Here is a list of 14 common punctuation marks in English, with a simple explanation of the main functions of each one. You will also find examples of each punctuation mark in ordinary English sentences.
Punctuation Marks List
- Quotation Marks
- En Dash
- Em Dash
- Exclamation Mark/Exclamation Point
- Question Mark
- Full Stop/Period
Punctuation Marks Rules and Examples
Quotation Marks “
Quotation marks (or speech marks) show that words have been directly quoted.
- “I’ve been working hard all day,” he said. “Let’s go out to dinner!”
- “He wouldn’t lie to me. I know it,” said Elaine.
- “Why do you treat me this way?” I asked the boss.
An apostrophe has two main functions.
1) An apostrophe shows that a letter (or letters) has been omitted from a word in a contraction.
- It’s (it is) not ready yet. Come back later.
- I’d (I would) be happier if you did it without being asked.
2) An apostrophe is used to make a noun possessive.
- Chicago’s winters are very cold and severe.
- The dog’s feet are muddy.
The hyphen has two main functions.
1) The most common use of the hyphen is to form compound words, words that are made up of more than one word. Sometimes this occurs when two words are put together to serve as an adjective
- I paid for two full-price tickets, but I still was not admitted to the arena. I want a refund.
- After losing three jobs this year, I have no self-confidence left.
2) A hyphen is often used after the prefix of a word. If you’re not sure whether a hyphen is needed, consult a dictionary.
- Post-conference activities include a tour of the city.
- Don’t over-promise, and you won’t have a problem delivering on your promises.
Brackets (US)/Square Brackets (UK) […]
Brackets are used to explain or add information to something in a sentence or quotation.
- The car retails for $16,995 [396,523,941 Vietnamese dong].
- The play quotes frequently from the Mahabharata [an ancient Indian epic poem].
- The president said: “We’re going to need to hire OOP [object-oriented programming] experts in the next year.”
Parentheses show that the material inside the parentheses is less important than the main part of the sentence. Often you can replace them with commas, but parentheses make the material seem less important.
- The world’s leading automakers (Toyota, Volkswagen, and General Motors) are all pursuing hybrid technology.
- Jennifer’s cat (an angora) is very friendly.
- Germany’s decision to invade the Soviet Union (in 1941) led to disaster.
En Dash –
Generally, the en dash indicates a range of numbers of a period of time. In this sense, it is used with numerals.
- During the World War II years (1939–1945), basic commodities were rationed in many countries.
- The school is open to children ages 6–14.
- During office hours, 8 a.m.–3 p.m., someone will be here to help you with your application.
Em Dash —
The em dash (twice as long as the en dash) shows a big pause in a sentence or emphasizes the end of a sentence.
- I’m ready to talk—if you’re ready to listen.
- You said you’d—you said you’d be faithful to me!
- Honda makes the best care in the subcompact category—the Fit.
Ellipsis/Ellipsis Points …
The ellipsis, a series of three dots, shows that something has been removed from a sentence. It can also show a pause or an unfinished sentence.
- The report indicates that we can expect sales of 45 million units next year if conditions … remain favorable.
- I really don’t know what I’m going to do …
- The Albanian Declaration of Independence states: “The chairman, Ismail Kemal Bey …. stated that although they had always been faithful to the Ottoman Empire, the Albanians had never forgotten their own language and nationality …”
The comma joins two or more ideas in a sentence or separates items in a series.
- We’ve hired all our interns, and we’re ready to start working on the project.
- The largest economies in Southeast Asia are those of Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
- He likes lychee, but he does not like durian.
A colon introduces the information that comes after it. It tells the reader that something is coming.
- I’ve narrowed my choices down to two schools: Indiana or Michigan State.
- As I see it, you’ve committed three criminal acts: fraud, perjury, and misrepresentation of financial assets.
- I’ll say this for him: he’s honest even if it’s difficult.
The semicolon connects two complete sentences that are related.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt was the U.S. president for four terms; he led the country through World War II.
- Roses are red; violets are purple.
- I’m ready to go; I hope you’ll be ready soon!
Exclamation Mark (UK) /Exclamation Point (US) !
The exclamation mark or exclamation point shows strong emphasis or strong emotion. It is rarely used in formal writing.
- Don’t do that!
- I’ve finally finished my assignment!
Question Mark ?
The question mark shows that a question is being asked, that the speaker or writer is seeking an answer to something.
- Can we agree that peace is better than war?
- What time does the movie start?
- Would you accept a lower price for the watch?
Full Stop (UK)/Period (US)
The full stop or period is the most common punctuation mark in the English language. It has two main functions.
1) It shows the end of a sentence.
- Dinner’s ready.
- Sales have increased every month since January.
2) It indicates an abbreviation. This is more commonly used in American English.
- Ms. Jones arrives at 8 to open the office; you can start work any time after that.
- Let’s buy a 64-oz. bottle. The kids will be thirsty after playing baseball all day.
Punctuation Marks Infographic