Punctuation Study Guide for the English Basics

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General Information

Punctuation refers to the marks used to separate sentences or sentence elements to help create clarity for the reader. Punctuation helps a reader know when to stop, pause, and feel a certain emotion. Punctuation can come at the end of a sentence (period, exclamation point, question mark) or within a sentence (comma, colon, semi-colon, parentheses, ellipses, dashes, hyphens, quotation marks, apostrophes) and its correct usage is imperative to good writing!

Period (.)

The period, while just a little dot, is a powerful form of punctuation. It is probably the most commonly used punctuation and the easiest to master. Periods end sentences. Period. They bring the reader or speaker to a full stop and indicate that a sentence is over. There can be some confusion about periods when they are used with other forms of punctuation, like quotation marks, but for the most part, they are a writer’s best friend and are simple to use.

Question Mark (?)

Question marks are a form of punctuation with a very specific purpose: They are used when asking a direct question or to express doubt or uncertainty.

  • Do you know how to get to Main Place Mall?

  • Where is Lucy?

  • “Who will be at the party?” Mother inquired.

Question marks may show up within a sentence if there is direct question being posed in the context of a larger sentence. For example:

  • The key question, “Would the dinner guests notice the stain on the tablecloth?” was not answered.

  • “Would the guests arrive on time?” she worried.

  • “Should I put the water pitcher on the table?” Clara asked.

Musings that may pose a question but are not a direct question do not get a question mark.

  • I wonder what is for dinner tonight.

Exclamation Point (!)

Wow! Exclamation points! Yippee!!!! Although exclamation points can seem like a good punctuation choice to use because they show emotion or excitement, to be most effective, the exclamation point should actually be used sparingly. A reader can begin to take offense if there are too many exclamation points, as it starts to feel like the author is yelling at the reader. And the use of multiple exclamation points at the end of a single sentence, as though one does not convey enough emotion, is highly discouraged. So you should never use more than one at a time; in the case of exclamation points, less is more.

Exclamation points indicate a sentence with a strong feeling or emotion, generally surprise, anger, pain, or an interjection of an emotion that might not otherwise be present in the sentence. Here are some examples:

  • Ouch! I stubbed my toe on the chair.

  • Get out of here and don’t come back again!

  • “Boo!” Janet shouted.

  • Yikes! You scared me.

  • Oh my gosh! I didn’t see you there.

  • Ack! Spider!


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