Punctuation What is punctuation?

What is punctuation?

What is punctuation?

Punctuation is the act or system of using specific marks or symbols in writing to separate different elements from each other or to make writing more clear. Punctuation is used in English and the other languages that use the Latin alphabet. Many other writing systems also use punctuation, too. Thanks to punctuation, we don’t have to suffer through a block of text that looks like this:

  • My favorite color is red do you like red red is great my sister likes green she always says green is the color of champions regardless of which color is better we both agree that no one likes salmon which is a fish and not a color seriously

Punctuation examples

The following sentences give examples of the many different punctuation marks that we use:

  • My dog, Bark Scruffalo, was featured in a superhero movie
  • If theres something strange in your neighborhood, who are you going to call?
  • A wise man once said, Within the body of every person lies a skeleton.”
  • Hooray! I found everything on the map: the lake, the mountain, and the forest
  • I told Ashley (if that was her real name) that I needed the copy lickety-split.

What is a typographical symbol?

The term typographical symbol, or any other number of phrases, refers to a character or symbol that isn’t considered to be a punctuation mark but may still be used in writing for various purposes. Typographical symbols are generally avoided in formal writing under most circumstances. However, you may see typographic symbols used quite a bit in informal writing.

Typographical symbol examples

The following examples show some ways that a writer might use typographical symbols. Keep in mind that some of these sentences may not be considered appropriate in formal writing.

  • The frustrated actor said she was tired of her co-star’s “annoying bull****.”
  • For questions, email us at anascabana@bananacabanas.fake!
  • The band had five #1 singles on the American music charts during the 1990s.
  • My internet provider is AT&T.

 Punctuation vs. typographical symbols

Punctuation marks are considered part of grammar and often have well-established rules for how to use them properly. For example, the rules of proper grammar state that a letter after a period should be capitalized and that a comma must be used before a coordinating conjunction.

Typographical symbols, on the other hand, may not have widely accepted rules for how, or even when, they should be used. Generally speaking, most grammar resources will only allow the use of typographical symbols under very specific circumstances and will otherwise advise a writer to avoid using them.

Types of punctuation and symbols

There are many different types of punctuation marks and typographical symbols. We’ll briefly touch on them now, but you can learn more about of these characters by checking out the links in this list and also each section below:

  1. Period
  2. Question mark
  3. Exclamation point
  4. Comma
  5. Colon
  6. Semicolon
  7. Hyphen
  8. En dash
  9. Em dash
  10. Parentheses
  11. Square brackets
  12. Curly brackets
  13. Angle brackets
  14. Quotation marks
  15. Apostrophe
  16. Slash
  17. Ellipses
  18. Asterisk
  19. Ampersand
  20. Bullet point
  21. Pound symbol
  22. Tilde
  23. Backslash
  24. At symbol
  25. Caret symbol
  26. Pipe symbol

Period, question mark, and exclamation point

These three commonly used punctuation marks are used for the same reason: to end an independent thought.

Period (.)

period is used to end a declarative sentence. A period indicates that a sentence is finished.

  • Today is Friday.

Unique to them, periods are also often used in abbreviations.

  • Prof. Dumbledore once again awarded a ludicrous amount of points to Gryffindor.

Question mark (?)

The question mark is used to end a question, also known as an interrogative sentence.

  • Do you feel lucky?

Exclamation point (!)

The exclamation point is used at the end of exclamations and interjections.

  • Our house is haunted
  • Wow!

Comma, colon, and semicolon

Commas, colons, and semicolons can all be used to connect sentences together.

Comma (,)

The comma is often the punctuation mark that gives writers the most problems. It has many different uses and often requires good knowledge of grammar to avoid making mistakes when using it. Some common uses of the comma include:

  • Joining clauses: Mario loves Peach, and she loves him
  • Nonrestrictive elements: My favorite team, the Fighting Mongooses, won the championship this year.
  • Lists: The flag was red, white, and blue.
  • Coordinate adjectives: The cute, happy puppy licked my hand.

Try out this quiz on the Oxford comma!

Colon (:)

The colon is typically used to introduce additional information.

  • The detective had three suspects: the salesman, the gardener, and the lawyer.

Like commas, colons can also connect clauses together.

  • We forgot to ask the most important question: who was buying lunch?

Colons have a few other uses, too.

  • The meeting starts at 8:15 p.m.
  • The priest started reading from Mark 3:6.

Semicolon (;)

Like the comma and the colon, the semicolon is used to connect sentences together. The semicolon typically indicates that the second sentence is closely related to the one before it.

  • I can’t eat peanuts; I am highly allergic to them.
  • Lucy loves to eat all kinds of sweets; lollipops are her favorite.

Hyphen and dashes (en dash and em dash)

All three of these punctuation marks are often referred to as “dashes.” However, they are all used for entirely different reasons.

Hyphen (-)

The hyphen is used to form compound words.

  • I went to lunch with my father-in-law.
  • She was playing with a jack-in-the-box.
  • He was accused of having pro-British sympathies.

En dash (–)

The en dash is used to express ranges or is sometimes used in more complex compound words.

  • The homework exercises are on pages 20–27.
  • The songwriter had worked on many Tony Award–winning productions.

Em dash (—)

The em dash is used to indicate a pause or interrupted speech.

  • The thief was someone nobody expected—me!
  • “Those kids will—” was all he managed to say before he was hit by a water balloon.

Test your knowledge on the different dashes here.

Parentheses, brackets, and braces

These pairs of punctuation marks look similar, but they all have different uses. In general, the parentheses are much more commonly used than the others.

Parentheses ()

Typically, parentheses are used to add additional information.

  • I thought (for a very long time) if I should actually give an honest answer.
  • Tomorrow is Christmas (my favorite holiday)!

Parentheses have a variety of other uses, too.

  • Pollution increased significantly. (See Chart 14B)
  • He was at an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting.
  • Richard I of England (1157–1199) had the heart of a lion.

Square brackets []

Typically, square brackets  are used to clarify or add information to quotations.

  • According to an eyewitness, the chimpanzees “climbed on the roof and juggled [bananas].”
  • The judge said that “the defense attorney [Mr. Wright] had made it clear that the case was far from closed.”

Curly brackets {}

Curly brackets, also known as braces, are rarely used punctuation marks that are used to group a set.

  • I was impressed by the many different colors {red, green, yellow, blue, purple, black, white} they selected for the flag’s design.

Angle brackets <>

Angle brackets have no usage in formal writing and are rarely ever used even in informal writing. These characters have more uses in other fields, such as math or computing.

Quotation marks and apostrophe

You’ll find these punctuation marks hanging out at the top of a line of text.

Quotation marks (“”)

The most common use of quotation marks is to contain quotations.

  • She said, Don’t let the dog out of the house.
  • Bob Ross liked to put happy little trees in many of his paintings.

Apostrophe (‘)

The apostrophe is most often used to form possessives and contractions.

  • The houses back door is open.
  • My cousins birthday is next week.
  • It isnt ready yet.
  • We shouldve stayed outside.

Slash and ellipses

These are two punctuation marks you may not see too often, but they are still useful.

Slash (/)

The slash has several different uses. Here are some examples:

  • Relationships: The existence of boxer briefs somehow hasn’t ended the boxers/briefs debate.
  • Alternatives: They accept cash and/or credit.
  • Fractions: After an hour, 2/3 of the audience had already left.

Ellipses (…)

In formal writing, ellipses are used to indicate that words were removed from a quote.

  • The mayor said, “The damages will be  paid for by the city  as soon as possible.”

In informal writing, ellipses are often used to indicate pauses or speech that trails off.

  • He nervously stammered and said, “Look, I  You see  I wasn’t  Forget it, okay.”

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Typographical symbols

Typographical symbols rarely appear in formal writing. You are much more likely to see them used for a variety of reasons in informal writing.

Asterisk (*)

In formal writing, especially academic and scientific writing, the asterisk is used to indicate a footnote.

  • Chocolate is the preferred flavor of ice cream.*
    *According to survey data from the Ice Cream Data Center.

The asterisk may also be used to direct a reader toward a clarification or may be used to censor inappropriate words or phrases.

Ampersand (&)

The ampersand substitutes for the word and. Besides its use in the official names of things, the ampersand is typically avoided in formal writing.

  •  The band gave a speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Bullet Point (•)

Bullet points are used to create lists. For example,

For this recipe you will need:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • sugar
  • flour
  • baking powder

Pound symbol (#)

Informally, the pound symbol is typically used to mean number or is used in social media hashtags.

  • The catchy pop song reached #1 on the charts.
  • Ready 4 Halloween 2morrow!!! #spooky #TrickorTreat

Tilde (~)

Besides being used as an accent mark in Spanish and Portuguese words, the tilde is rarely used. Informally, a person may use it to mean “about” or “approximately.”

  • We visited São Paulo during our vacation.
  • I think my dog weighs ~20 pounds.

Backslash (\)

The backslash is primarily used in computer programming and coding. It might be used online and in texting to draw emoticons, but it has no other common uses in writing. Be careful not to mix it up with the similar forward slash (/), which is a punctuation mark.

At symbol (@)

The at symbol substitutes for the word at in informal writing. In formal writing, it is used when writing email addresses.

Caret symbol (^)

The caret symbol is used in proofreading, but may be used to indicate an exponent if a writer is unable to use superscript.

  • Do you know what 3^4 (34) is equal to?

Pipe symbol (|)

The pipe symbol is not used in writing. Instead, it has a variety of functions in the fields of math, physics, or computing.

Punctuate perfectly with Grammar Coach™

Not sure if you’re using the hyphen, en dash, or em dash correctly? Check your writing on. This writing tool uses machine learning technology uniquely designed to catch grammar and spelling errors. Its Synonym Swap will find the best nouns, adjectives, and more to help say what you really mean, guiding you toward clearer, stronger, writing.

Whether you’re using commas, apostrophes, or parentheses, start writing smarter today!

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