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Punctuation marks
apostrophe  '
brackets [ ]  ( )  { }  ⟨ ⟩
colon :
comma ,  ،  
dash ‒  –  —  ―
ellipsis  ...  . . .      
exclamation mark !
full stop, period .
guillemets ‹ ›  « »
hyphen-minus -
question mark ?
quotation marks ‘ ’  “ ”  ' '  " "
semicolon ;
slash, stroke, solidus /    
Word dividers
interpunct ·
General typography
ampersand &
asterisk *
at sign @
backslash \
basis point
caret ^
dagger † ‡ ⹋
degree °
ditto mark ” 〃
equals sign =
inverted exclamation mark ¡
inverted question mark ¿
komejirushi, kome, reference mark
multiplication sign ×
number sign, pound, hash #
numero sign
obelus ÷
ordinal indicator º ª
percent, per mil % ‰
plus, minus + −
plus-minus, minus-plus ± ∓
section sign §
tilde ~
underscore, understrike _
vertical bar, pipe, broken bar |    ¦
Intellectual property
copyright ©
copyleft 🄯
sound-recording copyright
registered trademark ®
service mark
currency sign ¤

؋฿¢$֏ƒ£元 圆 圓 ¥

Uncommon typography
fleuron, hedera
index, fist
irony punctuation
In other scripts

Punctuation (formerly sometimes called pointing) is the use of spacing, conventional signs and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading of handwritten and printed text whether read silently or aloud.[1] Another description is, "It is the practice action or system of inserting points or other small marks into texts in order to aid interpretation; division of text into sentences, clauses, etc., by means of such marks."[2]

In written English, punctuation is vital to disambiguate the meaning of sentences. For example: "woman, without her man, is nothing" (emphasizing the importance of men), and "woman: without her, man is nothing" (emphasizing the importance of women) have very different meanings; as do "eats shoots and leaves" (which means the subject consumes plant growths) and "eats, shoots, and leaves" (which means the subject eats first, then fires a weapon, and then leaves the scene).[3] The sharp differences in meaning are produced by the simple differences in punctuation within the example pairs, especially the latter.

The rules of punctuation vary with language, location, register and time and are constantly evolving. Certain aspects of punctuation are stylistic and are thus the author's (or editor's) choice, or tachygraphic language forms, such as those used in online chat and text messages.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ PUNCTUATION MASTERCLASS - Learn Punctuation Easily in 30 Minutes - Comma, Semicolon, Period, Etc.
  • ✪ Punctuation Explained (by Punctuation!) | Scratch Garden
  • ✪ Learn Punctuation: period, exclamation mark, question mark
  • ✪ Basic Punctuation: Periods, Commas, Semicolons, Colons, Apostrophes, Quotation Marks, Parentheses
  • ✪ Punctuation song from Grammaropolis - "Punctuation.?!”


Hello, and welcome back. In this lesson, I’m going to teach you the rules for using the seven most important punctuation marks, so that you can write correct English without making mistakes. There are exercises within the lesson to help you practice, and as always there is a final quiz at the end of the video. So, if you’re ready, let’s begin. We’re going to start with terminal punctuation. ‘Terminal’ means the end, so terminal punctuation marks are what we use to end a sentence. There are three of these: the period or the full stop, the exclamation mark, and the question mark. Let’s look at the period first. This mark is called the period in American English (AmE means American English), and it’s called the full stop in British English. It is used to mark the end of declarative and imperative sentences. I’ll explain. Here are some examples: “I teach English.” “We had pizza for dinner last night.” “If it rains tomorrow, I’ll bring my umbrella.” These sentences are called declarative sentences because they declare something; they give us some information. And at the end of each sentence, you see a period or full stop. Imperative sentences are commands or requests: “Please don’t feed the animals.” You might see this on a sign in a zoo. “Let me know what time your flight arrives.” “If it rains tomorrow, bring your umbrella.” Let’s now turn to the exclamation mark. It is used to convey strong emotion or feeling. Have a look at these two sentences: Both of them mean the same thing. The first sentence, which ends in a period, has no special feeling or emotion; it’s like saying “I’m really excited about my new job.” Doesn’t sound like I’m very excited, does it? That’s why we use the exclamation mark: “I’m really excited about my new job!” – it tells our reader to read the sentence with emotion – in this sentence, the emotion is excitement. This next sentence: “If you come to work late tomorrow, you’re fired!” Imagine a manger saying this to an employee. So, this expresses anger. In the same way, you can show many other feelings including surprise, joy, fear etc. using the exclamation mark. Now, both of these sentences are declarative, but you can also use the exclamation mark in an imperative sentence like this one: “Johnny, don’t play with your food!” You can imagine a mother saying that angrily to her son. So, it’s a strong or strict command. Another place where we use the exclamation mark is after interjections. Here are a couple of sentences: “Ouch! You just stepped on my foot!” “Wow! What a beautiful house!” Interjections are words like “ouch” and “wow” which are used to express feelings. So, remember: if you want to convey strong emotion in a sentence, put an exclamation mark at the end of it. If there’s no special feeling, just end the sentence with a period. OK, let’s turn now to the third terminal punctuation symbol: the question mark. It is used to mark the end of a question. So, it’s very straightforward: if a sentence is a question, then put a question mark at the end of it. Here are some examples: “What do you do?” “Are we allowed to feed the animals?” “If it rains tomorrow, should I bring my umbrella?” “Are you excited about your new job?” “Who lives in that house?” So, the rule is: if a sentence is a question, it must end with a question mark. Alright, let’s do a small exercise now. There are four sentences on the screen. I want you to add periods or full stops, exclamation marks and question marks where necessary. Stop the video, think about your answers, then play the video and check. OK, here are the answers. If you want, stop the video again, check your answers, then play the video and continue. Before we move on to the next topic, a quick note on spacing. Notice that there is no space between the last letter of a sentence and the terminal punctuation mark. If you put a space there, it’s wrong. But, when you begin a new sentence, you should leave a space after the terminal mark, and you should start the new sentence with a capital letter. Capital letters are called uppercase letters and small letters are called lowercase letters. OK, now let’s move on to the next topic – pauses. There are, again, three marks that fall under this category: the comma, the semicolon, and the colon. These are called pauses because they are used to tell the reader to stop briefly (for a moment), and then continue reading. Let’s start with the comma. Yes, it’s pronounced /ˈkɑː.mə/, not /ˈkə.mə/ or /ˈkoʊ.mə/, /ˈkɑː.mə/. This mark has four main uses. The first is to separate items in a list. For example: “We need to buy milk, eggs, flour, and sugar for the cake.” There are four items in this list separated by commas. Notice how when we read the sentence, we naturally pause after each item in the list – “milk, eggs, flour, and sugar”. The job of the commas is to show these pauses. Now, your English teacher in school may have taught you that it’s wrong to put that last comma before ‘and’. But there’s no rule about it – it’s really your choice. You can include that comma, or you can leave it out if you wish. I like to always put it there to avoid confusion. Now, if you only have two items, don’t use a comma: “We need to buy eggs and flour for the cake.” But if you have more than two, put a comma after every list item except the last. Also, notice that there is no space before the commas but there is a space after each one. This is the correct formatting. Please remember that. Here are two more examples: “The car is spacious, stylish, and affordable.” “Why don’t you go upstairs, take a shower, and get ready to leave?” In this last sentence, the list items are not just single words; they’re verb phrases. So, this is the first use. The second use of the comma is to separate words that are not part of the sentence. Take this example: “Unfortunately, he missed his flight.” Here, the main sentence is “He missed his flight.” The word “unfortunately” is an extra – it just expresses my opinion about the sentence. This type of word is called a sentence adverb. Words like “frankly”, “hopefully”, “sadly” etc. are some more examples. One more sentence: “Frankly, I don’t care whether she agrees with my decision or not.” Here, “frankly” is the opinion word – the sentence adverb. In both of these examples, the comma helps to set the sentence adverb apart from the main sentence. Another form of extra information is forms of address, like names: “Emma, can you come here and help me with this?” Emma is a name. The words sir or madam are also forms of address: “Sir, please have a seat.” “Ma’am, can I get you something to drink?” Notice the commas after the name and after “sir” and “ma’am.” This brings me to an important point about formal letters and emails. In the salutation, that is, in the greeting, we use “Dear”; we say “Dear sir”, “Dear madam”, or “Dear sir or madam” or the name of a person like “Dear Sita”. Should you put a comma at the end? Well, the answer is different for American and British English. In British English, you should always put a comma at the end. In American English, a colon should be used instead. In the closing, the most common formal expressions are “Yours faithfully”, “Yours sincerely” and “Yours truly” (which is a little less formal), but after all of these, you must always put a comma. This is true for both American and British English. The third use of the comma is to separate linking words like however, therefore, for example, in fact, of course etc. These words connect one sentence to another sentence. Here are some examples: “Her parents wanted her to be a doctor. However, she had other plans.” “This is a great book. In fact, it is one of the best I have ever read.” In these sentences, the linking words “however” and “in fact” are at the beginning of the sentence, and there is a comma after them. But they can also occur in the middle of the sentence like this, and the meaning is the same. Now, you see that we use two commas to clearly separate the linking words from the rest of the sentence. Sometimes, the linking words can also occur at the end. In that case, one comma is enough because the sentence then ends with the period. The fourth and final use of the comma is with clauses. What is a clause? A clause is just like a sentence. Here are two examples: “We went to the beach last weekend.” “When Rahul gets home from work” Notice that the first one is a full, complete sentence. So, this is called an independent clause. But the second one is not complete. If I say, “When Rahul gets home from work,” you will ask, “OK, what does he do?” So, this is called a dependent clause. We need to finish the sentence by adding an independent clause, so “When Rahul gets home from work, he watches TV for an hour.” That first clause “When Rahul gets home from work” is called dependent because it depends on the independent clause (“he watches TV for an hour”) to be a complete sentence. The dependent clause is sometimes also called a subordinate clause, but it means the same thing. Remember: an independent clause is a complete sentence, and a dependent or subordinate clause is not complete; it needs to be connected to an independent clause to be a full sentence. So, now that you know the basics of clauses, let’s talk about the correct use of commas with them. There are six sentences on the screen. Each sentence has two clauses but there are no commas. I want you to just try the exercise – put commas where you think they are needed. Stop the video, think about your answers, then play the video again and check. Alright, let’s discuss the answers. In the first sentence, there are two independent clauses – “They offered him a promotion” is the first one. “He accepted it immediately” is the second one. These clauses are independent because each one can be a complete sentence. Whenever you connect two independent clauses in the same sentence, you must put a comma after the first one. But that’s not enough. You must use a word like ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘or’, or ‘so’ to connect the clauses – these words are called coordinating conjunctions (coordinating just means connecting). In this sentence, I’ve used ‘and’. Now if you don’t use a conjunction, it’s wrong. It’s actually a common error and it’s called a comma splice – that’s when you use just a comma to connect two independent clauses. So, the rule is when you want to connect two independent clauses using a comma, write the first clause, put a comma after it and put the correct coordinating conjunction, then write the second clause. Here are some more examples: “I waited for the doctor for over two hours, but she never came.” “We can go out for dinner, or we can just order in some Chinese.” “They’ve never been to Vietnam, so they’re going there on vacation this year.” In all of these, we have two independent clauses connected by a comma and then a conjunction. Exercise sentences number two and three deal with connecting a dependent clause to an independent clause. In number two, we have a dependent clause first – “If you study more,” – this clause is dependent because it is not complete. The second clause – “your grades might improve” is independent. So, here’s the rule: if the dependent or subordinate clause comes first, put a comma after it. In number three, the first clause is independent – “I was so happy” and the second clause is dependent – “when I heard the news.” So, now, the order is reversed. If the subordinate or dependent clause comes second, then you don’t use a comma. So, this sentence is correct as it is – no comma should be used here. Let’s move on to the next three sentences. In these, we have a special type of subordinate clause – the relative clause, also called the adjective clause because it gives information about a noun. A relative clause is introduced by a relative pronoun – who, which, whom, that or a relative adverb like when, where or why. In sentence number four, the relative clause is “who won the Nobel Prize in Physics this year.” It gives information about the noun “scientist” – that is, it tells who that scientist is. Now, what happens when we remove this clause? “That lady is the scientist.” That lady is what scientist? I don’t understand. So, this relative clause cannot be removed from the sentence, and it is called an essential relative clause (‘essential’ means it’s very important). The rule is that we don’t use commas with essential relative clauses. But, in number five, we have something different. There is a relative clause – “which is the last day of the year” – it gives information about New Year’s Eve. But this clause can be removed. “People love to celebrate New Year’s Eve.” The meaning is still clear. So, the clause is called non-essential. It’s not so important – it just gives some extra information. We separate non-essential relative clauses with a comma. OK, what about number six? Here, we find a relative clause in the middle of the sentence – “whom you met at the party”. It gives information about Oliver. So, let me ask you: is this essential or non-essential? It’s non-essential because you can remove it and the sentence still makes sense – “My friend Oliver just got a job at Apple.” So, we separate it from the rest of the sentence, but we use two commas this time because the relative clause is in the middle. So, these are all the rules for punctuating clauses correctly. Let’s do another exercise now. This time, it’s for all the uses of the comma. Stop the video, put commas in the correct places in these sentences, then play the video again and check. OK, here are the answers. If you want, stop the video again, check your answers, then play the video and continue. Alright, the next mark in the category of pauses is the semicolon. This mark is used to combine closely related sentences. Here’s an example: “I went to see a movie with my wife. I thought it was amazing. She thought it was terrible.” These two sentences are very closely related – “I thought it was amazing” (that’s my opinion); “she thought it was terrible” – that’s her opinion. So, instead of ending a sentence and starting a new one, we can do two things: we can either use the conjunction “but” – “I thought it was amazing, but she thought it was terrible.” In that case, we have two independent clauses, so remember that we need a comma between them. Or we can just use a semicolon – “I thought it was amazing; she thought it was terrible”. So, we have combined the two clauses into a single sentence without a conjunction. But, there are some types of linking words which we can use with a semicolon. These are called conjunctive adverbs – words like however, therefore, for example, in fact, of course etc. We discussed them in the section on commas. Do you remember these two sentences: “Her parents wanted her to be a doctor. However, she had other plans.” “This is a great book. In fact, it is one of the best I have ever read.” In both, we first have one sentence which ends with a period. Then, a new sentence begins with the linking words “however” and “in fact.” But there’s another way to write these sentences. Instead of the period or the full-stop, you can also use a semicolon. If you do that, the second clause should begin with a lowercase letter because it’s now part of the same sentence. The meaning is still the same, but the semicolon makes the clauses look more connected. So, remember that with conjunctive adverbs, you can either use a period to end the first sentence and start the next one, or you can use a semicolon to combine the two clauses into one single sentence. As with the other punctuation marks we’ve discussed so far, we leave no space before the semicolon, but we leave a single space after it. OK, now we move on to the last punctuation mark in the category of pauses, and that is the colon. The colon has one purpose: to introduce information after an independent clause. Here are two lists introduced by colons: “Danny’s seafood restaurant specializes in four items: prawn, shrimp, crab, and lobster.” “Whenever you drive, you must do the following: wear your seat belt, obey traffic laws, and keep your eyes on the road.” The information that comes after the colon can also be a clause rather than list items: “Let me make this very clear: if you fail another test, I’m taking away all your video games.” “I’d love to move to Japan, but there’s one big problem: I don’t speak any Japanese!” In all of these examples, I want you to notice that before the colon, there is an independent clause or a complete sentence. This is very important. But notice what happens when we rewrite the first sentence like this: “Danny’s seafood restaurant specializes in prawn, shrimp, crab, and lobster.” Now, we cannot use a colon after ‘in’ because up to that word, “Danny’s seafood restaurant specializes in”, is not a full, complete sentence – it’s not an independent clause. We can rewrite other sentences as well: you see these on the screen now. If you want, stop the video and read them. So, remember that we only use a colon after a complete sentence, also known as an independent clause. There is an exception though, and that is in titles and headings, where we want to save space. In those places, you will see colons used after single words or phrases (you will see that in the headings of this lesson as well), but, in general, use a colon only after an independent clause. When you use a colon, don’t leave a space before it, but do leave a space after it. Alright, it’s time for another exercise now. There are five sentences; in each one, I want you to add commas, semicolons and colons wherever necessary. Stop the video, think about your answers, then play the video again and check. OK, here are the answers. If you want, stop the video again, check your answers, then play the video and continue. And, finally, we move on to the last punctuation mark in our lesson – the apostrophe. This is used for two purposes: the first is to mark contraction. Contraction is when we combine two words into a single word as in these examples: “I’m a teacher.” “She’s waiting at the bus stop.” “He’d never take a bribe.” Here, we see “I am” shortened to “I’m” – that’s the contraction. And then, we have “She’s” which is “She is” (it can also be ‘she has’ in a different situation) and “He’d” which is “He would” here (but it can also be “he had”). And there are many other contractions in English. The apostrophe is used to indicate that certain letters have been omitted or removed to make the contraction. So, always check to make sure that you are putting the apostrophe in the correct place. For example: “Pedro does not like the idea.” We can shorten “does not” to “doesn’t” by removing the “o” in not. So, we put the apostrophe in the place of the “o.” You cannot put it anywhere else. Another important thing with contractions is that you can only shorten and combine two words at a time, not more than that. Take this sentence: “They are not coming to the party.” So, “They aren’t coming to the party.” is correct. The contraction is “aren’t” – “are” plus “not.” “They’re not coming to the party.” is also correct. The contraction is “They’re” – “they” plus “are.” But you cannot write “They’re’nt coming to the party.” That’s not possible. In fact, it’s wrong in speech as well. So, remember: you can only contract two words at a time. This is the first use. The second use of apostrophes is to mark possession. Possession refers to ownership or relationship. For example: “Have you seen Anita’s new car?” “It is my brother’s birthday today.” “Forbes Magazine publishes a list of the world’s most powerful people.” In these sentences, we have used apostrophes with the nouns “Anita”, “my brother and “the world.” But what do we do when a word ends in “s” already? Like “Thomas”, “boss”, “girls” or “years” in these sentences? In each sentence, there are two options – which option is correct? Stop the video, and think about it, then play the video again and check. OK, notice that in the first two sentences, the nouns “Thomas” and “boss” are singular. In sentences three and four, the nouns are plural: “girls” and “years.” In these last two sentences, it’s pretty easy: don’t use the “s”. With plural nouns that end in “s”, only put an apostrophe. But in the first two sentences, both options are correct. This is because some writing guides say that with a singular noun that ends in “s”, you should write “apostrophe s” to make the possessive; others say you shouldn’t use the “s” – just an apostrophe. So, there’s no strict rule. It’s up to you to choose which method you want to follow, but make sure that you pick one method and use the same thing throughout your writing. Now, another quick note on spacing. With the apostrophe, we don’t leave a space before or after it. But if it comes at the end of a word, that is, if it’s the last character in a word, we leave a space and then begin the next word. OK, I want to alert you now to a common error with the possessive use apostrophes. And it is with the possessive pronouns yours, hers, ours, theirs and its. For example: “That room is hers.” “Is this book yours?” “He is a friend of ours.” “Our car is more spacious than theirs.” In these words, you must never use an apostrophe. The case of ‘its’ is interesting. Because there are actually two words that sound the same. “Its” without an apostrophe and “It’s” with an apostrophe. The word “Its” without an apostrophe is the possessive pronoun. For example: “The dog wagged its tail.” – meaning the tail of the dog. “The company is planning to expand its operations in Asia.” – that means the operations of the company. “It’s ” with the apostrophe is a contraction of either “it is” or “it has”. As in: “It’s time to start the meeting.” That means “It is time to start the meeting.” “It’s been a while since we spoke.” Meaning “It has been a while since we spoke.” So, make sure to remember this difference between them to avoid mistakes. Alright, that is the end of apostrophes, and now, if you’re ready, it’s time for the final quiz to test if you can use all of the seven punctuation marks that we have discussed correctly. There are eight sentences on the screen, and there are many punctuation mistakes in them. In each one, I want you to identify and correct the punctuation errors. Stop the video, think about your answers, then play the video again and check. Alright, here are the answers. How many did you get right? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this lesson, give it a thumbs-up by hitting the like button. If you’re new to my channel, click that subscribe button and the little bell icon next to it to get my latest lessons right here on YouTube. Happy learning, and I will see you in another lesson soon.



The first writing systems were either logographic or syllabic—for example, Chinese and Mayan script—which do not necessarily require punctuation, especially spacing. This is because the entire morpheme or word is typically clustered within a single glyph, so spacing does not help as much to distinguish where one word ends and the other starts. Disambiguation and emphasis can easily be communicated without punctuation by employing a separate written form distinct from the spoken form of the language that uses slightly different phraseology. Even today, written English differs subtly from spoken English because not all emphasis and disambiguation is possible to convey in print, even with punctuation.

Ancient Chinese classical texts were transmitted without punctuation. However, many Warring States period bamboo texts contain the symbols ⟨└⟩ and ⟨▄⟩ indicating the end of a chapter and full stop, respectively.[4] By the Song dynasty, addition of punctuation to texts by scholars to aid comprehension became common.[5]

The earliest alphabetic writing had no capitalization, no spaces, no vowels and few punctuation marks. This worked as long as the subject matter was restricted to a limited range of topics (e.g., writing used for recording business transactions). Punctuation is historically an aid to reading aloud.

The oldest known document using punctuation is the Mesha Stele (9th century BC). This employs points between the words and horizontal strokes between the sense section as punctuation.[6]

Western Antiquity

Most texts were still written in scriptura continua, that is without any separation between words. However, the Greeks were sporadically using punctuation marks consisting of vertically arranged dots—usually two (dicolon) or three (tricolon)—in around the 5th century b.c. as an aid in the oral delivery of texts. Greek playwrights such as Euripides and Aristophanes used symbols to distinguish the ends of phrases in written drama: this essentially helped the play's cast to know when to pause. After 200 b.c., the Greeks used Aristophanes of Byzantium's system (called théseis) of a single dot (punctus) placed at varying heights to mark up speeches at rhetorical divisions:

  • hypostigmḗ – a low punctus on the baseline to mark off a komma (unit smaller than a clause);
  • stigmḕ mésē – a punctus at midheight to mark off a clause (kōlon); and
  • stigmḕ teleía – a high punctus to mark off a sentence (periodos).[7]

In addition, the Greeks used the paragraphos (or gamma) to mark the beginning of sentences, marginal diples to mark quotations, and a koronis to indicate the end of major sections.

The Romans (ca. 1st century b.c.) also occasionally used symbols to indicate pauses, but the Greek théseis—under the name distinctiones[8]—prevailed by the a.d. 4th century as reported by Aelius Donatus and Isidore of Seville (7th century). Also, texts were sometimes laid out per capitula, where every sentence had its own separate line. Diples were used, but by the late period these often degenerated into comma-shaped marks.

“On the page, punctuation performs its grammatical function, but in the mind of the reader it does more than that. It tells the reader how to hum the tune.”

 Lynn Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves.[9]


Punctuation developed dramatically when large numbers of copies of the Bible started to be produced. These were designed to be read aloud, so the copyists began to introduce a range of marks to aid the reader, including indentation, various punctuation marks (diple, paragraphos, simplex ductus), and an early version of initial capitals (litterae notabiliores). Jerome and his colleagues, who made a translation of the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate (ca. a.d. 400), employed a layout system based on established practices for teaching the speeches of Demosthenes and Cicero. Under his layout per cola et commata every sense-unit was indented and given its own line. This layout was solely used for biblical manuscripts during the 5th-9th centuries but was abandoned in favor of punctuation.

In the 7th-8th centuries Irish and Anglo-Saxon scribes, whose native languages were not derived from Latin, added more visual cues to render texts more intelligible. Irish scribes introduced the practice of word separation.[10] Likewise, insular scribes adopted the distinctiones system while adapting it for minuscule script (so as to be more prominent) by using not differing height but rather a differing number of marks—aligned horizontally (or sometimes triangularly)—to signify a pause's value: one mark for a minor pause, two for a medium one, and three for a major. Most common were the punctus, a comma-shaped mark, and a 7-shaped mark (comma positura), often used in combination. The same marks could be used in the margin to mark off quotations.

In the late 8th century a different system emerged in France under the Carolingian dynasty. Originally indicating how the voice should be modulated when chanting the liturgy, the positurae migrated into any text meant to be read aloud, and then to all manuscripts. Positurae first reached England in the late 10th century probably during the Benedictine reform movement, but was not adopted until after the Norman conquest. The original positurae were the punctus, punctus elevatus,[11] punctus versus, and punctus interrogativus, but a fifth symbol, the punctus flexus, was added in the 10th century to indicate a pause of a value between the punctus and punctus elevatus. In the late 11th/early 12th century the punctus versus disappeared and was taken over by the simple punctus (now with two distinct values).[12]

The late Middle Ages saw the addition of the virgula suspensiva (slash or slash with a midpoint dot) which was often used in conjunction with the punctus for different types of pauses. Direct quotations were marked with marginal diples, as in Antiquity, but from at least the 12th century scribes also began entering diples (sometimes double) within the column of text.

Printing-press era

The amount of printed material and its readership began to increase after the invention of moveable type in Europe in the 1450s. As explained by writer and editor Lynne Truss, "The rise of printing in the 14th and 15th centuries meant that a standard system of punctuation was urgently required."[13] The introduction of a standard system of punctuation has also been attributed to the Venetian printers Aldus Manutius and his grandson. They have been credited with popularizing the practice of ending sentences with the colon or full stop, inventing the semicolon, making occasional use of parentheses and creating the modern comma by lowering the virgule. By 1566, Aldus Manutius the Younger was able to state that the main object of punctuation was the clarification of syntax.[14]

By the 19th century, punctuation in the western world had evolved "to classify the marks hierarchically, in terms of weight".[15] Cecil Hartley's poem identifies their relative values:

The stop point out, with truth, the time of pause
A sentence doth require at ev'ry clause.
At ev'ry comma, stop while one you count;
At semicolon, two is the amount;
A colon doth require the time of three;
The period four, as learned men agree.[16]

The use of punctuation was not standardised until after the invention of printing. According to the 1885 edition of The American Printer, the importance of punctuation was noted in various sayings by children such as:

Charles the First walked and talked
Half an hour after his head was cut off.

With a semi-colon and a comma added it reads:

Charles the First walked and talked;
Half an hour after, his head was cut off.[17]

In a 19th-century manual of typography, Thomas MacKellar writes:

Shortly after the invention of printing, the necessity of stops or pauses in sentences for the guidance of the reader produced the colon and full point. In process of time, the comma was added, which was then merely a perpendicular line, proportioned to the body of the letter. These three points were the only ones used until the close of the fifteenth century, when Aldo Manuccio gave a better shape to the comma, and added the semicolon; the comma denoting the shortest pause, the semicolon next, then the colon, and the full point terminating the sentence. The marks of interrogation and admiration were introduced many years after.[18]

Typewriters and electronic communication

The introduction of electrical telegraphy with a limited set of transmission codes[19] and typewriters with a limited set of keys influenced punctuation subtly. For example, curved quotes and apostrophes were all collapsed into two characters (' and "). The hyphen, minus sign, and dashes of various widths were collapsed into a single character (-, sometimes repeated as -- to represent a long dash). The spaces of different widths available to professional typesetters were generally replaced by a single full-character width space, with typefaces monospaced. In some cases a typewriter keyboard did not include an exclamation point (!) but this was constructed by the overstrike of an apostrophe and a period; the original Morse code did not represent an exclamation point at all.

These simplifications were carried forward into digital writing, with teleprinters and the ASCII character set essentially supporting the same characters as typewriters. Treatment of whitespace in HTML discouraged the practice (in English prose) of putting two full spaces after a full stop, since a single or double space would appear the same on the screen. (Some style guides now discourage double spaces, and some electronic writing tools automatically collapse double spaces to single.) The full traditional set of typesetting tools became available with the advent of desktop publishing and more sophisticated word processors. Despite the widespread adoption of character sets like Unicode that support traditionally typeset punctuation, writing forms like text messages tend to use the simplified ASCII style of punctuation, with the addition of new non-text characters like emoji. Informal text speak tends to drop punctuation when not needed, including some ways that would be considered errors in more formal writing.

In the computer era, punctuation characters were recycled for use in programming languages and data representation as in URLs. Due to its use in email and Twitter handles, the at sign went from an obscure character mostly used by grocers (and not professional typesetters) to a very common character in common use for both technical routing and an abbreviation for "at".

In English

There are two major styles of punctuation in English: British or American. These two styles differ mainly in the way in which they handle quotation marks, particularly in conjunction with other punctuation marks. In British English, punctuation such as periods and commas are placed outside the closing quotation mark; in American English, however, punctuation is placed inside the closing quotation mark. This rule varies for other punctuation marks; for example, American English follows the British English rule when it comes to semicolons, colons, question marks, and exclamation points.[20]

Other languages

Other languages of Europe use much the same punctuation as English. The similarity is so strong that the few variations may confuse a native English reader. Quotation marks are particularly variable across European languages. For example, in French and Russian, quotes would appear as: « Je suis fatigué. » (in French, each "double punctuation", as the guillemet, requires a non-breaking space; in Russian it does not).

In French of France, the signs : ; ? and ! are always preceded by a thin unbreakable space. In Canada, this is only the case for :.

In Greek, the question mark is written as the English semicolon, while the functions of the colon and semicolon are performed by a raised point ⟨·⟩, known as the ano teleia (άνω τελεία).

In Georgian, three dots, ⟨⟩, were formerly used as a sentence or paragraph divider. It is still sometimes used in calligraphy.

Spanish uses an inverted question mark ⟨¿⟩ at the beginning of a question and the normal question mark at the end, as well as an inverted exclamation mark ⟨¡⟩ at the beginning of an exclamation and the normal exclamation mark at the end.

Armenian uses several punctuation marks of its own. The full stop is represented by a colon, and vice versa; the exclamation mark is represented by a diagonal similar to a tilde ⟨~⟩, while the question mark ⟨՞⟩ resembles an unclosed circle placed after the last vowel of the word.

Arabic, Urdu, and Persian—written from right to left—use a reversed question mark: ⟨؟⟩, and a reversed comma: ⟨،⟩. This is a modern innovation; pre-modern Arabic did not use punctuation. Hebrew, which is also written from right to left, uses the same characters as in English, ⟨,⟩ and ⟨?⟩.

Originally, Sanskrit had no punctuation. In the 17th century, Sanskrit and Marathi, both written using Devanagari, started using the vertical bar ⟨⟩ to end a line of prose and double vertical bars ⟨॥⟩ in verse.

Punctuation was not used in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean writing until the adoption of punctuation from the West in the late 19th and early 20th century. In unpunctuated texts, the grammatical structure of sentences in classical writing is inferred from context.[21] Most punctuation marks in modern Chinese, Japanese, and Korean have similar functions to their English counterparts; however, they often look different and have different customary rules.

In the Indian subcontinent, ⟨:-⟩ is sometimes used in place of colon or after a subheading. Its origin is unclear, but could be a remnant of the British Raj. Another punctuation common in the Indian Subcontinent for writing monetary amounts is the use of ⟨/-⟩ or ⟨⟩ after the number. For example, Rs. 20/- or Rs. 20/= implies 20 rupees whole.

Thai did not use punctuation until the adoption of punctuation from the West in the 20th century. Blank spaces are more frequent than full stops or commas.

Further information: Armenian punctuation, Chinese punctuation, Hebrew punctuation, Japanese punctuation and Korean punctuation.

Novel punctuation marks

"Love point" and similar marks

In 1966, the French author Hervé Bazin proposed a series of six innovative punctuation marks in his book Plumons l'Oiseau ("Let's pluck the bird", 1966).[22] These were:[23]

  • the "irony point" or "irony mark" (point d'ironie:
    Point d'ironie (Hervé Bazin).svg
  • the "love point" (point d'amour:
    Point d'amour (Hervé Bazin).svg
  • the "conviction point" (point de conviction:
    Point de conviction (Hervé Bazin).svg
  • the "authority point" (point d'autorité:
    Point d'autorité (Hervé Bazin).svg
  • the "acclamation point" (point d'acclamation:
    Point d'acclamation (Hervé Bazin).svg
  • the "doubt point" (point de doute:
    Point de doute (Hervé Bazin).svg

"Question comma", "exclamation comma"

An international patent application was filed, and published in 1992 under Work Order (WO) number WO9219458,[24] for two new punctuation marks: the "question comma" and the "exclamation comma". The question comma has a comma instead of the dot at the bottom of a question mark, while the exclamation comma has a comma in place of the point at the bottom of an exclamation mark. These were intended for use as question and exclamation marks within a sentence, a function for which normal question and exclamation marks can also be used, but which may be considered obsolescent. The patent application entered into the national phase only in Canada. It was advertised as lapsing in Australia on 27 January 1994[25] and in Canada on 6 November 1995.[26]

In computing

Various sets of characters are referred to as "punctuation" in certain computing situations, many of which are also used to punctuate natural languages. Sometimes non-punctuation in the natural language sense (such as "&" which is not punctuation but is an abbreviation for "and") are included.

General Punctuation and Supplemental Punctuation are blocks of Unicode symbols.

In regular expressions, the character class [:punct:] is defined to consist of the following characters (when operating in ASCII mode): [][!"#$%&'()*+,./:;<=>?@\^_`{|}~-]

See also



  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: "Punctuation.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, definition 2a.
  3. ^ Truss, Lynne (2003). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Profile Books. ISBN 1-86197-612-7.
  4. ^ 林清源,《簡牘帛書標題格式研究》台北: 藝文印書館,2006。(Lin Qingyuan, Study of Title Formatting in Bamboo and Silk Texts Taipei: Yiwen Publishing, 2006.) ISBN 957-520-111-6.
  5. ^ The History of the Song Dynasty (1346) states 「凡所讀書,無不加標點。」 (Among those who read texts, there are none who do not add punctuation).
  6. ^ Byrne, Eugene. "Q&A: When were punctuation marks first used?". History Extra. BBC. Retrieved 14 February 2017.
  7. ^ E. Otha Wingo, Latin Punctuation in the Classical Age (The Hague, Netherlands: De Gruyter, 1972), 22.
  8. ^ The Latin names for the marks: subdistinctio, media distinctio, and distinctio.
  9. ^ Truss, Lynn (2004). Eats, Shoots & Leaves. New York: Gotham Books. p. 71. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
  10. ^ Parkes, M. B. (1991). "The Contribution of Insular Scribes of the Seventh and Eighth Centuries to the 'Grammar of Legibility". Scribes, Scripts and Readers: Studies in the Communication, Presentation and Dissemination of Medieval Texts. London: Hambledon Press. pp. 1–18.
  11. ^ "Paleography: How to Read Medieval Handwriting". Harvard University. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  12. ^ Raymond Clemens & Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca–London: Cornell UP, 2007), 84–6.
  13. ^ Truss, Lynne (2004). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books. p. 77. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
  14. ^ Truss, Lynn (2004). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books. pp. 77–78. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
  15. ^ Truss, Lynn (2004). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books. p. 112. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
  16. ^ Truss, Lynn (2004). Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books. pp. 112–113. ISBN 1-59240-087-6.
  17. ^ Iona and Peter Opie (1943) I Saw Esau.
  18. ^ MacKellar, Thomas (1885). The American Printer: A Manual of Typography, Containing Practical Directions for Managing all Departments of a Printing Office, As Well as Complete Instructions for Apprentices: With Several Useful Tables, Numerous Schemes for Imposing Forms in Every Variety, Hints to Authors, Etc (Fifteenth – Revised and Enlarged ed.). Philadelphia: MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan. p. 63.
  19. ^ See e.g. Morse code and [[]]
  20. ^ Chelsea, Lee. "Punctuating Around Quotation Marks". APA Style. American Psychological Association. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
  21. ^ Prasoon, Shrikant (2015). English Grammar and Usage. New Delhi: V & S Publishers. pp. Chapter 6. ISBN 978-93-505742-6-3.
  22. ^ Bazin, Hervé (1966), Plumons l’oiseau, Paris (France): Éditions Bernard Grasset, p. 142
  23. ^ Revised preliminary proposal to encode six punctuation characters introduced by Hervé Bazin in the UCS by Mykyta Yevstifeyev and Karl Pentzlin, Feb. 28, 2012
  24. ^ European Patent Office publication
  25. ^ Australian Official Journal of Patents, 27 January 1994
  26. ^ CIPO – Patent – 2102803 – Financial Transactions Archived 2 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading

External links

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