Punctuation MarksPunctuation is primarily used to organize and create the structure of written passages. It helps to remove ambiguity that can exist without this standardization. This website will focus on American punctuation. What rules exist are surprisingly consistent between the American and British usages. The exception is quotation marks. Even though we will focus on rules of American punctuation, these rules are not strictly followed nor enforced by anyone. Time and geography may have more influence on which conventions of punctuation are adhered to. We hope that by introducing some of the main principles of selected common punctuation marks, the reader will be more able to grasp the relationship between punctuation and grammar. Promoting the use of punctuation consistently and sparingly is our goal. Often, when we overuse punctuation, we misuse it and create ambiguity rather than clarity.

As an aside, punctuation marks are also used as mathematical symbols. As such, their functions are very different from those we analyze linguistically. Since this website deals with language rather than mathematics (or math), we will only mention mathematical symbols in passing. Be aware however, that periods, commas, parentheses and brackets can all be found in the world of numbers as well as letters

In addition to time and location, registers also influence the decisions of when and what kind of punctuation to use. Technology has expanded the choices we have for its use and even made neglecting punctuation altogether more acceptable. E-mails, texting and a higher dependency on verbal exchanges all emphasize speed at the expense of attention to detail. When this happens, punctuation is neglected.

Interestingly, punctuation seems to have first been developed as a way with which public speakers could deliver their presentations with the recommended pauses. When printing became the usual method of creating written communication, standardization of punctuation became possible and desirable. Over time though any emphasis on strict rules of punctuation became less important and today much of what we learn is recommended only and at the whim of the writer.

Below are links to several marks of punctuation that sometimes cause confusion. This website can only offer guidance. Again, our advice in general is to use punctuation sparingly and only to enhance the clarity of the message. Due to the intimate relationship between punctuation and grammar, sometimes distinctions can get blurred and the two subjects intertwined.

Period
Comma

Apostrophe
Semi-colon
Parentheses

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Last Updated: June 19, 2013