We use punctuation to create sense and clarity. Every punctuation mark has a meaning and each language has its rules.


Use punctuation in English and improve your writing skills!

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The comma

The comma (,) marks a short pause between elements in a sentence.

It separates two sentences:

  • It is cold outside, but I want to take a walk.

Items on a list:

  • I bought bread, butter and jam.


  • It is a hot, dusty road.

Before question tags and short answers:

  • It's a beautiful day, isn't it? Yes, it is.

In reported speech:

  • "I don't understand," said Peter. / Peter said, "I don't understand."

Quotation marks

We use quotation marks (" " or ' ') in direct speech:

  • "I don't know," John replied.

To draw attention to a word:

  • The word "book" can be either a noun or a verb.

The full stop

We use the full stop (.)

to mark the end of a sentence:

  • I love pop music.

in initials for people's names:

  • J.K. Rowling

after abbreviations that don't contain the last letter of the shortened word:

  • Prof. Smith (Professor)
  • Dr McDonald (Doctor)

after an indirect question:

  • He asked if the bus had left.

The question mark

We use the question mark (?) at the end of a question:

  • Where are you going?
  • The lady said, "Where are you going?"
  • Isn't it?

The exclamation mark

We use the exclamation mark (!) after exclamations and emphatic expressions:

  • I can't believe it!
  • Oh, no! Look!
  • Here I am!

The colon

We use the colon (:)

in front of a list:

  • I use three colours: green, blue and pink.

in front of an explanation or a reason:

  • However, the problem remained: what should we do with him?

to introduce direct speech:

  • He said: "I don't know."


We use brackets (also called parentheses) to enclose a word or words that can be left out and still leave a meaningful sentence.

  • This area (see map below) is 40 hectares.
    "This area is 40 hectares" is still a meaningful sentence.

The hyphen

We use the hyphen (-) to join words or parts of words.

After prefixes:

  • Neo-Byzantine cathedral

or to form an adjective:

  • a six-year-old boy