Punctuation Rules

Punctuation rules can confuse the best of us. When do we use semi-colons? What are the rules for commas? When do we use apostrophes and quotation marks? Use this guide to help you!

Periods .

1. Ending Sentences

Use these to end declarative sentences and imperative sentences.

  • The sun is shining today.

  • Open the door.
2. Abbreviations (shortened forms of words).

  • I spoke with Sgt. Johnson about the troops.

Question Marks ?

The punctuation rules for question marks are very simple. In fact, there is really only one rule!

1. Ending Sentences

These end interrogative sentences.

This kind of sentence asks a question. Any time you ask a question, end the sentence with a question mark.

  • Should I use a question mark on this sentence? (Yes!)

1. Ending Sentences

Use these at the end of exclamatory sentences, which are sentences that show emotion.

  • We won the game!
2. Interjections

You can use either an exclamation mark or a comma after an interjection.

  • Yes! We won the game!

Comma Rules ,

Commas show your reader that there is a pause in the sentence they are reading.

It seems that commas have more punctuation rules than any other form of punctuation. I've narrowed it down to seven rules for you.

1. Lists

When you list three or more things, use commas between the words.

  • I would like grapes, apples, and cookies.

  • Are we having fish, chicken, or beef for dinner?

2. Three or More Adverbs or Adjectives

  • This is a warm, fuzzy, pink sweater. (adjectives)

  • My new car ran quietly, quickly, and smoothly. (adverbs)

3. Numbers

When a number is over 999, use commas to separate the numbers.

  • I paid $3,500 for my new boat.

  • The house is $600,000.

4. Dates and Addresses

  • September 1, 2009

  • I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

  • Send the package to 5154 Smith Street, Los Angeles, California, 92674.

5. Quotations

When you are quoting someone's exact speech, you must use quotation marks and a comma.

  • My sister exclaimed, "You came home!"

  • "I missed you," I said.

6. Joining Independent Clauses

When you join two independent clauses, use a comma and a coordinating conjunction.

When you have two independent clauses joined only by a comma, it's called a comma splice. Avoid comma splices.

  • I love cats, but I also love dogs.

  • Can you come, or should I go?

  • My sister had a ballet performance, and my brother had an orchestra concert.

7. Introductory Words and Clauses


Semicolons ;

Use these to separate two complete sentences that are closely related.

  • I went to the play; my cousin was the main actor.

Colons :

1. Introducing Lists

  • There are three ways that I love to relax: reading magazines, practicing yoga, and taking baths.

2. Introducing Single Items

You can use a colon to introduce a single thing when you want to emphasize it.

  • After shopping for eight hours, I finally found them: the perfect pair of jeans.

3. Between Two Complete Sentences

This is only a legit move if the second sentence states a logical consequence of whatever is stated in the first sentence.

  • Jim ate brownies constantly: He gained seven pounds.

Apostrophes '

I would argue that the punctuation rules for apostrophes are some of the most commonly misused punctuation rules ever.

While misusing apostrophes can make for some funny signs (We Sell Carpet's!), you'll probably want to avoid misusing them.

The rules are pretty simple. There are only two times when you should use apostrophes.

1. Possessive

When you want to make something possessive (to show ownership), use an apostrophe.

  • This is Mark's cat. (The cat belongs to Mark.)

  • That is the television's remote control. (The remote control belongs to the television.)

  • Don't ever go into the teachers' lounge. (The lounge belongs to the teachers.)

2. Contractions

Contractions use apostrophes to stand in the place of missing letters.

  • I can't stand the smell of bananas! (can't = cannot)

  • I won't go with you. (won't = will not)

  • The students shouldn't use cell phones in class. (shouldn't = should not)

Quotation Marks ""

If you're up for a laugh, the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks has lots of funny misuses of quotation marks.

1. Quoting Exact Speech

Whenever you quote someone's exact speech, you must use quotation marks.

  • The police officer said, "Where are you going?"

  • "I'm going to work," I replied.

2. Titles

Use quotation marks to show the titles of magazine articles, chapters, short stories, essays, poems, and songs.

  • "Columbus" is a great poem.

  • Our homework tonight is to read Chapter 6, "The Lovely Rose Garden."

  • Sydney sang "The Star Spangled Banner" at the football game.

If you want to teach or learn grammar the easy way, then follow a step-by-step program that clearly lays everything out for you and allows you to move at your own pace. The Get Smart program is presented in a logical sequence, so it's not an overwhelming mishmash of information. Before you know it, you'll be a grammar and sentence diagramming pro!

The whole program is online, so you have instant access to these lessons and videos. It's easy and fun. You can get it at www.English-Grammar-Revolution.com/daily-diagrams.html
Keep learning and have fun!

Elizabeth O'Brien is the creator of the Grammar Revolution step-by-step grammar and sentence diagramming programs. Her programs are guaranteed not only to teach you grammar, but also to give you more confidence in your communication skills.

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