Puntuation Resources



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The full stop (.)

The full stop is the strongest mark of punctuation. It concludes the meaning and ends the sentence. It is used:

1. at the end of a sentence.
2. after an abbreviation, except when the final letter of the original form is retained (Mr, Mrs, Dr), thought many writes in fact use the full stop after all abbreviations.

The Comma

The comma (,) is used:

The comma is a weaker form of punctuation. It is used to indicate the grammar of the sentence by separating clauses and phrases. Commas are also used to punctuate sentences for ease of understanding and reading aloud. They are used:

1. between two words of the same part of speech.
The man was small, dark and dirty.
All he wants is wine, women and song.

2. to mark off any asides from the main flow of thought.
It is, in my opinion, a derivative piece of work.
Jim, however, thought otherwise.

3. between words or phrases in apposition.
O'Reilly, the star of the team, failed to score.

4. before and after non-restrictive clauses (clauses which do not define or restrict the subject).
Tom, who is my favourite brother, has emigrated. (non-restrictive)
The man who stole the car was imprisoned. (restrictive)

5. to mark the omission of a verb.
Maire's exhibit was awarded the first prize; mine, the second.

6. after a phrase at the beginning of a sentence.
Having captured the town, the barbarians destroyed it.

7. to mark of adverbial clauses which precede the word they modify.
When he saw the guards, he fled.
When the adverbial clause follows the word it modifies, a comma is unnecessary.
He fled when he saw the guards.

8. to introduce a quotation and within dialogue.
Tom said, "I shall soon fall asleep."
"I shall soon fall asleep," said Tom, "if he doesn't come."


The semicolon (;)

The semicolon (;) is used:
1. to separate the parts of a balanced sentence.
It's beauty is indescribable; you must see it yourself.

2. to separate the parts of an antithetical sentence.
Occasionally his speech rose to rhetorical heights; mostly he wasn't incoherent.

3. to separate distinct but related statements.
He selected the appropriate key; he inserted it gently into the lock; with relief he heard it turn.

The colon (:)

The colon (:) is used:
1. to introduce quotations.
Donne wrote: "busy old fool………"

2. to introduce a list of terms.
The following items should be brought: a knife, a mug, a tin opener……..

3. to introduce data.
Positive reaction was noted in the following instances:

4. when a second statement explains and/or completes the first.
There is just this chance: the plane may be delayed.

5. for dramatic antithesis.
Those outside could not get in: those inside could not get out.

NB It will be noted from some of the above examples that a judicious use of the colon and semicolon will reduce the need for conjunctions (and, but, etc.).

The dash (-)

The dash (-) is used:
1. to show parenthesis.
When the examination was over-it lasted three hours-Charles sighed with relief.

2. to gather up a scattered subject.
Men, women, children - all were lost.

NB Brackets ( ) may be used in place of dashes to indicate parenthesis.

The apostrophe (')

The apostrophe (') is used:
1. to indicate the omission of a letter. In this form the apostrophe indicates that the word is a contraction of a longer word, or of two words. Contractions are common in idiomatic speech. Contractions are also popular in poetry where they allow words shortening to comply with the requirements of the metre.
It's a fine, soft day.

2. to show ownership. In this form the apostrophe indicates the possessive case of he noun.
The boy's book (belonging to one boy, so the apostrophe precedes "s".)
The boys' book (belonging to more than one boy, so the apostrophe follows the plural form of the word.)

The question mark (?)

The question mark (?) is used:
1. after direct questions.
Where have you been?

It is not used in reported speech after indirect questions.
The teacher asked where the boy had been.

Inverted commas (" ")

Inverted commas (" ") are also called quotation marks and 66s and 99s. They are used:
1. to indicate direct speech.
"Make yourselves at home," said Jack.

2. for the titles of books, plays, poems, etc.
"Macbeth" is one of Shakespeare's greatest plays.

NB In printed material, such as this book, the titles of books and plays are often printed in italics.


Punctuation Exercise 1

Punctuate the following sentences:
1. Here is my plan let us make a fresh start
2. You must be very careful or the glass will crack
3. Here is your present you may have it now
4. The book is not in my opinion very entertaining
5. His pension in spite of inflation enables him to live comfortably
6. He read a long uninteresting passage from his new novel
7. Could you give me a hand please
8. The other car is I suppose beyond repair
9. Running quickly through the crowded streets John managed to catch the train
10. For instance your brakes might fail

Punctuation Exercise 2

Punctuate the following sentences:
1. Where did you come from asked Joan
2. Turn right at the next cross said the garda and you cant miss it
3. What is the matter with you I said
4. Isnt that Toms car
5. Lets hurry home before it rains
6. Youre in too much of a hurry
7. Its never too late to repent
8. Friends fortune fame he had achieved them all
9. You will have to leave home at half past seven
10. The dog put its paw in the wet cement

Punctuation Exercise 3

Punctuate the following sentences:
1. It would serve you right but then I suppose youre not to blame
2. This carpet don't you think will match the furniture
3. What then have we discovered
4. Even if we are beaten we should not give up hope
5. You will remember that we spoke earlier of synonyms words similar in meaning
6. As a first step towards achieving our aim we must draw up a plan
7. It seems probable that The Tempest was Shakespeares final play
8. Barley was unobtainable what was too dear and rye was unsuitable
9. The utter inadequacy of the Government measures wrote an inhabitant of Skibbereen was impossible to describe
10. The Government however was unwilling to recognise that an emergency existed


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