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Punctuation Overview


We use the apostrophe in two ways:

  1. To show possession; for example: This is Miguel’s car.
  2. To show missing letters when words are shortened: He’s got a really fast car.


The position of the apostrophe is determined by singular or plural:


  • Can you carry the girl’s bags?
  • Can you carry the girls’ bags?


We capitalize:

  • Proper nouns
  • The first word in a sentence
  • A person’s title, when it comes before their name
  • Every word in a title, except for a, an, the, and, etc.
  • The first word in a quoted sentence: Johan said, “Make sure you see the show.”


Correct use of the colon can enrich your writing.  Its function is to introduce something that follows:

For example

A list
We need some groceries: sugar, milk and bread.

A quotation
The professor stated: “This course is the best.”

A question
The question is: Do you think it will rain?

A conclusion
The conclusion was: “It’s all over.”

An example
There is one word you cannot overuse: please.

We also use a colon:

  • For formal salutations: Prime Minister: Dear Mrs Smith: Honourable Members:
  • To separate the hour and minute/s in a time notation; for example - 10:30 p.m.
  • To separate the chapter and verse in a Biblical reference; for example -  Matthew 1:6


Mastering the comma will improve your writing.  Use it to:

  • Itemize; for example: Make sure you order some pens, binders, rulers and paper.
  • Separate persons and names: Nazia, what did you say?
  • Add an additional thought; for example: His advice was, generally speaking, encouraging.
  • Emphasize; for example: I was scared, really scared.
  • Balance comparisons; for example: The more I looked, the more I saw.

Dash and hyphen

A dash is used in the construction of sentences.  A hyphen is used in the construction of words. The dash can be used to:

The colours of the flag are very vibrant – orange, black and green.

She apologized with a smile – as usual.

“I have to tell you – and I apologize in advance – that she will not see you.”

Extend a sentence
He walked in the room, looked around – and quietly left.

Separate a list
She threw the lot at me – plates, cups, sausages – and stormed out.

Exclamation mark

Wise use of the exclamation mark can improve your writing.  Overuse can kill it!  We use it to:

  • Command; for example: “Get out!”
  • Convey irony or emphasize insults; for example: “That’ll be right!” or “You idiot!”
  • Convey great surprise, anger or disgust; for example: “I won!” or “It’s filthy!”

Quotation marks

Double or single?  The choice is yours, but having made your choice, stick with it: be consistent.

  • Quotation marks indicate direct speech: they show the exact words someone has spoken.
    • Example: The professor said, “If your paper is late, it will be ungraded.”
  • Do not use quotation marks if you are paraphrasing what someone has said.
    • Example: The professor said that if our papers are late, they will not get a grade.
  • Capitalize the first letter of the word that begins a quotation.


Some of the main uses of the semicolon include to:

  • Join independent clauses that are closely related; for example: “I am not going to help him; he never offers to help me.”
  • Separate word groups that already contain commas; for example: The Student Council was composed of Abbas Mohammed, President; Sri Hartini, Vice President; James Taylor, Treasurer and Carolyn Johnson, Secretary.
  • Emphasize opposite statements and contrast; for example: I loved the car; pity about the colour.”

Semicolons are often founds in phrases that use transitional words, such as: after all, as a result of, for example, however, in addition, in fact, therefore, and thus.

The first sentence above could be improved to read:

I am not going to help him; after all, he never offers to help me.