5 Common Punctuation Marks and How to Use Them


One of the toughest areas that writers have a hard time with is punctuation. Most people assume that the recipient of your message will understand what you’re saying based off of context clues. In this article, I point out five of the most common punctuation mistakes that are made every day.

1) The Semicolon (;)

A semicolon is right there in between a comma and a period. While periods end sentences and commas divide ideas in sentences, semicolons usually link two independent clauses in the same sentence. These clauses can usually stand alone on their own as independent sentences, but we use semicolons when the clauses are closely related and therefore are included in the same sentence. They can take the place of commas in a series following a comma that is particularly lengthy or complicated.

2) The Hyphen (-)

We use hyphens to attribute two words to each other, usually an adjective preceding a noun. The idea is to hyphenate the words preceding a noun, but never after verbs. We say, “This uses state-of-the-art technology”, and “The technology is state of the art.” We do not use a hyphen when the first word of the compound modifier is an adverb.

3) Quotation Marks (“”)

We use quotation marks to quote an outside source verbatim. To decide how to quote someone, follow these rules. Write out the quote, using proper punctuation, and put the quotation marks at the end. When you do this, it becomes easy to figure out if a question mark belongs inside or outside the quotation marks. All punctuation that is not directly part of the quote goes outside it.

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4) Capitalization (P or p)

We need to decide how we are using our reference. In a title, we capitalize it. “President Spindlove moved to Utah”. Otherwise, the position stays lowercase. “The president moved to Utah”. Never capitalize entire words for emphasis. It shows bad etiquette and can come across as rude. If you need to emphasize a word, use italics.

5) Sentence Spacing

This is a cardinal rule that needs to be followed every time. There are two spaces between the period ending a sentence and the first letter of the next sentence. There are no exceptions. The second use is when we use a comma. There is one space between the comma and the first letter of the next word. Once again, there are no exceptions to this rule.

Punctuation mistakes are common. Editors are some of the few people that actually point them out. Just because no one calls you out for your grammar and punctuation, it does not mean that these mistakes go unnoticed. Professional writers and avid readers notice them and are not enticed to continue reading something that does not go through a proper editing phase. As a professional writer, it is always a good idea to brush up on these punctuation marks and how to use them.

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