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How to punctuate correctly and why it matters

Punctuation is important. First of all, it is important because some punctuation marks are indicators of syntax The rules which govern how words combine to form sentences. more.... For example, the full stop marks the end of a sentence, and the comma may mark the end of a clause. Secondly, even punctuation which is not essential helps the reader to quickly understand the phrasing of a sentence. These are marks which in speech would be indicated by pauses, intonation, stress and even body language like raised eyebrows or twitchy fingers.

Most punctuation marks have more than one function and we'll examine each one in turn. The first group contains the stops. They are the full stop, or period ( . full stop or period), the comma ( , comma), the colon ( : colon ), the semicolon ( ; semi-colon ), the question mark ( ? question mark ), the exclamation mark ( ! exclamation mark ) and the dash (dash).

The second group contains all the other punctuation marks. They are the apostrophe ( ' apostrophe ), the hyphen (hyphen ), quotation marks ( " " quotation marks), parentheses (( )parentheses), brackets ([ ]brackets), ellipsis ( . . . ellipsis consists of 3 dots separated by spaces and beginning and ending in a space), italics (wordthis word is in italics), and capitalization (Tthe first letter of the sentence is capitalizedhe first letter is capitalized.).

  1. The Full Stop or Period ( . full stop or period)

    The main function of the full stop is to end a sentence.

    • No one knows who invented music. this full stop ends the sentence

      The only other ways to end a sentence are with question mark (?question mark), or an exclamation mark (!exclamation mark).

      The full stop is also used in some abbreviations A shortened form of a word or a phrase. more..: e.g., Mr., Jan. etc.

  2. The Comma ( , comma)

    One of the simplest uses of a comma is to separate items in a list.

    • Patterns like these begin to form at a small scale when materials undergo processes like drying, comma separating items in a list freezing, comma separating items in a list wrinkling, comma separating items in a list diffusing and reacting.

      There are five items in this list. The last item is usually introduced by the word 'and', and the comma may be left out as in this case.

      There are many more uses for the comma such as separating adjectives, separating an adverbial clause from a main clause, and separating coordinated independent clauses. You can see many examples of these on the comma page.

  3. The Colon ( : colon )

    The main use for a colon is to provide a specification in the form of a definition or specific example.

    • That’s all gravity is: colon introducing a definition the distortion of the space-time fabric, affecting how things movethe definition of space-time, introduced by the colon.
    • The colon is sometimes used to introduce a quotation. You can see more examples on the colon page.

  4. The Semicolon ( ; semi-colon )

  5. The semicolon is mainly used to separate independent clauses.

    • Most foods contain at least some sugar; semicolon introducing an independent clause once foods are between 230 and 320 degrees, their sugars begin to turn brownindependent clause related to the previous clause, but separate.
    • The semicolon is also sometimes used to separate items in a list and to separate a subordinate clause from a main clause. You can see more examples on the semicolon page.

  6. The Question Mark ( ? question mark )

  7. The question mark is used at the end of a direct question or at the end of a rhetorical question.

    • Imagine delicate frozen crystals on a windowpane during a cold day.this sentence prepares the reader for the question which follows What creates that pattern'that pattern' refers to the delicate frozen crystals in the previous sentence? obligatory question mark
    • This is a rhetorical question A question which does not require an answer (the answer being obvious, and the question being asked merely to make a particular point, or to introduce an explanation or argument). more... . The writer is not expecting an answer. He is using the rhetorical question to set up the topic of the paragraph, which concerns how patterns in ice and rock are created. This is the main use of questions in academic text; direct questions are rare.

      You can see more examples on the question mark page.

  8. The Exclamation Mark ( ! exclamation mark )

  9. The exclamation mark is used at the end of a sentence, or occasionally with a sentence, to give emphasis to a preceding word or phrase or to draw your attention to something extraordinary. It is not much used in academic writing.

    • When the scientists measured how much carbon-14 was left in the flutes dash acting as opening parenthesis which were made from the bones of large birdsparenthetical phrase dash acting as closing parenthesis they discovered some of the instruments were more than 30,000 years old! exclamation mark drawing attention to the age of the instrument
    • You can see more examples on the exclamation mark page.

  10. The Dash (dash )

  11. The dash is used around dependent clauses A clause which cannot stand alone as a separate sentence and only has sense when attached to a main clause. more..., around interrupting phrases, to introduce coordinated elements, and to mark final constructions. It is often used where a comma or parentheses might be used. For example to separate an appositive noun phrase.

    • All living organisms dash introducing appositive noun phrase animals, plants and people appositive noun phrase dash closing appositive noun phrase have some carbon-14 in them.
    • A dash is not the same as a hyphen. It is used in a different way and it is longer than a hyphen. It may not be present on all keyboards, but you can create the dash by pressing the hyphen along with the ALT or OPTION key.

      You can see more examples on the dash page.

  12. The Apostrophe ( ' apostrophe )

  13. The apostrophe is used to show possession (Newton's laws) and contraction (That's enough).

    • While it warms us and all the plants and animals on Earth'spossession apostrophe surface, sunlight can'tcontraction apostrophe (cannot) penetrate through miles of the planet'spossession apostrophe interior.
    • You can see more rules and examples on the apostrophe page.

  14. The Hyphen ( - hyphen )

  15. The hyphen is used in certain compound words (e-book, self-help, eye-witness, evidence-based).

    • The sound of the ocean is also a low-frequencyhyphenated compound noun used as premodifier sound.
    • You can see more examples on the hyphen page.

  16. Quotation Marks ( " " quotation marks )

  17. Quotation marks are used for direct quotations, some titles, and to signal words which are used with a special meaning.

    • In the 1930s the Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler was the first to study birth order and its effect on personality. He believed that start of quotation - actual words written by Aldlerevery difficulty of development is caused by rivalry and lack of cooperation in the familythese are the actual words which Adler used (although the source is not given)end of quotation.
    • You can see more examples on the quotation marks page.

  18. Parentheses (brackets) ( ( )parentheses )

  19. Parentheses are used to enclose a word or phrase which gives extra information but which is not a strictly necessary part of the sentence.

    • These are animals or other organisms that live on (start of parenthesisectoparasitesextra information: parasites which live on other animals are called ectoparasites)end of parenthesis or in (start of parenthesisendoparasitesextra information: parasites which live in other animals are called endoparasites)end of parenthesis another species.
    • You can see more examples on the parentheses page.

  20. Brackets (square brackets) ( [ ] (square) brackets )

  21. Square brackets are used inside a quotation to enclose a word or phrase which is not part of the original quoted text, or to indicate that something is missing in the quoted text.

    • Staggeringly, in 1996 the company’s chief executive, Lee Raymond, referred to start of quotationthe unproven theory thatquoted text [start of altered text from original quotationfossil fuelsnot the exact words from the original text - the original was a pronoun referencing "fossil fuels"]end of altered text from original quotation affect the earth’s climatequoted textend of quotation.
    • You can see more examples on the brackets page.

  22. Ellipsis ( . . . ellipsis )

  23. Ellipsis is used to indicate that there is something missing from a quotation.

    • Pinker writes: “The errors children . . . ellipsis indicating words are missing from the original text make are rarely random garbage. Often the errors follow the logic of grammar so beautifully that the puzzle is not why children make the errors, but why they sound like errors to adult ears at all” (The Language Instinct, p. 273)

  24. Italics ( italics this text is in italics )

  25. Italic formatting is used for titles in citations, for foreign words, for scientific names, and for emphasis.

    • The discourse on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's theory of language has, hitherto, focused mostly on his Discourse on Inequalitytitle of book (1755/1984) and the Essay on the Origin of Languages Which Treats of Melody and Musical Imitationtitle of essay (1881/1966).
  26. Capitalization (Wtitle with capitalization (capital first letter)uthering Htitle with capitalization (capital first letter)eights )

  27. Capitalization is used for titles, the first word of a sentence, and proper names.

    • Although Pstart of proper noun (name of person)ääbo did his PhDabbreviation for Doctor of Philosophy (capitalized) in medical science at Uppsala Universityproper noun (institution) in Swedenproper noun (country) in the early 1980s, he also studied Egyptologyproper noun (field of study) when he was at Uppsalaproper noun (city).
    • You can see more examples on the capitalization page.

These examples were sourced mainly from articles in The Conversation: Who invented music? ; Why does nature create patterns?; Gravity; Pizza; How has the inside of the Earth stayed as hot as the Sun’s surface for billions of years?; Seashell sounds; Are firstborns really natural leaders?; Apex predators; Exxon scientists and climate change; Rousseau and Emile; What makes us human;

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