Everything You Need to Know About Punctuation in English

Let’s face it: Punctuation in English can be complicated. If you’ve ever wondered, “Do I need a comma here?” or “Does punctuation go inside quotations?”—or if you’re just looking for a free grammar and punctuation checker—this page is for you.

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What Is Punctuation?
Your Guide to Punctuation in English
The 14 Punctuation Marks
Grammar and Punctuation Checker
Frequently Asked Questions
Ultimate Guide to Punctuation
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What Is Punctuation?

Punctuation is defined as a set of symbols used to separate and clarify the meaning of sentences and written elements. In other words, punctuation tells readers of your writing where to pause, what words are quotations and which are clarifications, where words have been omitted, and more. Read the resources below to get up to speed on commas, hyphens, semicolons, and all other punctuation marks.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is punctuation and what are examples of it?

Punctuation is a series of marks that clarify the meaning of a piece of writing. There are 14 punctuation marks; commas, periods, apostrophes, parentheses, and quotation marks are some of the most commonly used ones.

What are the 14 punctuation marks?

The 14 punctuation marks in English are period (called “full stop” in the UK), question mark, exclamation point, comma, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, brackets, braces, parentheses, apostrophe, quotation mark, and ellipsis.

What are the most important punctuation rules?

There are plenty of important punctuation rules, but here are five you should know:

1. All sentences must end in a period, a question mark, an exclamation point, or, if followed by a closely related sentence, a semicolon.

2. Commas and periods always go inside quotation marks in American English; dashes, colons, and semicolons almost always go outside. Question marks and exclamation marks sometimes go inside and sometimes stay outside.

3. Always use quotation marks, brackets, braces, and parentheses in pairs.

Example: They asked, “Is cereal [once you add milk] considered soup?”

4. If an explanatory element is nonessential (i.e., it doesn’t change the meaning of a sentence if you leave it out), set it apart with commas.

Correct: Earth’s oldest tree, Methuselah, is over 4,800 years old.

Incorrect: Earth’s oldest tree Methuselah is over 4,800 years old.

Correct: The inventor Leonardo da Vinci was multitalented.

Incorrect: The inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, was multitalented.

5. Introductory elements can be used at the beginning of a sentence to modify or provide background for the main part of the sentence. Always put a comma after them.

Example: On the long drive home, they concluded the meaning of life is indeed 42.

How do you punctuate a sentence?

All sentences need punctuation at the end. You can use a period to express a neutral tone, a question mark to show that the sentence is an inquiry, or an exclamation point to indicate excitement or a command. You can also end a sentence with a semicolon if a different, closely related sentence follows that sentence. Here’s an example that shows how each of these punctuation marks work:

Do I like cheese? No, I don’t like cheese. I love it! There are so many kinds of cheese; I never get bored.

How can I use a comma in a sentence?

Commas may be the most varied and versatile punctuation mark in English. Here are the most common ways they’re used, complete with examples:

1. To separate words or elements in a list.

Example: Bats, whales, and goats develop regional accents.

2. After introductory phrases.

Example: Today, I discovered bamboo can grow up to 35 inches in one day.

3. To separate complete sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet).

Example: Polar bears look white, but their skin is black.

4. To surround elements in the middle of a sentence that are not essential to the sentence’s meaning.

Example: Vanilla, a popular flavoring in desserts, comes from orchids.

5. To separate two or more adjectives describing one noun.

Example: The bright, golden sun shone upon the lawn.

Learn more ways to use commas.

How can I improve my punctuation?

Improving your punctuation doesn’t have to mean reading rules for hours on end. There are much simpler solutions, like using a punctuation checker. Grammarly’s free browser extension and desktop app proofread your punctuation—and many other aspects of your writing—to ensure your writing is clear, mistake-free, and compelling.

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