End Marks

End marks such as periods, question marks, and exclamation points indicate the writer’s purpose. Periods are used for statement, question marks for questions, and exclamation points for exclamations. Simple!


Commas are used to clearly convey the writer’s ideas. Comma mistakes are common and can confuse the reader or change the meaning of a sentence. Consider these sentences and how the comma placement alters the meaning: “When your friends call, you stop watching TV.” Or, “When your friends call you, stop watching TV.”

Some correct uses of commas [examples in brackets] include the following:

  • To separate items in a list [Get apples, oranges, and tomatoes.]
  • To separate two or more adjectives before a noun [The tall, gray, bland building.]
  • Before and, but, or, nor, for, and yet when they join independent clauses [Everyone was there, but some people arrived late.]
  • To set off nonessential clauses and phrases or those that interrupt the sentence [Tom, who loves to fish, wants to go camping. He can’t, of course, until school’s out for the summer.]
  • After introductory elements [Why, that’s a large cake. Pausing a moment, he blew out the candles.]
  • In dates and addresses [Pearl Harbor was attacked on Sunday, December 7, 1941, in the morning hours. The bakery is at 100 Main St., Bloomington, Illinois.]


Semicolons (;) are just what they appear to be—half period and half comma. They tell the reader to stop longer than a comma, but not as long as a period.

Some correct uses of semicolons [examples in brackets] include the following:

  • Between independent clauses NOT joined by and, but, or, nor, for, yet [First I mowed the grass and raked the leaves; then I went shopping.]
  • To separate lists that contains commas [She spoke with Eileen, Susan, and Elizabeth; and Mark called Jim and Nell.]


Colons (:) are used to direct the reader’s attention to what comes next.

Some correct uses of semicolons [examples in brackets] include the following:

  • To “note what follows” [Be sure to bring the following: a toothbrush, toothpaste, pillow, and blanket.] Note that colons almost always are couple with the words “following” or “as follows.”
  • In times, Biblical verses, and salutations A.M. Romans 5:20 Dear Sir:


Italic print is used for the titles of books, plays, movies, periodicals, works of art, long musical compositions, foreign words, and ships.

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks record a person’s exact words, a passage from a book, or title of a song or magazine.

Some correct uses of quotation marks [examples in brackets] include the following:

  • To record a person’s exact words [The umpire yelled, “Play ball!” “Get your bat Jimmy,” said the coach, “you’re up first.”]
  • Special notes for quotation marks
    • Commas and periods are always placed inside closing quotation marks.
    • Colons and semicolons are always placed outside closing quotation marks.
    • Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside closing quotation marks if they’re part of the quote, otherwise they’re placed outside.
    • In dialogue (two or more people speaking), a new speaker always starts a new paragraph.
    • When a quote is more than one paragraph long, do not close the first paragraph with closing quotation marks. This tells the reader that the quote continues with the next paragraph.
    • Use single quotation marks to enclose a quote within a quote.
    • Use quotation marks for the following: titles of articles, short stories, poems, songs, chapters, and other parts of books or periodicals.


Apostrophes are used to show ownership or for contractions.

Some correct uses of apostrophes [examples in brackets] include the following:

  • To show ownership [That is Mary’s new car.]
  • To show plural ownership [The girls’ white uniforms came out fine, but the boys’ turned out pink.] Notice the apostrophe after the “s”.]
  • To show where letters have been omitted in a contraction [This really isn’t that hard.


Hyphens (-) are used to join syllables, words, or phrases.

Some correct uses of hyphens [examples in brackets] include the following:

  • In numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine
  • With fractions [two-thirds or three-quarters]
  • With the prefixes ex-, self-, all- [self-confident, ex-champion]
  • With the suffix –elect [President-elect]
  • To join syllables the end of a line [You must recog-

nize when to speak and when to remain quiet.] Notice the hyphen splits syllables. If it’d been placed, say, after the “n,” that would be incorrect because a syllable would’ve been split.


Dashes (—) are used to separate things. Whereas hyphens combine things, dashes are longer in length and are used to break things apart. They’re explanations, qualifiers, or side remarks. Usually, such breaks in thought are done with commas or parentheses. Sometimes, however, a stronger break is required. This is when dashes are used.

Some examples of correct uses of dashes:

  • Coach Jennings—he lives on my block—was in the paper today.
  • Jacqueline—people call her “Jacks”—won the contest.
  • “Today were going to—“ is all he said before the horn blew.


Parentheses are used to set off phrases that explain or qualify.

Following are some examples of correct uses of parentheses [examples in brackets] include the following:

  • To enclose information not considered critical [Thunder booms (usually in the summer) and warns of coming rain. Senator Williams (a Republican) spoke of the importance of education.]
  • To qualify [The Reconstruction years (1865 until 1877) were troublesome for our nation, to say the least.]

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