16 Punctuation Marks in English Grammar

In the realm of written English, punctuation marks hold immense significance. They serve the vital purpose of conveying meaning and ensuring clarity. This comprehensive guide is designed to enlighten readers like you about the intricacies of these essential elements.

Whether you are a seasoned writer looking to polish your skills, a student, a professional, or simply seeking to refine your writing skills, this guide is your pathway to punctuation mastery.

What Are Punctuation Marks? 

Photo showing the most common punctuation marks in English grammar.

Punctuation marks are essential symbols used in writing to clarify meaning, convey emotions, and create structure. They act as visual cues, guiding readers through sentences and paragraphs. These marks serve various purposes, such as indicating pauses, emphasizing ideas, asking questions, showing possession, and signaling quotations.

From the familiar comma and period to the lesser-known semicolon and ellipsis, each punctuation mark has a distinct role in shaping the written language. 

What Are the Common Punctuation Marks in English? 

In English, several punctuation marks are commonly used to bring structure and meaning to our written expressions. The most familiar ones include the comma, period, question mark, exclamation mark, quotation mark, apostrophe, hyphen, dash, colon, semicolon, parentheses, brackets, ellipsis, slash, and asterisk. Each of these marks serves a specific purpose and can significantly influence the tone, flow, and clarity of your writing.

Full Stop (.)

The full stop, commonly known as a period, is a critical punctuation mark in written English. It is used to indicate the end of a sentence.

When you see a full stop, you know it’s time to take a breath and move on to the next idea.


  • Place a full stop at the end of a declarative or imperative sentence.
  • Use a full stop after abbreviations (e.g., Mr., Dr., etc.).


  • I love to read books.
  • Please send the report by tomorrow.

Question Mark (?)

The question mark (?) indicates that you are asking a direct question. You use this punctuation mark when seeking information, expressing doubt, or asking for clarification.


  • Use a question mark at the end of a direct question.
  • Avoid using a question mark in indirect questions or statements.


  • How did you solve the puzzle?
  • Could you please pass the salt?

Quotation Marks

You use quotation marks, or speech marks, to enclose direct speech or a quotation within a sentence. They serve as a mark that the enclosed words are spoken by someone else or taken from another source. In English, you’ll come across two types of quotation marks: 

Double Quotation Marks (“ ”)

When you want to include a direct quote or someone’s words verbatim in your writing, you should use double quotation marks to indicate that those words are not your own.


  • Place the opening double quotation mark before the quoted words.
  • Use the closing double quotation mark after the quoted words.


  • She said, “I’ll be there in five minutes.”
  • The famous line from the movie is, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Single Quotation Marks (‘)

For a quotation within another quotation, you’ll need to use single. quotation marks. When in doubt, remember that you should use them when citing a quote within a sentence that already has double quotation marks.


  • When mentioning a quote within a quote, use single quotation marks.
  • Avoid using double quotation marks for nested quotes.


  • He said, “I heard her say, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow.’”
  • The article stated, “She described it as a ‘life-changing experience.’”

Apostrophe (‘) 

An apostrophe serves two primary purposes: to indicate possession and to create contractions. When used to show possession, it means that something belongs to someone or something else.

Creating contractions combines two words by omitting one or more letters.


  • Use an apostrophe followed by “s” (‘s) to indicate possession for singular nouns.
  • Use an apostrophe after the final “s” for plural nouns ending with “s” to indicate possession.


  • John’s car is parked outside.
  • The students’ notebooks are on the desk.

Comma (,)

The comma (,) typically indicates a brief sentence pause, but it has multiple purposes, including separating items in a list, connecting independent clauses in a compound sentence, and setting off introductory words or phrases.


  • Separate items in a list with a comma. 
  • Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so) to connect two independent clauses, like “I studied hard, and I passed the exam.”


  • She enjoys hiking, swimming, and playing soccer.
  • I wanted to go to the park, but it started raining.

Hyphen (-)

A hyphen (-) connects words or parts of words. It can form compound words, indicate word breaks at the end of lines, or join prefixes and suffixes to base words. 

It is essential to note the distinction between a hyphen and a dash: a hyphen is shorter and typically used to join words or parts of words, while a dash is longer and used to indicate breaks or interruptions in a sentence.


1. Use a hyphen to connect compound words, like “well-being” or “self-esteem.”

2. Use a hyphen to join two or more words functioning as a single adjective before a noun, such as “state-of-the-art technology.”


  • She has a five-year-old daughter.
  • The problem-solving skills of the team impressed the manager.


You use a dash to emphasize, set off information, or create a pause for dramatic effect. Like brackets, there are two types of dashes: the en dash (–) and the em dash (—).

En Dash (–)

An en dash represents a range of values, such as numbers, dates, or times. For example, “pages 10–15” or “Monday–Friday.”


  • The annual corporate conference will take place on July 3–5.
  • The office hours are from 9:00 AM–5:00 PM.

Em Dash (—)

An em dash indicates a break in thought or a sudden change in the sentence. It can replace commas, parentheses, or colons for added emphasis.


  • The concert—scheduled for tomorrow—has been postponed.
  • Her dream destination—Paris—awaits her arrival.

Exclamation Mark / Exclamation Point (!)

The exclamation mark, also known as the exclamation point, expresses strong emotions or emphasis in written communication. When you encounter this mark, it signifies excitement, surprise, joy, or urgency. It adds enthusiasm to your sentences and grabs the reader’s attention instantly!


  • Wow! What a breathtaking view!
  • Hurry! The concert starts in 5 minutes!

Colon (:)

A colon (:) introduces or highlights information. It signals that what follows closely relates to or explains the preceding clause. However, proper usage is the key to properly using this punctuation mark. For instance, after a salutation in a formal letter, you should always use color. There are more colon rules you should follow


  • My grocery list includes the following items: eggs, milk, bread, and vegetables.
  • I have one simple rule when it comes to cooking: always use fresh ingredients.

Semicolon (;)

The semicolon (;) holds a unique place in English writing. It bridges two related but independent clauses, allowing for a seamless flow of thought. 


  • She loves hiking; that’s her favorite outdoor activity.
  • The rain poured relentlessly; the streets were flooded.

Parentheses / Round Brackets ( )

Parentheses, or round brackets, enclose additional information within a sentence. They offer a way to include clarifying details or comments without disrupting the main flow. For example, you can use parentheses to contextualize a complex concept (like an acronym or term) or add extra insights supporting your main point.


  • The conference (scheduled for next week) will focus on new technological advancements.
  • The author (John Smith) has published numerous bestselling novels.

Brackets / Square Brackets [ ]

Brackets, or square brackets [ ], enclose additional information within a sentence. They often provide clarifications, insert comments, or include descriptive details not part of the original text. Brackets help to set off this additional information from the rest of the sentence, making it easier for readers to understand the main context.


  • The speaker emphasized the importance of collaboration [within the team].
  • The research findings confirmed the hypothesis [as stated in the previous section].

Braces / Curly Brackets { }

Braces, also known as curly brackets, are utilized in various contexts, from programming to mathematical notations. In English writing, they are rarely used. One common application is in dictionaries to indicate alternative word choices or synonyms.


  • The function {x → x^2 + 2x + 1} represents a quadratic equation.
  • The dictionary listed several definitions for the word “run” {to sprint, to jog, to dash}.

Ellipsis (…)

The ellipsis indicates omissions or pauses in a text. It adds a sense of suspense or leaves room for interpretation. Be cautious not to overuse ellipses, as they can alter the intended tone.


  • After a long silence, she finally said, “I don’t know…”
  • The poem’s concluding lines left the readers with a sense of wonder…

Slash (/)

The slash, commonly known as a forward slash, has several uses. It can denote alternatives, indicate a line break, or represent the word “per.” In informal writing, it’s also employed in abbreviations and internet slang.


  • Please choose your preferred dessert/cake/ice cream.
  • The meeting will be held on 01/05/2024, and all employees must attend.

Asterisk (*) 

The asterisk (*) highlights or calls attention to specific information. When you place an asterisk beside a word or phrase, it signals that there’s relevant additional information provided elsewhere. It’s a handy tool to avoid cluttering your main text while offering valuable context or explanations. By using the asterisk strategically, you can enhance your writing and ensure that your readers grasp the nuances and details you wish to convey.

British vs. American English Punctuation

When it comes to punctuation, British and American English have some subtle differences. One notable distinction lies in the placement of punctuation marks with quotation marks. In American English, periods and commas are typically placed inside quotation marks, regardless of whether they are part of the quoted material.

However, in British English, periods and commas are outside the quotation marks unless they are an integral part of the quoted text. This variation in punctuation style is an important detail to remember when writing or editing in British or American English.

This post was proofread by Grammarly. Try it - it's FREE!

Capitalize My Title is a dynamic title capitalization tool used to make sure your titles or headlines use proper capitalization rules according to various style guides include APA, AP, MLA, and Chicago. It also counts your words and checks for grammar issues.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here