Sentence Punctuation Why even learn the rules of punctuation?
Well, mostly because you can’t make a step without them in writing. With the right punctuation, sentence meaning becomes clear. However, if you mess up grammar or punctuation in a sentence, no one will ever understand what you wanted to say.
Correct sentence punctuation is crucial, incorrect punctuation can be even deadly! Take a look at these examples of misplaced punctuation:

  • A panda eats shoots and leaves. and A panda eats, shoots and leaves
  • Its’ time to eat, Grandma! and Its’ time to eat Grandma!
  • Fan’s fury at the stadium and Fans’ fury at the stadium

Well, hopefully, you see now that punctuation matters. And now, let’s take a closer look at the rules on punctuation.

Sentence Punctuation: Everything You Need to Know for a Start

First of all, remember these general rules concerning punctuation marks. That’s right – apart from periods, punctuation rules in English also concern a number of other marks. Learn to express your ideas clearly by using the right punctuation marks:
Punctuation: Periods

  • Used to mark the end of sentences;
  • Used after most abbreviations (Mrs., Jr., Dr., etc.)

Punctuation: Commas

  • List stuff;
  • Separate one part of sentence from another.

Punctuation: Columns

  • Used before listing;
  • Used before quoting someone.

Punctuation: Semicolons

  • Used to separate large blocks of text;
  • Avoid using them too often.

Punctuation: Dashes

  • Use n-dash (–) to show the range (e.g., 15–28 ft., $20–30, e.g.)
  • Use m-dash (—) to mark omissions, ellipses, etc. in sentences.

Punctuation: Three dots

  • Used to indicate that the sentence is incomplete;
  • Used when the intended meaning is more or less clear even if not explicitly mentioned.

Punctuation: Question mark

  • Used with any type of question;
  • Used in questions combined with reported speech: “Where is he, I wonder?”

Punctuation: Exclamation mark

  • Used to draw the reader’s attention;
  • Not to be abused in academic papers.

Punctuation and Quotation

  • Use quotation marks for quotes (eg.., “This theory is good,” Jackson said);
  • Always start the first word in a quote with a capital letter (e.g., Jane said, “Let’s go play”).

Sentence Punctuation Depending on the Type of the Sentence

According to existing rules, punctuation depends on the sentence type – in some kinds of sentences, commas are a must, etc.

Sentence Punctuation: Simple Sentence. The Weapon of Choice

To punctuate the sentence of this type, all you need are commas for lists and dots to end the sentence:

Follow these rules for punctuation to write correctly:

  • Use full stops to separate a sentence from the next one;
  • It was raining. I went home.

  • Use commas to list elements;
  • Apples, oranges and lemons have plenty of Vitamin C.

  • Use a dash/ellipsis to omit sentence parts.
  • The treasure must be–. Hold on, what is that?!

Sentence Punctuation: Compound Sentences. Independence Day

A compound sentence is made of two or more simple ones. That’s why, to punctuate sentence parts in compound sentences, remember the following:

  • For clauses, use the same rules as for simple sentences;
  • I took a notepad, a pencil and a box of crayons; then I left.

  • Link simple sentences inside a compound sentence with a comma or a semicolon.
  • We watched the movie, and Jerry played at his computer.
    It was pretty dark; however, Jane still decided to go on her own.

Sentence Punctuation: Complex Sentences. Expert Level: Over 9000

It gets a bit more complicated with punctuation rules for sentences with two or more clauses. To learn how to punctuate a sentence like that, read first the definition of a complex sentence: A complex sentence is a combination of two or more sentences, one of which is subordinate to another one. E.g.,
When I entered the room (subordinate – answers the question "When?"), my brother was sleeping on the sofa (main clause). That is, you can expand any part of a sentence to become a sentence in its own right.

Remember the general rules:

  • Use a comma after the subordinate clause:
  • If you see John, tell him that I miss him.

  • Don’t put a comma after the main clause:
  • Tell John that I miss him if you see him.

  • Within clauses, use the same rules as for simple sentences:
  • After I fed the cat, washed the floor and cooked the dinner, I sat in a chair to read a book.

Sentence Punctuation and Objective Clauses: You Said, What?!

Now check what happens if you expand an object into a sentence. Remember these punctuation rules:

  • Don't use any punctuation between the sentences;
  • Within one sentence, the same punctuation rules apply as in simple sentences.

Let's take a look at an example – for instance, learn how to punctuate this sentence:

He said that he was not going to write that paper anyway.

Sentence Punctuation and Adverbial Clauses: How Come?

Of all types of sentences, punctuation rules in this one are by far the easiest.

  • No punctuation between clauses;
  • We are going where no one else has ever gone.

  • Within one sentence, the same punctuation rules as in simple sentences.
  • He stays because he is absolutely cowardly, pathetic and useless.

Sentence Punctuation and Attributive Clauses: Whichever, That

With attributive clauses, mind that, since there are several sentence types, sentences will have different punctuation.

  • Use a comma before the conjunction if the subordinate sentence only describes the object;
  • Mr. Wilkinson, who is rather stubborn, decided to reach the North Pole on foot.

  • Do not use a comma before the conjunction if the subordinate sentence defines the object.
  • The door that you’ve just closed leads to the laboratory.

Sentence Punctuation and Subject Clauses: The One Involved

You won't face a subject clause too often, but the rules of grammar in a sentence like that are quite complicated:

  • No punctuation between the sentences;
  • What he says is true.

  • Within one sentence, the same punctuation rules as in simple sentences.
  • Where they are going, what they are saying and why they are so angry is none of your business.

Sentence Punctuation and Predicative Clause: Who's Done This?!

In this type of sentences, grammar rules say that you should use punctuation marks as if the sentence was split in two. For instance, a sentence like "This is important" (is important = predicate) can become two sentences if expressed as: “This is what Peter thinks important” (Peter thinks important = predicate). Here:

  • No punctuation between the sentences;
  • Within one sentence, the same punctuation rules apply as in simple sentences.

Sentence Punctuation: Important Exceptions. Create Your Style

If you feel quite confident in your knowledge of English grammar, try bending the rules somehow to create your own style:

It was dark – the lights were flashing – I couldn’t see a thing.

I was walking down the street when suddenly – kaboom! – something heavy landed right next to me.

Well, now you won't have to cry for help asking “How do I punctuate this sentence?!” Follow the lead of professionals, and you'll solve any punctuation riddle!