Punctuation in English

punctuation in English

What it punctuation, and why does it matter?

Imagine trying to understand writing in English without punctuation. Can you read the following sentence? tellmethreereaonswhypuncuationisimportant

Hun? Exactly! Without proper punctuation, communication would be really difficult! While this example is extreme, even small errors can change the meaning of a sentence, can cost you points in exams, and make your writing look unprofessional.

Before we learn the rules, let’s learn and practice some vocabulary that we’ll need.

Vocabulary basics

What’s the Same Game – A game to practice punctuation vocabulary

Basic Punctuation Rules

Capital Letters
1.) Sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a period. A sentence includes a subject and verb.

2.) Capitalize proper nouns and the first person pronoun I.


To understand when to use commas in English, it is helpful to know about different types of conjunctions.

1.) Commas separate independent clauses that have a coordinating conjunction. The coordinating conjunctions are and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet.

Incorrect: The water was warm but we were glad to have something to drink.
Correct: The water was warm, but we were glad to have something to drink.

2.) Commas are needed in sentences that have two independent clauses, and where the dependent clause comes first.

Incorrect: If it rains we will stay home.
Correct: We will stay home if it rains.
Correct: If it rains, we will stay home.

3.) Use a comma when there are two independent clauses have different subjects, but not where two verbs refer to the same subject.

Correct: Juan woke up early and arrived on time.
Correct: Juan woke up early, and Mary slept in.

4.) Use a comma where there are two independent clauses with different subject and verbs. This rule applies even when the subject is the same, but a pronoun is used!

Incorrect: Juan woke up early and he arrived on time.
Correct: Juan woke up early, and he arrived on time.

Notice that you can simply omit the subject pronoun to avoid using the comma.

5.) As a general rule, don’t use a comma after and.

Incorrect: They traveled to Paris. And, while they were there, they saw the Eiffel Tower.
Correct: They traveled to Paris. And while they were there, they saw the Eiffel Tower.

You will only see a comma after and when there is a parenthetical phrase embedded within the sentence.

Correct: I go to the gym twice a week, and, when I have time, I hike on the weekends.

6.) Don’t use a comma to separate two nouns or adjectives that are already separated with and.

Incorrect: Frank likes burgers, and french fries.
Correct: Frank likes burgers and french fries.

Incorrect: The flowers are blue, and purple.
Correct: The flowers and blue and purple.

7.) It is up to you if you want to put a comma before and in a list. Add a comma when it helps to clarify meaning, and in general, try to use whichever option you decided upon consistently.

Correct: We bought some fruit at the market. We got some apples, bananas, and cherries.
Correct: We bought some fruit at the market. We got some apples, bananas and cherries.

The final comma before and is called the Oxford comma. Not using it can lead to some pretty funny miscommunications. Check out the memes below:





1.) We can use semicolons to separate two independent clauses instead of using a coordinating conjunction or a period. Semicolons indicate that the ideas are closely related.

They finally fixed the roof; it was a relief to have it done.


1.) You can think of colons as introductions. They tell the reader that you are about to restate, emphasize, illustrate or explain the previous part of the sentence.

The work will be challenging: it involves long hours and a lot of heavy lifting.

2.) Colons introduce lists and series.

The kids packed their clothing for the trip: shirts, shoes, shorts, and sneakers.

3.) While a dash is more common, some writers use a colon to emphasize a single word at the end of a sentence.

Correct: Michael has only one priority – himself.
Correct: Michael has only one priority: himself.

Single Quotation Marks

Notice that a single quotation mark looks the same as an apostrophe. But quotation marks always occur in pairs.

1.) We can use either italics or single quotes to set a word or phrase apart.

Correct: The word ‘and’ is a connector.
Correct: The word and is a connector.

2.) We also use single quotation marks to set apart a quote within another quote. While not that common, you will occasionally encounter sentences like this:

Ann reported that “the teacher said ‘you must arrive on time'”.

Double Quotation Marks

Use double quotation marks to repeat exactly what someone has said or written.

Correct: My friend told me that she was from Peru.
Correct: My friend said, “I’m from Peru”.
Incorrect: My friend told me that “she was from Peru”.

Important note: In British English, the rules for single and double quotation marks are reversed!


An ellipsis stands in place of words that a writer chooses to omit in a text. We often use them when we want to shorten a quote. Only to leave out words when the meaning is still clear. Also, if it is direct quote, be careful not to change any of the original words.

Let’s quote part of an article about dogs from Britanica as an example:

Dogs are regarded differently in different parts of the world. Characteristics of loyalty, friendship, protectiveness, and affection have earned dogs an important position in Western society, and in the United States and Europe the care and feeding of dogs has become a multibillion-dollar business.

Correct: The article states that in “Western society … the care and feeding of dogs has become a multibillion-dollar business”.
Incorrect: The article states that “Dogs are regarded differently … dogs have become a multibillion-dollar business”.

There are two problems the second example. The first is that the flow of ideas is unclear. The second is that the word has is changed to have. While the writer is correct that have is grammatically correct, we can’t change anything that we put in quotes.

Add the punctuation exercise

10 Hilarious Examples of How Punctuation Makes a Big Difference – Reading