Stops, Or How to Punctuate A Practical Handbook for Writers and Students

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This makes the semi-colon one of the most useful and most under-used punctuation marks in English. If the second clause can be regarded as an explanation or an extension of the first, you can use a colon:. A dash can often be used in the same way as a colon or semi-colon, especially in less formal writing:.

Note that neither dashes nor colons are usually followed by a capital letter, since no new sentence is involved. In America, however, there is a growing trend towards the use of a capital after a colon, especially when a new independent clause is involved. What you must not do is join two independent clauses only with a comma i. Using commas in this way creates a so-called 'run-on' sentence. Run-on sentences sound like 'stream of consciousness' writing, as though you were just putting down ideas one after another without thinking about how they relate to one another:.

An adverbial indicates such things as when , where , why or how something is done. It may be a single word, such as yesterday when or slowly how , or it may be much longer - a phrase or even a clause. When short adverbials are placed at the end or in the middle of a sentence, they should not usually be separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma. Adverbials placed at the beginning of a sentence are often separated by a comma, though whether or not to use one is usually a matter of choice.

Note that not all adverbials can be placed at the beginning of a sentence. I told him the story of my life while we were walking in the garden. While we were walking in the garden , I told him the story of my life. I'll murder him if he gives away the secret. If he gives away the secret , I'll murder him. I often have pizza for lunch on Tuesdays. On Tuesdays I often have pizza for lunch.

I reached out and touched her gently. Gently , I reached out and touched her. Adverbials defining the time or place at which the action of the sentence takes place are not preceded by a comma if they come last in the sentence:. We'll forward the goods when we have received payment.

You must sign the contract on the dotted line. Adverbials introduced by conjunctions such as though , although, and since when it means because can always be separated from the rest of the clause by a comma, and often are - even when they come at the end of the sentence:. I'll see her, although I don't want to. I'm sure she'll agree, since you've asked so nicely. The separation from the rest of the sentence can be strengthened by the use of a dash, suggesting a long pause in speech:.

This is a complex area, and it is not practicable to list here all the different punctuation rules for the various types of adverbial. I hope to develop this area more fully at a later date. There are various ways in which we might regard some words and phrases as being inserted into a sentence. A rough test for whether something should be regarded as inserted is to see whether the sentence would still make sense in context without the inserted material. Insertions are normally marked off in some way by punctuation marks.

Unless the insertion comes at the beginning or end of the sentence, the punctuation marks will be in pairs. We shall leave the house weather permitting at three. Picnics, if taken, should be carried in rucksacks. The leaders - all four of them - will be wearing yellow jackets. Jack Jones, the new Sales Manager, will make the presentation. Coffee will unfortunately have to be delayed until four. He was asked - in his own best interests - to leave the company. Notice that parentheses and dashes tend to make the insertion look more separate from the rest of the sentence than commas, and the choice of punctuation should be made accordingly.

Dashes are more common in informal writing. Parentheses can also be used to indicate that a whole sentence has been inserted into a paragraph. In such a case, the full stop is enclosed within the parentheses. This sentence is an example of such an insertion. Words or expressions such as however and on the other hand can be thought of as insertions.

These are expressions which relate the current sentence to a previous one. They always should be separated from the rest of the sentence by commas:. The horse, however, got away. However, the horse got away. The horse got away, however. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide whether a piece of text should be treated as an insertion or not, especially when it gives information about a noun. First, consider these examples:.

The Pope, who was feeling unwell, had to leave early. The cup with a green handle belongs to the manager. In the first sentence, the information that the Pope was feeling unwell is regarded as an insertion, because it is not needed in order to make clear who or what we are talking about. There is only one Pope. In the second instance the information 'with a green handle' has clearly been included to tell the listener which cup belongs to the manager; it is not inserted extra information, but is essential to the conversation.

Imagine a situation where you were trying to decide which cup to use out of several on the table, and someone said 'The cup belongs to the manager' - in context, this would not make any sense, even though it is a grammatically correct sentence. The contract, which I signed yesterday, should make us rich. The contract which I signed yesterday should make us rich.

Which is the correct punctuation - with or without commas?

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It all depends on the context. If I've already been talking about the new contract, and my listener didn't know that I'd actually signed it, the first sentence would be correct, meaning something like:. If, on the other hand, this is the first mention in this conversation of this particular contract, and I want to indicate to the person I'm talking to which contract I'm talking about out of the many that I've signed this year, then the second sentence would be correct. This problem of deciding whether a phrase is essential identification or just inserted extra information occurs especially with clauses beginning with which or who.

If you have problems working out whether or not to put in commas, try these tests:. Here's an example:. The last part of the sentence is a comment, meaning 'and that is splendid'. It doesn't give extra information about the word year , which comes immediately before it, but comments on the whole of the sentence.

A colon is used to show that what follows is and explanation or extension of what went before. We have already seen the colon used in this way in joining independent clauses. Other structures can also be introduced in this way:. The subject of the sentence should not be separated from the rest of the sentence the predicate by a punctuation mark, even if it might seem natural to pause in speech after a long subject. Thus, although you would automatically write:.

Of course, if the subject contains an insertion surrounded by a pair of commas, one of these may well come immediately before the verb:. English does not form compounds as easily as some Germanic languages, so be very careful about putting two words together as one. In some cases hyphens are used to indicate that two words represent a single concept, sometimes it is normal to write the compound as one word, and sometimes the two words are kept entirely separate.

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So we get:. The only way to find out whether it is possible to write a particular combination of two words as a single word or as a hyphenated expression is to look it up in the dictionary. Remember, though, that there is a great deal of variation in the way different people write compounds. If in doubt, write two separate words. When the second word is a verb participle a verb form ending in -ing or - ed , a hyphen is often used.

There are other occasions when modifiers can be hyphenated. Long words can be divided by a hyphen if they come at the end of a line. Basic rules for hyphenation in English are:. In lists where there are three or more nouns or clauses, the last item in the list is preceded by and or or or occasionally other words :.

James, Judy and John went jogging. The jogger must be James, Judy or John. James met Judy and John, went jogging, and then came home. James went jogging, Judy went swimming, and John stayed at home to cook the breakfast. In British English the final comma is often left out if the list is clear and simple, but may be included if it helps to make the sentence easier to read.

If in doubt, put in a comma. When the adjectives come before the noun, the same thing happens, though and will probably not be used:. These rules only apply if the adjectives are of the 'same type'. No commas are used in this example:. You can see that the adjectives are of different types because you can't put them in a list after the noun. This sentence is incorrect:. Note that the word and is not needed in such a case, since that concept is included in the Latin phrase et cetera. Sometimes a list can be introduced by a colon. The colon indicates that what follows is an extension or explanation of what went before:.

Use a colon only when the list is grammatically separate from the rest of the sentence. There should be no colon in sentences such as. If the items in the list are complex, perhaps with commas included in them, the list may be marked with semi-colons acting as 'strong' commas:. I need three things: a torch with a long-life 9-volt battery; a length of rope, or some very thick string; and a bag which I can easily carry on my back, to put the other things in.

In letters, reports, brochures, and various other documents, it may be easier to use bullets or dashes to mark items in a list. Conventions are not really clear yet about what punctuation to use with bullets and dashes.

About The Punctuation Guide

In the example above I have used nothing other than a full stop; however, I could also punctuate the list as if it was a normal sentence:. Personally, I think this is a bit too much. But whatever you decide to do, you must be consistent throughout your document. When using bullets, it is also possible to put a capital letter after each bullet, even if you are not really starting a new 'sentence':.

Remember that no amount of punctuation will make a list successful if it consists of items which are grammatically or conceptually different. Thus the following is not a grammatically correct list:. Some punctuation marks have indicating meaning as their main function rather than marking grammatical divisions. A question mark is always necessary in connection with a direct question, whether or not the grammar of the sentence also indicates a question:.

If speech is being written down, an exclamation mark can be used to indicate how something was said:. In a written text, an exclamation mark indicates the writer's strong attitude to something: it shows that we think something is surprising, extraordinary, annoying, etc. And then he told me to pack my bags! I can't wait to meet the President! You can drink as much as you want! How long this document is! Exclamation marks are fine in personal letters, advertising, etc. They are generally associated with personal feelings, so they occur in documents where it is appropriate for the writer to let their feelings show.

"Stops", or, How to punctuate : a practical handbook for writers and students

Exclamation marks can be doubled or more for extra effect. An exclamation mark in brackets can indicate a parenthetic comment on what has just been written. And then he kissed me!!! He sat down, took off both his shoes! A row of dots can be left to indicate that the writer leaves it to the reader's imagination to finish what is being said. There were pickled gherkins, pickled herrings, pickled walnuts, pickled capers, The flowers were beautiful, and as for the fruit Again, this sort of attitudinal punctuation is only appropriate in personal communications, or communications such as advertisements which the writer wants to appear personal.

Writers of informal e-mail messages sometimes use 'smileys' to indicate how they feel about what they write. A basic smiley is made by typing a colon, a hyphen and a bracket. If you turn your head on one side, these seem to show either a happy or a sad face, depending on the direction of the bracket:. Lists of smileys and their often strange meanings can be found on the World Wide Web; search for 'emoticons'.

Novelists or playwrights may use apostrophes to indicate missing sounds in speech if they are trying to give an idea of someone's pronunciation:. Short forms of words such as telephone and aeroplane should also be marked with an apostrophe, though this habit is disappearing:. If you miss something out from a quotation, this should be shown by a row of three dots. Of course, missing words out in order to change the meaning is totally unethical - you're only supposed to do it to save space, while keeping the basic meaning the same! Sometimes missing something out destroys the sense of the text, and a short version may have to be added in square brackets:.

Square brackets are used to indicate that the words not those of the original writer. They may also be used to indicate that capitalisation has been changed. In this case we can see that originally 'The manual is badly written' was the beginning of a sentence.

Apostrophes are used to indicate that something belongs to something else in some sense not necessarily in the sense of 'ownership', however. John's ball has been lost. Bill's pride is hurt. Jenny's French is terrible.

About This Guide

Thursday's concert was a disaster. If the 'possessor' is a word ending in s , then the apostrophe comes after the s :. The ladies' hats have blown away the hats belonging to the ladies Dickens' books are wonderful the books written by Dickens. In the case of names ending with s, some people will add an extra s if they would pronounce the possessive form with an extra '-iz':. Note that possessive adjectives my, your, his, her, mine, hers, etc.

The meaning of possession is included in the form of the word, and no additional apostrophe is needed. Many people make mistakes such as:. Direct speech is usually shown using double quotation marks or inverted commas , though British English may sometimes use single inverted commas. Note that in some print fonts the quotation marks at the beginning of the speech section look like small sixes, and those at the end like small nines.

Notice that there is always a punctuation mark before the inverted commas are closed. If the speaker asked a question or made an exclamation, the appropriate marks are used; otherwise use a comma or full stop, according to whether or not the end of the sentence has been reached. It is the end of the text sentence, not the speaker's sentence, which decides whether a comma or full stop is used. There is also usually a punctuation mark before the inverted commas are opened, though occasionally this may be omitted:.

Commas are the most usual punctuation mark before a section of speech, though colons may also be used. Note that a capital letter is used in the quoted speech where the speaker begins a new sentence. The meeting was late starting. The Chairman sat down and said loudly, "Let's get started, or we won't get home before ten!

In American English, quoting from written texts is done in almost exactly the same way as speech. Double quotation marks are used, and quotation marks are always preceded by a punctuation mark except where that is used. The report states that "all accidents are avoidable," and suggests that safety officers should be "better trained. Note that although 'all accidents are avoidable' might have been the beginning of a sentence, no capital letter is used if this is more natural for the flow of the text. If this was indeed the beginning of a sentence in the original, then it would be more correct to use square brackets to indicate the change in capitalisation, though this might be regarded as unnecessarily fussy except in academic papers:. The report states that "[a]ll accidents are avoidable," and suggests that safety officers should be "better trained.

Learn Punctuation: period, exclamation mark, question mark

In British English, single inverted commas are more usually used for quoting. The rule about putting a punctuation mark before the inverted commas are closed is dropped if the punctuation is part of the new text rather than part of the quotation:. The report states that '[a]ll accidents are avoidable', and suggests that safety officers should be 'better trained'. The question it poses is, 'Can the situation be improved?

There is much variation in the ways in which individual publishers punctuate quotes; for example, some treat full sentences that are quoted differently from words and short phrases. The important thing is to be consistent. Longer quotations more than four lines are usually inset, and often printed in smaller type. In such a case, there is no need to use quote marks. Cars should be 'fitted with louder horns' 27 , and 'learner drivers should be given more lessons' A full stop indicates that a word has been shortened.

Thus, 'U. However, when the abbreviations are entirely in lower case, it is impossible to avoid full stops - without them, the abbreviation might look like normal text. Each tip is accompanied by authentic examples of student writing, Each tip is accompanied by authentic examples of student writing, suggested rewrites and useful exercises. Lively illustrations help students to understand and remember essential principles of grammar and punctuation, and end-of-chapter checklists help them to develop effective proofreading skills. This compact and concise book is a must-have for students of all levels, and a valuable resource for teachers needing no-nonsense explanations of key punctuation and grammar points.

Contains dozens of memorable tips on punctuation, style, grammar and essay structure, supplemented by visual aids which assist long-term retention of them Provides straightforward, step-by-step guidance on solving the trickiest of writing problems Includes handy proofreading checklists at the end of each chapter, to help students polish their writing Based on real examples collected from dozens of students.

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