Punctuation Summary


A period is appropriate to end a sentence with when it's a complete sentence, that is if it has a subject and a verb.




A comma separates. 

        It separates any crud that begins a sentence from the subject that typically would begin the sentence.  C, SV.

        It separates two complete sentences when they are combined by a coordinating conjunction.  SV, coord SV.

        It separates the sentence that follows a subordinating conjunction (the sentence with all the blood sucked out of it) from the real sentence.  Subord SV, SV.

        It separates the elements of a list.  1, 2, and 3; a, b, and c.  (Note:  the last comma, the one before the "and" is optional.  But whichever way you choose to do it, with or without comma, just be sure you do that consistently.)

        It separates an identifier from the identified.  For example -- Paris, France.  Las Vegas, New Mexico.  These identifiers are considered insertions.  When they are in the middle of a sentence, they have commas on both sides.  We drove through Window Rock, Arizona, on our way to California.  Appositives are also identifiers that are used as insertions.  Donna, my sister, has seven children.

        It separates years from day numbers when the dates are written in the month-day-year order.    January 1, 1997.  Just as the place identifiers are considered insertions, so are the years considered insertions.

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A semi-colon can, in effect, be used like the period.  In other words, there needs to be a complete sentence in front of it and a complete sentence after it.  It needs to be used judiciously.  Some examples of ideal uses for the semi-colon follow: 

        Short sentences related in structure, but without a conjunction combining them.  I came; I saw; I conquered.  (OR I came, I saw, and I conquered.He was hungry; he ate.

        Before transitions, which do not technically combine sentences, but rather show a relationship between two separate sentences.  It hasn't rained for three months; therefore, the lawn has died.  (Almost the same as -- It hasn't rained for three months.  Therefore, the lawn has died.  Note the comma separating the transition, which is crud, from the rest of the sentence.)

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The colon is used after a complete sentence to indicate that the following information is more specific examples of the more general sentence.  It should look like this:  SV: C.  Here are some examples:

        There is one thing I hate about math:  numbers.

        Journalism has three rules:  accuracy, accuracy, and accuracy.

        Bring the following to the campout:  sleeping bag, Hershey bars, marshmallows, and graham crackers.

 In titles, colons have been found to be useful to integrate more quick information by adding only one word.  In other words, they add meaning with fewer words, a good thing for presentations and articles with required word limits on their titles.  However, this has led to overuse of the technique.  There even was an article entitled, "Colons:  Their Use in Titles."  The colon has been abused so much that the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) convention now doesn't allow the colon in presentation titles.  Perhaps it's because of this use that my students tend to use the colon after incomplete sentences.  THE FOLLOWING SENTENCES USE THE COLON IMPROPERLY:

        You need to bring:  your notebook and three pencils.  (Correct -- You need to bring your notebook and three pencils. OR You need to bring the following:  your notebook and three pencils.)

        There are some dangerous spiders around here, such as:  black widows and brown recluses.  (Correct -- There are some dangerous spiders around here:  black widows and brown recluses.  OR There are some dangerous bugs around here, such as black widows and brown recluses.)

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(  )

"  "

Parentheses and quotation marks both identify groups of words as unique elements.  Whatever is inside those can be crud, subjects, verbs or complete sentences.  Quotation mark usage is so varied that it requires more complete explanation, which is available on "Dialogue in Essays."

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  This page last updated, Tuesday, May 18, 2010, by Connie Gulick.

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