Punctuation marks are like highway signs. Instead of directing vehicular traffic, however, they control how text is to be read. For the most part, knowing where to place periods, commas, etc. is fairly simple, although there are a few tricky aspects to this skill. The following is a brief outline of the uses of the main English punctuation marks.
Periods belong at the ends of sentences and after abbreviations. They are also used in acronyms.
A full sentence expresses a complete thought. Each of the sentences in this document is a full sentence, expressing a full thought.
The following are examples of the use of periods at the end of abbreviations: Mr., Mrs., and corp.
Acronyms, such as U.S.A. and P.E.T.A. are written with periods after each of their letters.
Commas are used to separate phrases and clauses, when listing things, and to separate dialogue from the speaker of the dialogue.
The following is an example of the use of commas to separate independent clauses in a sentence: After the lions devoured their prey, they rested in the shade.
Here is an example of the use of commas to separate items in a list: I bought apples, oranges, cherries, grapes, and lemons.
The part of a sentence with dialogue that indicates who is speaking is called the tag; commas are used to separate dialogue from the tag, as follows: “Traffic was very bad this morning,” said Bob.
Question marks are placed only at the ends of interrogatory sentences and phrases, as in the following: Is there a solution to the problem of global warming?
Exclamation points are used to express heightened emotion: When I realized that the fire was spreading, I yelled, “Everybody out now!”
Colons are used to indicate that more information is to follow, as in: My favorite foods are as follows: pizza, spaghetti, and ice cream.
Semi colons are used to separate independent clauses. Here is an example of their use: This has been a strange winter; most days and nights have been warmer than average.
One way of learning how to punctuate properly is to read widely. Most books, newspaper and magazine articles, and other published material, in general, contain properly punctuated sentences. By observing the punctuation in those sentences, you will be able to learn their use.
If you are uncertain about your use of punctuation, use your spell check function. You might also choose to submit your document to Papercheck to have it professionally edited.