Rules of Punctuation :
The common marks of punctuation are the period, the interrogation
point, the exclamation point, the comma, the semicolon,
the colon, the dash, marks of parenthesis, and quotation marks.
The hyphen and the apostrophe may be conveniently treated
along with marks of punctuation.
1. The period, the interrogation point, and the exclamation point
are used at the end of sentences. Every complete sentence must be
followed by one of these three marks.
The end of a declarative or an imperative sentence is marked by
a period. But a declarative or an imperative sentence that is likewise
exclamatory may be followed by an exclamation point instead
of a period.
The end of a direct question is marked by an interrogation point.
An exclamatory sentence in the form of an indirect question is followed
by an exclamation point; as,—“How absolute the knave is!"
2. A period is used after an abbreviation.
3. An exclamation point is used after an exclamatory word or
Note. This rule is not absolute. Most interjections take the exclamation
point. With other words and with phrases, usage differs; if strong feeling is
expressed, the exclamation point is commonly used, but too many such marks
deface the page.
The comma is used—
1. After a noun (or a phrase) of direct address (a vocative nominative).
- John, tell me the truth.
- Little boy, what is your name?
Note. If the noun is exclamatory, an exclamation point may be used
instead of a comma.
2. Before a direct quotation in a sentence. Thus,—
The cry ran through the ranks, “Are we never to move forward?"
Note. When the quotation is long or formal, a colon, or a colon and a
dash, may be used instead of a comma, especially with the words as follows.
3. After a direct quotation when this is the subject or the object
of a following verb. Thus,—
“They are coming; the attack will be made on the center," said Lord
“I see it," was the cool reply of the duke.
Note. If the quotation ends with an interrogation point or an exclamation
point, no comma is used.
4. To separate words, or groups of words, arranged in a coördinate
series, when these are not connected by and, or, or nor.
If the conjunction is used to connect the last two members of the
series but omitted with the others, the comma may be used before
- I found two saws, an axe, and a hammer.
- They were so shy, so subtle, and so swift of foot, that it was difficult to come
- It would make the reader pity me to tell what odd, misshapen, ugly things
- They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose.
Note 1. Commas may be used even when conjunctions are expressed, if
the members of the series consist of several words, or if the writer wishes to
emphasize their distinctness.
Note 2. Clauses in a series are commonly separated by semicolons unless
they are short and simple.
5. To set off words and phrases out of their regular order. Thus,—
Seated on her accustomed chair, with her usual air of apathy and want of
interest in what surrounded her, she seemed now and then mechanically to
resume the motion of twirling her spindle.—Scott.
6. To separate a long subject from the verb of the predicate.
To have passed them over in an historical sketch of my literary life and
opinions, would have seemed to me like the denial of a debt.—Coleridge.
7. To set off an appositive noun or an appositive adjective, with
its modifiers. Thus,—
I have had the most amusing letter from Hogg, the Ettrick minstrel.
There was an impression upon the public mind, natural enough from the
continually augmenting velocity of the mail, but quite erroneous, that an outside
seat on this class of carriages was a post of danger.—De Quincey.
Note 1. Many participial and other adjective phrases come under this
The genius, seeing me indulge myself on this melancholy prospect, told me
I had dwelt long enough upon it.—Addison.
Note 2. If a noun and its appositive are so closely connected as to form
one idea, no comma is used. Thus,—
My friend Jackson lives in San Francisco.
Note 3. An intensive pronoun (myself, etc.) is not separated by a comma
from the substantive which it emphasizes.
Note 4. A series of words or phrases in apposition with a single substantive
is sometimes set off, as a whole, by a comma and a dash.
8. To set off a subordinate clause, especially one introduced by
a descriptive relative. Thus,—
I am going to take a last dinner with a most agreeable family, who have
been my only neighbors ever since I have lived at Weston.—Cowper.
Note. No comma is used before a restrictive relative. Thus,—
- I want to know many things which only you can tell me.
- Perhaps I am the only man in England who can boast of such good fortune.
9. To set off a phrase containing a nominative absolute. Thus,—
They had some difficulty in passing the ferry at the riverside, the ferryman
being afraid of them.—Defoe.
10. To set off however, nevertheless, moreover, etc., and introductory
phrases like in the first place, on the one hand, etc.
11. To set off a parenthetical expression. For this purpose commas,
dashes, or marks of parenthesis may be used.
When the parenthetical matter is brief or closely related to the
rest of the sentence, it is generally set off by commas. Thus,—
I exercised a piece of hypocrisy for which, I hope, you will hold me
When it is longer and more independent, it is generally marked
off by dashes, or enclosed in marks of parenthesis. The latter are
less frequently used at present than formerly.
The connection of the mail with the state and the executive government—a
connection obvious, but yet not strictly defined—gave to the whole mail
establishment an official grandeur.—De Quincey.
Note. Brackets are used to indicate insertions that are not part of the text.
The clauses of a compound sentence may be separated by colons,
semicolons, or commas.
1. The colon is used—
a. To show that the second of two clauses repeats the substance
of the first in another form, or defines the first as an
appositive defines a noun. Thus,—
This was the practice of the Grecian stage. But Terence made an innovation
in the Roman: all his plays have double actions.—Dryden.
b. To separate two groups of clauses one or both of which contain
a semicolon. Thus,—
At that time, news such as we had heard might have been long in penetrating
so far into the recesses of the mountains; but now, as you know, the
approach is easy, and the communication, in summer time, almost hourly:
nor is this strange, for travellers after pleasure are become not less active,
and more numerous, than those who formerly left their homes for purposes of
Note. The colon is less used now than formerly. The tendency is to use
a semicolon or to begin a new sentence.
2. The semicolon is used when the clauses are of the same general
nature and contribute to the same general effect, especially if one or
more of them contain commas. Thus,—
The sky was cloudless; the sun shone out bright and warm; the songs of
birds, and hum of myriads of summer insects filled the air; and the cottage
garden, crowded with every rich and beautiful tint, sparkled in the heavy dew
like beds of glittering jewels.—Dickens.
3. The comma may be used when the clauses are short and simple.
Note. The choice between colon, semicolon, and comma is determined in
many cases by the writer’s feeling of the closer or the looser connection of the
ideas expressed by the several clauses, and is to some extent a matter of taste.
1. In a complex sentence, the dependent clause is generally separated
from the main clause by a comma. But when the dependent
clause is short and the connection close, the comma may be omitted.
Note. A descriptive relative clause is preceded by a comma, a restrictive
relative clause is not.
2. The clauses of a series, when in the same dependent construction,
are often separated by semicolons to give more emphasis to each.
[Mrs. Battle] was none of your lukewarm gamesters, your half-and-half
players, who have no objection to take a hand if you want one to make up a
rubber; who affirm that they have no pleasure in winning; that they like to
win one game and lose another; that they can while away an hour very agreeably
at a card table, but are indifferent whether they play or no; and will
desire an adversary who has slipped a wrong card, to take it up and play
1. A direct quotation is enclosed in quotation marks.
Note. If the quotation stands by itself and is printed in different type,
the marks may be omitted.
2. A quotation within a quotation is usually enclosed in single
3. In a quotation consisting of several paragraphs, quotation marks
are put at the beginning of each paragraph and at the end of the last.
Note. For the punctuation before a quotation,.
4. When a book, poem, or the like, is referred to, the title may be
enclosed in quotation marks or italicized.
1. Sudden changes in thought and feeling or breaks in speech are
indicated by dashes. Thus,—
Eh!—what—why—upon my life, and so it is—Charley, my boy, so it’s
you, is it?—Lever.
2. Parenthetical expressions may be set off by dashes (see p. 308).
3. A colon, or colon and dash, may precede an enumeration, a direct
quotation, or a statement formally introduced,—especially with as
follows, namely, and the like. Before an enumeration a comma and a
dash may be used. Thus,—
There are eight parts of speech:—nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs,
prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Or—
- There are eight parts of speech,—nouns, pronouns, etc.
4. The dash is sometimes used to strengthen a comma (as in the
last paragraph but one).
1. The apostrophe is used—
a. To mark the omission of a letter or letters in contractions.
b. As a sign of the possessive or genitive.
c. To indicate the plural of letters, signs, etc.
2. The hyphen is used—
a. When the parts of a word are separated in writing.
b. Between the parts of some compound words.
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