complete sentence,

the punctuation goes outside the ending paranthesis:

The dog was tired (and thirsty).

How to Use Quotation Marks

Correct Use of Quotation Marks

"To be or not to be."

~ Shakespeare

~*~*~*~*~*~

Incorrect Use of Quotation Marks

"To be or not to be.

~ Shakespeare"

If you've made it this far, thank you!

I hope some of this information was helpful.

One more thing, please use a capital letter at the

beginning of a sentence. It's a rule!

Share Your Grammar and Punctuation Tales Here.

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    • profile image

      Shyam 2 years ago

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    • profile image

      Trish 2 years ago

      I never thought I would find such an everyday topic so enlrnatlihg!

    • profile image

      Sanju 2 years ago

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    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 3 years ago

      Great hints, I need this! Wish they had sayings to remember like the old example: "i" before "e" except after "c"

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 5 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Clearly explained.

    • texan203 lm profile image

      texan203 lm 5 years ago

      Excellent, fun way of presenting punctuation basics.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is a great brush-up for those of us who occasionally wonder if i should put a comma here while writing.

    • KandDMarketing profile image

      KandDMarketing 5 years ago

      I punctuate like I spell ... terribly and phonetically at the same time ...

    • BorderCollie LM profile image

      BorderCollie LM 5 years ago

      I never knew punctuation can be so fun!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      From one grammar geek to another, this was a pleasure to read. I especially thank you for including one of my pet peeves: the incorrect use of the apostrophe in years (e.g., 1960s). This lens has great information but also a nice and friendly tone, making it easy to read.

    • MBradley McCauley profile image

      MBradley McCauley 5 years ago

      great lens but.....I have a problem in your intro. "Because I'm one of those annoying people that has". Call me old fashioned but I prefer to use 'who' when referring to a person, and that when it is about a thing. I would write, "Because I'm on of those annoying people 'who' has..." Other than that, I love the lens and will share it with all my writer friends.

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 5 years ago

      It's a great lens; thanks for the tips! I like its easy-to-read format, too.

      (Did I do that correctly?)

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 5 years ago

      Wonderful lens!

    • profile image

      Thamisgith 5 years ago

      Thanks for the tips. Parentheses is a weakness of mine (tend to use it too much).

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 5 years ago from New York City

      The pain of having my copy "fixed" by my hard copy editor has taught me to take steps to handle grammar and punctuation better. My problem is that I think much faster than I can type, and another creative writing factor is that I always try to say whatever it is in a new way. These can combine to make clumsy sentences, but my editor has "encouraged" me to do a better joy of self-editing.

      Thanks for the tips.

    • profile image

      audithedestroyer 5 years ago

      I really appreciate this lens. Sometimes I get confused and doubtful if I'm using the right punctuation. Thanks!

    • Cdoimne profile image

      Cdoimne 5 years ago

      I'm always confused on the proper use of the colon however this helps to clear things up a little bit! Thank you for the great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I really appreciate this lens. Thank you for writing it.

    • digitaltree profile image

      digitaltree 5 years ago

      Nice Lens on grammar, it make me remember a few points i have forgotten.

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Splendid overview of some of the most common grammatical errors...thanks for adding the very educational video.

    • Patricia Meadows profile image

      Patricia Meadows 5 years ago

      I find myself rereading a sentence or paragraph, two or three times because of improper punctuation. It's kind of frustrating. Thanks for bringing this issue to peoples attention. Very informative.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      this is one awesome lens! I have totally return everything to my teacher after school and have always wondered how to use some of it. here it is.. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Mandy Stradley profile image

      Mandy Stradley 5 years ago

      Great tips! I am a math tutor, but sometimes I end up helping my students with their writing too!

    • ektacis lm profile image

      ektacis lm 5 years ago

      Nice lens!

    • AgingIntoDisabi profile image

      AgingIntoDisabi 5 years ago

      You really illustrate how important grammar and punctuation are - completely different meanings with a change of punctuation.

    • profile image

      odeskreview 5 years ago

      I am bookmarking your lens! Thanks for all the tips on grammar & punctuation.

    • pheonix76 profile image

      pheonix76 5 years ago from WNY

      I was required to take a graduate seminar about proper grammar, punctuation, and scientific writing last semester. Grammar and punctuation are certainly very important, regardless of your profession. Thanks for sharing.

    • LauraHofman profile image

      Laura Hofman 5 years ago from Naperville, IL

      Excellent lens! Wish my co-workers would read it. Great examples and topics.

    • profile image

      onlinefaxguide 5 years ago

      This was definitely a flashback to high school. It's always good to freshen up on grammar and punctuation. Thank you for sharing!

    • HtCares profile image

      HtCares 5 years ago

      Thanks for all the great information in this lens!

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      Those apostrophes always get me. Thanks.

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      What a wonderful public service you've performed here! I'm sure the poor, much-abused apostrophe thanks you!

    • Tennyhawk profile image

      Tennyhawk 5 years ago

      Hurrah for the serial comma! This is a comment for all seasons and writers. Thanks.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 5 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      Very clear and well presented; congratulations!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      nice post

      news articles

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Wonderfully put together. It can definitely be difficult to always punctuate correctly. Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • gatornic15 profile image

      gatornic15 5 years ago

      I am usually pretty good with punctuation, but I never know what to do with punctuation when a bracket or quote is at the end of the sentence as someone asked below. Very helpful! Blessed

    • hessa johnson profile image

      hessa johnson 5 years ago

      Very helpful lens, especially with the examples.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is a challenging area for me and an excellent review. Guess I was reading so intensely that I was thinking it was interesting the an apostrophe could only be used in the 50s to show possession and I was wondering what special thing happened in that decade. Glad I figured that one out! Nicely done and keeping it simple.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      I often use the em dash, when I should use a semi colon. But because I read this page, I looked it up and will use it correctly next time. Very nicely presented Thanks!

    • kburns421 lm profile image

      kburns421 lm 5 years ago

      Yes! We need more lenses about grammar! I am also a grammar nerd. I have to be! I'm studying mass communication (with a focus on advertising). I see you are a copy editor and writer. I hope to be an ad copywriter one day. Well, maybe. Right now I'm getting into freelance writing, but I can definitely relate to your career interests. Anyway, very nice lens. (Don't judge me for those sentence fragments!)

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @JohnTannahill: Yes, the apostrophe is such a nuisance! I will add info to my article on brackets. If a complete sentence is within the brackets, the punctuation--period, question mark, etc.--goes inside the brackets. (So, it would appear like this.)

    • profile image

      darren0clue0 5 years ago

      This pointed out things clearly. Great lense!

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 5 years ago from Somewhere in England

      I love the errant apostrophe. We usually associate it with greengrocers here in the UK. For example, "New Potatoe's 99p/kilo."

      Question: does the punctuation mark come before or after the bracket? Is it .) or ). ? I've always gone for .)

    • adragast24 profile image

      adragast24 5 years ago

      Very nice lens! I particularly liked the illustrations and the highlighted points.

    • robertzimmerman2 profile image

      Robert Zimmerman 5 years ago from SE Florida, USA

      Thanks for the info!

    • anne mohanraj profile image

      anne mohanraj 5 years ago

      Thank you for this great lens!

    • profile image

      Natural_Skin_Care 5 years ago

      Punctuation makes all the difference in meaning. Thanks for the tutorial.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 5 years ago from GRENADA

      Nice lens! I have included it in my lens titled - 5 Tips for Creating a 100% Lens! Check it out.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @AngryBaker: No, not the dots.... (frown).

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @SheGetsCreative: And that's a good thing!

    • profile image

      AngryBaker 5 years ago

      oh wow... I have to bookmark this. I notice you don't address the people who love to end their thoughts in dots....grin

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Thanks for the punctuation review. I confess, I'm a serial comma user.

    • profile image

      Terrie_Schultz 5 years ago

      Excellent tips! It really drives me nuts when people use apostrophes incorrectly.

    • belinda342 profile image

      belinda342 5 years ago

      I'm pretty good at grammar and punctuation, but I still get tripped up by the colon and semicolon. Thank you for the refresher!