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Punctuation :

The aim of punctuation is to make the meaning of written words as clear and as immediately understandable as possible. Read the following and see whether you can get the sense.

What do you mean I am a detective

The meaning of these words depends on the punctuation.

(A) What! Do you mean I am a detective?
(b) What do you mean? I am a detective.

Compare the following.

(a) He doesn’t walk normally. (= He walks in a strange way.)

(b) He doesn’t walk, normally. (= Usually he doesn’t walk.)

Here is another example. The words in each of the following sentences are the same. But the meaning differs depending on the punctuation.

(a) Gopal said, “Suresh met with an accident.”
(b) “Gopal”, said Suresh, “met with an accident.”

The commonly used punctuation marks are…

1. Full Stop (.)
2. Question Mark (?)
3. Exclamation Mark (!)
4. Comma (,)
5. Colon (:)
6. Semicolon (;)
7. Quotation Marks Or Inverted Commas (‘‘ Or “ ”)
8. Apostrophe (’)

The full stop is used….

1. at the end of a sentence which is not a question or exclamation.

There is a good programme on Channel 12 at eight. Don’t miss it.

2. As the decimal point in figures

3.2 metres 1.5%

3. In separate parts of web and email addresses. This is read out as DOT.


Full stops can be used in abbreviations. But they are often omitted in modem style especially in British English.

BA or B.A.
USA or U.S.A.
MP or M.P.
eg (or e.g.)

The question mark is used at the end of a direct question.

What do you want?
Can I help you?

An indirect question does not end with a question mark. It ends with a full stop.

The exclamation mark is used at the end of an exclamation or an interjection.

What a good idea!
How funny!
Shh! You will wake the baby.
Wow! You look terrific!

The exclamation mark may also be used after a strong imperative (= order / warning)

Get out!
Don’t touch that wire!

The comma is chiefly used….

1. To separate items in a series or list…

I have a pen, a pencil and a rubber.
We have been to Kolkata, Varanasi, Delhi and Agra.

2. To separate a direct quotation from such constructions as He said, She replied…

He said, “Will you come to the cinema?”
“I can’t,’’ replied Ashok, “because I’ve to do my homework.”

3. Around the kind of relative clause that gives additional information (but not around the kind that just defines or identifies a person or thing).

Mr. Mehra, who lives opposite, is eighty-five.
My father, who is an engineer, has gone to the USA.

4. To mark off a noun in direct address…

Gopal, here’s your pen.
Don’t cry, Anne.

5. To separate certain words or phrases like however, moreover, finally, in short, in fact, of course, firstly & secondly.

My father, however, was determined to continue.
In fact, I don’t even know her name.
Of course, it is true.

6. To set off clauses where a pause is needed in reading. This is usually the case if an adverb clause comes first in a sentence.

Before we went very far, we found that we had lost our way.
If it is fine tomorrow, we will play tennis.
He looked for the key, but he couldn’t find it.

7. To mark off phrases containing a participle when a pause is required in reading.

Sitting in front of the television, Mary ate her supper.
Mohan, hearing the telephone, got up to answer it.

8. To separate a question tag from the rest of the sentence.

You know his address. Don’t you?

9. Before please when it comes at the end of a sentence and after yes or no responses…

Be quiet, please.
Have you got the number, please?
Yes, I have.
No, I haven’t.

10. Before and after a phrase in apposition.

Mr. Smith, my teacher, is retiring next month.
Mr. R.N. Ghosh, the owner of the company, lives in Kolkata.

The semi-colon marks a longer pause than the comma and is mainly used between two main clauses when the second main clause is not linked grammatically to the first.

The car stopped; John got in.
Some people work best in the mornings; others do better in the evenings.

The colon is used….

1. To separate two statements when the second statement explains the first :

We have to give up our holiday plans : the dates don’t work out.

I was late for school this morning : the bus was full and I had to walk.

2. Before a list, and often introduced by phrases like as follows & in the following examples.

The results are as follows : Suresh 1st, Vijay 2nd, Ahmed 3rd.

You must learn the use of the following points.

the full stop
the comma
the colon

Remember that the apostrophe (') is used.

1. In the possessive forms of nouns :

the boy's pen (apostrophe + 5 with singular nouns)
boys’ school (apostrophe after the 5 with plural nouns)

2. In short forms :

I’ll (I will) go home.
We’ve (= We have) had a nice time.

Words on capital letters…Capitals are used…

1. At the beginning of a sentence
2. For the pronoun I and the interjection O
3. For proper nouns (e.g. Sita, India, French, June)
4. For the first letter of each line in most poems.

Quotation Marks or Inverted Commas are used

1. To enclose a direct speech

2. To enclose quotations

3. To enclose a word or phrase being discussed


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Punctuation To HOME PAGE

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