Punctuation: Definition, Types & Usage Rules


Punctuation was not considered as an important part of any language in ancient times. People realized the importance of punctuation gradually after the advancement of civilization. Punctuations were included in the language to help the reader in distinguishing the words and ideas from each other and to understand the original rhythms of the language. The following article will help in building an understanding of the usage of some basic and common used punctuations.


END MARKS: Periods, Note of Interrogation, Note of Exclamation


The most commonly used punctuation mark is the period also known as a full stop in England, used at the end of sentences. It is also used to distinguish two sentences from each other so that the reader doesn’t get in any confusion and do not mix up two separate sentences. A period or a full stop is used to end a sentence that is self-explanatory not a question or an exclamatory sentence.


Sarah was a little girl when she saw her grandfather dying. She was so traumatized and panicked that she couldn’t sleep for a month. She still fears the sight of someone’s death.

The period is used in abbreviations as well.


  • Saint = St.
  • Doctor = Dr.
  • Mister = Mr.


Note of Interrogation (Question Mark) (?)

Sentences that are interrogating something are ended with a note of interrogation. It completes such types of sentences and converts them into a direct question. However, indirect questions are considered as statements and they end with periods instead of a question mark.



  • Have you had your dinner?
  • Where is she going?
  • I want to know where she is going. (A complete statement not a direct question)


Do you know Blaire was watching TV all day long while I was out making arrangements for a party that I want to throw on coming Sunday?

Do you want to think about your family once? Your kids? Your life? Your career? (A series of questions containing similar subject and verb)

Note: Words such as Who? So? Where? Right? Are single word questions and can only be used in informal writing.


Note of Exclamation (Exclamation mark/point) (!)

Any sentence that expresses excitement, regardless of being negative or positive shows that excitement by using the note of exclamation. This mark is also used to add extra emphasis to sentences, phrases or single words and specifically the ones that are commands or interjections.


  • Hold on! Don’t make another move!
  • I can’t believe Sarah could say that!
  • What a huge mansion!

Note: it’s better to avoid the usage of the exclamation mark and the excitement should be expressed through words. However, you can be particular while using punctuation in any type of writing.


Comma (,)

One of the most commonly used punctuation mark in English is the comma. It holds an important role in the construction of written English and in making it easy to read.

Comma Between Independent Clauses

The most common and frequent use of a comma is to separate two independent clauses if they are connected through definite coordinating conjunction such as (or, and, for, but, nor, or). Incase if the clauses are very precise there is no need to use a comma.


  • They did their dinner in complete silence, but Cedrick knew that he would have to make an apology.
  • Cedrick wanted to watch an episode after lunch, but she could not tell him as she was confused about his reactions.
  • We had breakfast and then I cleaned the house. ( comma is not required between these two clauses)


A comma after Introductory Clauses, Phrases, and Expression

The use of a comma is not limited in between independent clauses but it can also be used after an introductory clause and phrases. Expressions and connectors that are placed at the starting of a sentence also need a comma after them.


If you take off your raincoat, you will get wet. (In case if the subordinators are used in the starting of a sentence, then comma can be used to separate the two clauses.)

Before playing the game, you should read the safety instructions.

Well, I cannot dance in the next ball.

However, Clara will dance in the next ball.

In winter many animals go into hibernation. (Precise phrases such as “in winter” don’t require commas.)

Note: A smart way to clear the confusion about commas is to read the sentence to ensure if there’s enough pause taken or not for the usage of a comma.


She brought chips, cookies, burgers, and a cake on tour.

The fielder set up his safety pads wore his helmet and performed well in the match. (Verb phrases)

She is a singer, an artist, and a professional player.


Comma before Tag Question

Commas are also used before a tag question which is often a summary of a sentence’s overall idea.

She is ready to go, isn’t she?

He will never do it, will he?

She loves you, doesn’t she?


Comma in Direct Address

Commas are also used in vocative uses. Calling someone from their name or referring directly to them needs to be separated from commas.


  • Hey, Ben, what are you up to?
  • Listen, Clara, you have to play well today.
  • You know, Ben, when I was a boy, I used to play a lot.


Comma for Adding Nonessential Ideas and Nonrestrictive Clauses

Commas are also useful to include unimportant ideas or facts in the form of words, phrases, or clauses in order to turn them in a proper sentence. However, even if we remove such ideas and opinions from sentences they will not affect the grammatical authenticity of the sentences.


  • There’s a castle in Switzerland, just across the lake, where I visited last month.
  • The new batsmen, you know her, scored an amazing century.
  • I recommend if that’s okay, that you let her go.


Commas in Names and Dates

Commas are also used to distinguish between names of places and dates.


  • Toronto City, Canada, is one of the peaceful cities in the world.
  • They were married on January 07, 2017, in Calgary. (a comma is not required for month and day, they were married on January 7 in Calgary.)
  • She was born May 23, 1991, in Dubai.


Commas in Dialog

Commas are also required in a dialog box in order to set off the indirect speech from direct speech.


  • I told her, “Don’t eat it”.


Common Mistakes with Commas

Commas can never separate two verbs or verb phrases combined by a coordinator.

INCORRECT: I washed, and fixed the box

CORRECT: I washed and fixed the box


Commas can’t be used to separate two nouns, noun phrases or noun clauses that are combined with the help of conjunction.

INCORRECT: My trainer and our board vice president both received letters.

CORRECT: My trainer and our board vice president both received letters.


The subordinate clauses do not require commas when they are written together by a conjunction between them.

INCORRECT: She will be late if you don’t pick her up.

CORRECT: she will be late if you don’t pick her up. (if you don’t pick her up, she will be late.)


Colon (:)

A colon is the least used punctuation mark in grammar. The use of colons is limited to only sentence that have a specific type of structure. Although, if you are aware of their usage, you can use them in your document as well.

  • Colons are required in the salutations of formal letters

Dear Mam:

To all participants:

  • Colons are also used to begin a series or list in order to describe some new information after the completion of a sentence.


  • The baker had: pancakes, bread loaves, cupcakes, and hot cross buns.
  • The baker had four types of baked items: pancakes, bread loaves, cupcakes, and hot cross buns.
  • In specific situations, a colon is also used to add two independent clauses where the initial clause describes and the second clause follows it according to the logic. The initial word that comes after a colon is often not capitalized unless the colon is used for introducing a series of new statements or independent clauses.


  • She was just saying only one thing: what was her mom doing then?
  • He knew the clue: I only had to read it in a blue light.
  • A colon is also used to tell the time in figures.


  • 2:35 AM (Not o’clock)
  • 6:50 PM
  • 9:00 in the morning


Semicolon (;)

Semicolons are almost similar to the periods, however, they do connect two independent clauses or statements together rather using a coordinating conjunction. Semicolons among the two clauses or the sentences highlight that the clauses are closely linked. Semicolons are replaceable with coordinating conjunctions.


  • She does not require a car now; so we want to purchase it) (here the semicolon can be changed into and)
  • Words such as therefore, namely, additionally, moreover, finally, indeed and for instance are the common transitional expressions that are used after a semicolon in order to start a new clause.



  • She used to love hunting; however, it is not legal.
  • She does not like me; similarly, I do not like her.
  • It’s too hot out there; indeed, it’s summer.


Hyphen (-)

Hyphens are used to combine two words together to convert them into a compound noun or an adjective. The hyphens are also used with specific suffixes and prefixes such as wise, anti, post, like- to create new adjectives.


  • Anti-virus
  • Cat-like
  • Quality-wise
  • Country-owned


The compound numbers and continuous numbers need a hyphen in them. A hyphen is always used with compound numbers from 21 to 99 in other words and also with fractions that function as adjectives in a sentence. Fractions that are considered as nouns do not require hyphens.


  • Seventy-four
  • Sixty-five
  • Their age is 56-45
  • One-third full a bottle


Dash (–)

A dash is used to show a small break in thought or helps in adding information to a sentence. A dash contains no space prior to or after it.


  • The woman was running around the block-I couldn’t see her face- and vanished down the alley.
  • This mansion- and every other mansion on the street-will be linked by this wire.
  • Eric William-you know him, I think- is coming to the ball.
  • A dash is also used to replace the conjunctions like namely, in other words, or that is in order to add a new piece of information or explanation.



  • He was thinking about another bridge-the one through London.
  • There’s only one way to win-don’t miss any single day of practice


Apostrophe (’)

This symbol is used to show or express possessiveness and the removal of letters in contradictions.


  • They’re going to Washington DC.
  • I’m not eating.
  • Patrick’s cufflink.
  • Sarah’ pen


Quotation Marks (‘…’/“…”)

Quotation marks are symbols that are used to enclose direct quotations of either written or spoken words of others, or dialogues spoken by fictional characters


  • Have you seen the new movie with the song “that’s how you know”?
  • “Play with strategy” screamed the coach.



Commas and periods can only be placed inside the quotation marks as per the citation format.

Note of exclamation is placed inside the quotation marks if they are a part of the quoted element. Similarly, an interrogation mark or exclamation mark if they are not a part of a quoted material, then they are placed outside the quotation mark.


Parentheses – ()

Parentheses are used to limit the material that creates a confusion by interrupting the text to include information.


  • The parks (in London) are always crowded.
  • They offer a lot of services. (See their website)



Brackets that are used to enclose the additional things in the quoted material. Such additions are used to clarify the words or phrases of the quoted material.


They [the management] are furious due to the poor performance.

Brackets also help in blocking off the material that gets mixed up in the materials that are already enclosed with the help of parentheses.