Punctuations— Meaning, How to Use Them, Sentence Examples


Punctuation marks refers to a set of marks and symbols that are used to clarify meaning in writing by separating words into phrases, clauses and sentences. They are used to make a piece of written work clear.

Punctuation marks aid in understanding and enables the reader of an essay or literary piece to flow with the writer. Without punctuations, what has been written would be no better than a jumble of words and the information or idea in the mind of the writer would not be communicated. It is important to note that punctuation marks are not used indiscriminately or in any way the writer wishes. There are established rules of English to use each punctuation mark.


We would now examine in details the various punctuation marks that are used for easy comprehension and clarity in writing.

1) FULL STOP (.)

In American English usage, the full stop is also called a ‘period’. It is used to denote the end of a sentence that is not a question or an exclamation. Also, the full stop is used in the abbreviation of words and in internet addresses. It is important to note that abbreviations that start with the first letter of a word and ends with the last letter does not need a full stop. For instance, words like Mr, Dr,etc. do not need a full stop.


  • The job is done.
  • He slapped me because I insulted his mother.
  • The murder happened on 5th Oct. 1999.
  • The information was gotten from http://en.m.wikipedia.org


The question mark is used at the end of a direct question. It could be a WH- question, polar question or any other type of direct question.


  • Who are you?
  • Did this man here purchase the ticket before going into the cinema?
  • The man over there is your father, isn’t he?

Note that the question mark is not used in questions that are asked indirectly. An indirect question like ‘He asked if I am coming’, does not require a question mark.

3) COMMA (,)

Generally, the comma is used to separate words in a list, phrases, clauses and one part of a sentence from another part. Also, when quoting what has being said by a person, the comma is used to separate the quoted statement from the other part of the sentence.


  • I came, I saw, I conquered.
  • At the trade fair today, I bought a television, microwave, chairs and some pieces of chinaware.
  • India, the second most populous country in the world, is located in South Asia.
  • You ate the food, didn’t you?
  • Donald said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.”

4) COLON (:)

The colon is used to introduce a list of items. It can also be used before a phrase or clause that gives additional information about the main clause.


  • We wanted to prepare stew so I bought the following items: tomatoes, pepper, meat, spinach.
  • Tell these persons to come and see me at once: David, Abdullahi, Christy and Charles.
  • I did not recommend him with others for promotion: he is not reliable.


The semicolon denotes a stronger pause than the comma and the colon but it is weaker than the full stop. It is used to separate two main clauses and also in sentences that already contain too many commas. One interesting fact about the semicolon is that it can sometimes be used where a full stop would do.


  • I do not blame him; one cannot give what one does not have.
  • Do not despair; help will come soon.
  • He must succeed whatever the cost; he intends to achieve his aim, no matter what happens.


The bracket is also called parenthesis. It is used to separate extra information from the rest of a sentence and to enclose references.


  • We trekked a long distance (500 metres) before we got to the place.
  • I just finished reading one of Shakespeare’s books (Romeo and Juliet).
  • Man is a tripartite being (See Chapter Five).


The exclamation mark is used at the end of a sentence expressing joy, surprise, anger, or some other strong emotion. It is not conventional to use more than one exclamation mark in formal writing. For writing formally, one exclamation mark would suffice.


  • Oh! What beauty!
  • Good God! What happened here?
  • ‘Don’t!’ she cried.

8) HYPHEN (-)

The hyphen is used to form a compound word from two or more words and in formation of some words containing prefixes . It also used when writing in words numbers that are between 21 and 99. Hyphen is used to show that a word did not end in one line but continued till the next line of text.


  • The farmer owns a fork-lift truck.
  • January has thirty-one days.
  • The pan-African movement aided the independence of so many African countries.

9) DASH (—)

A dash, longer than a hyphen, is used to separate a comment or an afterthought from the rest of the sentence. In informal English, a dash is used in place of a colon or semicolon to indicate that what follows is a summary of what has been said before.


  • I know the suspect from many years back — or so he said.
  • I came back with the things needed—cars, computers, other electronics.
  • The country’s economy is in recession, security is not guaranteed, education has been left in shambles— everything is in a comatose state.

10) QUOTATION MARK (‘’, “”)

A quotation mark is used to enclose words that were uttered in direct speech especially while having a conversation. When used this way, it could be single quotation mark or double quotation mark. Americans use double quotation mark. The quotation mark is also called an inverted comma and is used around the titles of articles, poems, books, etc. The inverted comma is also used to draw attention to a word that is unusually used in a sentence, for instance a slang, irony.

  • ‘Everyone is invited to the event,’ he said.
  • Charles told me in unequivocal terms to ‘fuck off!’
  • Do you know who wrote the poem: ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’.

11) ELLIPSES (…)

The ellipses consists of three consistent dots that are used to indicate that words have been omitted from a quotation or statement.


  • ‘I gave the money to…’ he couldn’t complete the statement as his voice trailed off and his eyes closed in everlasting bliss.
  • A fundamental term… is more important than an implied term.
  • The seven rivers in Africa are Nile, Niger, Limpopo….


Italics generally is used to show emphasis. It could also be used to indicate title of plays, poems, etc and foreign words or phrases. The word or words to be italicized is put in a slanting form.

  • You have been grounded for two weeks!
  • Have you read A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Denning Smith, Esq. rendered his services pro bono.


Apostrophe is used in the possessive form of nouns to indicate that a thing or person belongs to somebody. It is used in contracted words to show that something has been omitted.

  • Chike’s bag has been stolen.
  • The waitress’s apron is an immaculate white.
  • I’m going on vacation next week.

A good usage of this punctuation marks would render clarity in an essay, article, or any other piece of writing.

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