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!