Category Archives: Punctuation

Punctuation. Related articles can be found in Spelling, English Vocabulary and Editing and Style.

How to Use Apostrophes

The rules for apostrophes vary with the type of word. Learn where to put apostrophes so that your writing is clear and correct. In short, apostrophes are frequently used to indicate possession and in contractions, but never to pluralize.

Never use an apostrophe to indicate a plural. The wrong use of an apostrophe to form the plural is called the greengrocer’s apostrophe, since grocers are often the worst (or at least the most visible) offenders. If you have more than one apple, then write apples, not apple’s. If you cannot replace the word with “his,” “her,” “their”, or “its” and if it isn’t a contraction, then an apostrophe should not be used.

  • People often forget the rules when a word ends in a vowel, such as the word “mango.” Many people write “mango’s” instead of “mangos” or “mangoes“.
  • An exception to this use is in the case of making a single letter plural. Therefore, Why are there so many i’s in the word “indivisibility”? is correct. This is simply for clarity reasons, so the reader does not mistake it for the word “is.” However, in modern usage, the preference is to avoid inserting an apostrophe and instead surround the single letter in quotation marks before pluralizing it: Why are there so many “I”s in the word “indivisibility”?
  • Apostrophes are never used in plurals, no matter what the personal preference is. “Do’s and don’t’s” is wrong; the correct form is “dos and don’ts”.
  • Making an exception for numbers and abbreviations is not current practice. MLA guidelines suggest that no apostrophe is needed following numbers (as when naming a decade). “I bought many CD’s in the 1990’s.” is wrong; the correct form is “I bought many CDs in the 1990s.”

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How to Use English Punctuation Correctly

With the dawn of the Internet, the birth of Internet slang, and the growing age of SMS, many individuals are forgetting the fundamental aspects of English punctuation. Would you like to write a great paper for one of your classes? Maybe you need to submit a polished, impeccable proposal to your boss. If so, it will help to know proper usage of punctuation. Consider this article a crash course in English punctuation, and read on.

End your sentences with a period (full stop), question mark, or exclamation point (exclamation mark or shout mark).

  • Use the period (full stop) to denote a full stop at the end of a statement. The period ( .) is one of the most commonly used punctuation marks.
    • The accessibility of the computer has increased tremendously over the past several years.
  • The question mark ( ?), used at the end of a sentence, suggests an interrogatory remark or inquiry.
    • What has humanity done about the growing concern of global warming?
  • The exclamation point (exclamation mark, shout mark)( !) suggests excitement or emphasis in a sentence.
    • I can’t believe how difficult the exam was!

Use the semicolon and colon properly.

  • The semicolon ( ;) has a few uses.
    • Use a semicolon to separate two related but independent clauses. Note that, if the two clauses are very wordy or complex, it is better to use a period (full stop) instead.
      • People continue to worry about the future; our failure to conserve resources has put the world at risk.
    • Use a semicolon to separate a complex series of items, especially those that contain commas.
      • I went to the show with Jake, my close friend; his friend, Jane; and her best friend, Jenna.
  • The colon ( :) has multiple uses.
    • Use the colon to introduce a list. Be careful not to use a colon when denoting a regular series. Usually, the word followingsuggests the use of a colon. Use only after a full sentence which ends in a noun.
      • The professor has given me three options: to retake the exam, to accept the extra credit assignment, or to fail the class.
      • INCORRECT – The Easter basket contained: Easter eggs, chocolate rabbits, and other candy.

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How to Use Question Marks Correctly

Although the question mark is one of the easiest punctuation symbols to use in writing, it’s easy to misuse it. In part, this may be due to to trying to make it work harder when it doesn’t need to be used, or it just might be because it’s not well understood that not all question type statements need a question mark. After reading this article though, you’ll be much the wiser on knowing how to use a question mark correctly. But you knew that, didn’t you?

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How to Use a Dash in an English Sentence

Do you use a dash a lot? What about a hyphen? Many people can’t tell the difference between them. Some people even think they are the same thing. If you are one of them, check this out and master the dash.

Know the kinds of dashes. A dash is noticeably longer than a hyphen. There are several different dashes, but the most commonly used are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). They are so named because they are the same width as the small letter n and capital letter M, respectively.

  • The figure dash is a special typographical character most often used in phone numbers. Since it’s normally unavailable in word processing, you can simply use a hyphen. (Example: 408‒555‒6792, or use 408-555-6792.)
  • An en dash (–) is most commonly used to indicate a range of numbers. It is longer than a hyphen although a hyphen with spaces surrounding it can be used if a dash is not available. In Microsoft Word, doing this will automatically change the hyphen into an en dash. (Example: August 13–August 18, or pages 29–349. Note that there should be no space around the en dash.)
  • An em dash is most often used to indicate a break in thought or to set an appositive off from the rest of the sentence. It can also be used to show a date when the time frame in question has not yet ended (Example: John Smith, 1976—).

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How to Identify and Fix a Comma Splice

Poor comma placement will destroy even the nicest, most eloquent essays. A comma splice is a common error in English consisting of joining two independent clauses with only a comma. Once you recognize a comma splice, it is easy to rewrite the sentence so that it is correct.

Understand what a comma splice is. A comma splice is the use of a comma to join two independent clauses. It is generally considered bad form when writing in English.

  • Wrong: That is a horrible plan, I hope they never implement it.

Write independent clauses as separate, complete sentences.

  • That is a horrible plan. I hope they never implement it.

Use a semicolon to join two short, independent clauses that are closely related.

  • That is a horrible plan; I hope they never implement it.

Use a conjunction and a comma to join two related independent clauses.

  • I’d like to go, but I don’t have the time.
  • He already asked me, and I think I will say yes.

Rewrite one of the independent clauses as a dependent clause, and attach it to the remaining dependent clause.

  • Ella is my boss. Ella asked me to attend the meeting. (Two independent clauses)
  • Ella, my boss, asked me to attend the meeting.
  • I had no map. I got lost.
  • Because I had no map, I got lost.

Recognize the exceptions to the rule. A comma splice may be used if the independent clauses are short and related. It may also be used in poetic writing. Strunk gives the following example: The gate swung apart, the bridge fell, the portcullis was drawn up.


  • Familiarize yourself with good sentence structure; knowing the rules will make it easier to identify improperly used commas.
  • A comma splice is correct usage in Spanish, but not in English. Different rules will apply in different languages.

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