Why Good Punctuation Is Important

Leonard Telford By Leonard Telford, 2nd Jan 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Tips

Learning English is a tricky business, yet millions do so every year. However, it’s not just the words that are important; good punctuation is as important as any word. Punctuation marks structure the sentence in a way that accurately conveys the meaning of it, and good punctuation allows a writer to appear competent and knowledgeable.

Common English Punctuation

Punctuation marks are symbols that show where sentences start, stop, and pause. They define the structure of a sentence, and good punctuation helps to identify the key parts of the sentence. Here is a quick rundown of the main punctuation marks.


Commas (,) indicate brief pauses in the sentence. They can also be used to split up a sentence when paired with a conjunction such as “and,” “or,” “but,” or “so.” They can be used to split up a list so that the individual components are clear, such as in the previous sentence. Click here for more detailed information about commas and where to use them.

Periods or Full Stops

A period (.) ends a sentence. In modern styles, only one space should appear after a period. Three spaced periods are also used to indicate an ellipsis, which is a way of indicating missing words. In this case, I might quote from a book:

Periods are fun . . . they can be used to indicate all sorts of pauses.

In effect, they are used to distil the essence of a quoted sentence.

Colons and Semicolons

Colons (:) are used to show what follows the sentence ended by a colon explains the sentence.
I like three things: ham, oysters, and mushrooms.
In this case, the three things I like are explained after the colon. However, a colon is a pause and should not be used when the sentence flows naturally into the list.

The three things I like are ham, oysters, and mushrooms.

In the above sentence, an addition of a colon would be incorrect. Find out more about colons here.

Semicolons are used to separate complex lists and sentences. The semicolon is seldom used properly, and so should be avoided if you are unsure how to use them. If you are up for a challenge, read here to learn about semicolons and how they are used.

Question Marks and Exclamation Marks

Exclamation marks indicate a strong emotion such as surprise or anger, or it can indicate shouting.

James shouted, “All aboard!”

In this case, it clearly indicates someone shouting a phrase.

Question marks indicate a question.

“What do you want of me?” my sister cried.

Sometimes, an exclamation mark may indicate a shouted or emotional question.

“What should I do!” my sister cried.

In this case, it is the context that shows whether it is a question or not. One thing to note is that indirect questions do not take a question mark.

He asked me where the train station was.

You know when the question is indirect when there are not quotation marks around the question, and it always ends in a period.

These are some of the basic punctuation marks used in English. More details on how to use them are included in the links provided. Good punctuation requires learning the rules surrounding these marks and keeping to them, so read up and learn!

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