Punctuation of English

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Punctuation in English)
Jump to: navigation, search
Punctuation marks
apostrophe   '
brackets [ ]  ( )  { }  ⟨ ⟩
colon :
comma ,  ،  
dash   –  —  ―
ellipsis   ...  . . .
exclamation mark  !
full stop, period .
hyphen-minus -
question mark  ?
quotation marks ‘ ’  “ ”  ' '  " "
semicolon ;
slash, stroke, solidus /  
Word dividers
interpunct ·
General typography
ampersand &
asterisk *
at sign @
backslash \
caret ^
dagger † ‡
degree °
ditto mark
inverted exclamation mark ¡
inverted question mark ¿
number sign, pound, hash, octothorpe #
numero sign
obelus ÷
ordinal indicator º ª
percent, per mil  % ‰
plus and minus + −
basis point
section sign §
tilde ~
underscore, understrike _
vertical bar, pipe, broken bar |    ¦
Intellectual property
copyright ©
sound-recording copyright
registered trademark ®
service mark
generic currency symbol ¤

฿¢$ƒ£ ¥

Uncommon typography
index, fist
irony punctuation
reference mark
In other scripts

Punctuation in the English language helps the reader to understand a sentence through visual means other than the letters of the alphabet: ‘the rules for graphically structuring written language by means of a set of conventional marks’.[1] English punctuation has always had two complementary sides: on the one hand there is phonological punctuation linked to how the sentence can be read aloud, particularly to pausing,[2] on the other grammatical punctuation linked to the structure of the sentence.[3] In popular discussion of language, incorrect punctuation is often seen as an indication of lack of education and of the decline of standards.[4]

National variants[edit]

There are two major styles of punctuation in English: American or "traditional punctuation";[citation needed] and British or "logical punctuation."[citation needed] These two styles differ mainly in the way in which they handle quotation marks.[citation needed]

Usage of different punctuation marks or symbols[edit]


Approximate average frequencies for English punctuation marks per 1000 words based on 723,000 words of assorted texts are as follows:[5]

(.) period/full stop 65.3

(,) comma 61.6

(;) semi-colon 3.2

(:) colon 3.4

(!) exclamation 3.3

(') apostrophe /single quotation mark 24.3

(“) double quotation mark 26.7

(-) hyphen 15.3

TOTAL 208.7


The apostrophe ( ’ ' ) is used to mark possession as in "John's book", and to mark letters omitted in contractions, such as you're for you are.


Brackets ( [ ], ( ), { }, ⟨ ⟩ ) are used for parenthesis, explanation or comment: such as "John Smith (the elder, not his son)..."

Colon and semicolon[edit]

Main article: Colon (punctuation)

The colon ( : ) is used to explain or start an enumeration. The semicolon ( ; ) is often used to break up listings with commas: "She saw three men: Jamie, who came from New Zealand; John, the milkman's son; and George, a gaunt kind of man."


The comma ( , ، 、 ) is used to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. For example, "Man, without his cell phone, is nothing" (emphasizing the importance of cell phone) and "Man: without it, is nothing" (emphasizing the importance of men) have greatly different meanings, as do "eats shoots and leaves" (to mean "consumes plant growths") and "eats, shoots and leaves" (to mean "eats firstly, fires a weapon secondly, and leaves the scene thirdly").[6] The comma is also used to separate numbers. For example, “January 7, 1985” and “2,000”.

Dash and hyphen[edit]

The dash ( ‒, –, —, ― ) hyphen ( ‐ ) and hyphen-minus ( - )


An ellipsis ( …, ..., . . . ) is used to mark omitted text.

Exclamation mark[edit]

The exclamation mark ( ! ) is used to mark an exclamation.

Full stop (British), or Period (American)[edit]

The full stop or period ( . ) is firstly used to mark the end of a sentence. It is also used to mark abbreviation of names as initials.[7]

Dwight D. Eisenhower's home in Gettysburg, Pa., was not very far from Washington, D.C.


Guillemets ( « » ), sometimes called French quotation marks, are relatively uncommon in English, but are sometimes used as a form of quotation mark.

Question marks[edit]

The question mark ( ? ) is used to mark the end of a sentence which is a question.

Quotation marks[edit]

Quotation marks ( ‘ ’, “ ”, ' ', " " ) are used to mark quotation.


The slash or stroke or solidus ( /, ⁄ ) is often used to indicate alternatives, such as "his/her", or two equivalent meanings or spellings, such as ""grey/gray".


  1. ^ Coulmas, F. (1996). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Oxford: Blackwell.
  2. ^ Parkes, M.B. (1992). Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West. Aldershot: Scolar Press.
  3. ^ Halliday, M.A.K. (1985). Spoken and Written Language. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Truss, L. (2003). Eats Shoots and Leaves. London: Profile
  5. ^ http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/Punctuation/PunctFigs.htm
  6. ^ Truss, Lynne (2003). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Profile Books. ISBN 1-86197-612-7.
  7. ^ Irwin Feigenbaum The Grammar Handbook 1985 p303 "... period after initials in a name and after other abbreviations. (103) Dwight D. Eisenhower's home in Gettysburg, Pa., was not very far from Washington, D.C. In a direct quotation, 3 periods are used to show that a word or words have been

Further reading[edit]

Well thought-of modern descriptions are:

Trask, R.L. (1997), The Penguin Guide to Punctuation. London: Penguin

Todd, L. (1995), The Cassell Guide to Punctuation. London: Cassell

A very successful polemic on punctuation is:

Truss, L. (2003), Eats Shoots and Leaves. London: Profile

The classic historical treatment is:

Parkes, M.B. (1992), Pause and Effect: Punctuation in the West. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing

A short overall view is in:

Cook, V.J. (2004), The English Writing System. London: Arnold