Being able to use punctuation marks correctly is essential for anyone learning a language. The reason why is because punctuation can change the meaning of your sentence according to where it is placed. A good example is a sentence like “Let’s eat, grandpa”. When written in that way, Grandpa is invited to eat with us. Without the comma, “Let’s eat grandpa”, it means we are offering to eat Grandpa. See how important it is to be able to use punctuation marks correctly? Keep reading for more information about 14 punctuation marks in English. We will also go over some of the symbols that we usually use on the Internet.  

14 punctuation marks: how to use each one of them 

Have you ever asked yourself, “What is punctuation?” Well, punctuation is a group of symbols used to communicate to a reader how to interpret a written text. People have been speaking languages for thousands of years, and as the written language was invented, punctuation became very important for helping writers express thoughts in the same way that speakers do. You probably already know a lot about this topic from your first language, but it’s important to know that punctuation in English may operate a little differently.

In this section we will go over the 14 common punctuation marks you will use when writing in English and present you with the rules you should follow to use them correctly and then convey the right message. Plus, we have tons of example sentences with punctuation marks so you can see them in action.

1. Period (.) 

Let’s start with the period (.), also known as a full stop in British English. The period is placed at the end of a sentence that is considered complete. It is also used after abbreviations. Take a look at some examples below: 

Complete sentence examples: 

  • I worked yesterday. 
  • Julia and Tim are married.  

Abbreviation examples: 

  • Mr. (Mister) 
  • Dr. (Doctor) 
  • Dr. (Drive) 
  • St. (Saint) 
  • St. (Street) 
  • Jan. (January): we can abbreviate all the months of the year, except May, since it already has only three letters. September can be abbreviated as Sep. or Sept. 

2. Comma (,) 

The comma (,) is one of the most difficult punctuation marks for students to use correctly. We use a comma to separate elements in a sentence. For instance, we use the comma to separate all the items a person got at the supermarket: “She bought two carrots, one pineapple, and six bananas.”  

We also use a comma to separate two complete sentences that are separated by any of these conjunctions: and, but, yet, for, or, nor, and so. Therefore, we will use a comma in a sentence like this one: “They bought the house, but they still need to buy a new car.” 

Commas are also used to set off nonessential elements in a sentence. Some examples of this situation are: 

  • Mary, the best student in the class, got into Yale.  
  • My tennis coach, who is married to my English teacher, is going to the tournament with me. 
  • Tina, who is wearing the grey suit, is the new project manager. 

Like I said before, commas sometimes make students confused. One of the most common mistakes is placing this punctuation mark between the subject and the rest of the sentence. Take a look at the examples below: 

  • Incorrect: The most beautiful dog in the world, is my mother’s cocker spaniel. 
  • Correct: The most beautiful dog in the world is my mother’s cocker spaniel. 

3. Colon (:) and semicolon (;) 

The colon is used after a word that introduces a quotation, an example, or an explanation. A good example is “Kelly has three hobbies: cooking, knitting, and drawing.” We can also use the colon to emphasize something. For example: “There is one thing Kim loves more than money: her kids.” Another situation in which we use a colon is when we express time. We often put this punctuation mark between the hour and the minute like 11:15 a.m. or 10:20 p.m

We use a semicolon (;) to connect independent clauses that somehow are still connected. If there wasn’t any connection there we would simply use a period. Here are some examples of sentences in which we would use a semicolon

  • My sister got a dog; I got a cat. 
  • I love chocolate chip cookies; I can’t eat more than two at a time. 
  • My dad has lived in Los Angeles, CA; Seattle, WA; and Reno, NV.  

Remember to use a comma if your sentence has a conjunction like: and, but, yet, for, or, nor, and so. Do not use a semicolon to separate clauses connected with a conjunction.

  • Incorrect: The book was good; but the movie was bad.
  • Correct (option 1): The book was good; the movie was bad.
  • Correct (option 2): The book was good, but the movie was bad.
punctuation marks in english, symbols in english, how to use a comma

4. Question mark (?) and exclamation point (!) 

Both the question mark and the exclamation point are symbols that we place at the end of sentences. Question marks are used to indicate questions, so the WH question words are often present in sentences with this punctuation mark.

The exclamation point is used to express happiness, excitement, surprise, or to add emphasis. Here are a few examples: 

  • Why are you sad? 
  • When did Bill leave the house this morning? 
  • “Oh my God!” Lucy screamed when she saw her daughter. 
  • I am so happy you could come tonight! 

5. Apostrophe (‘) 

The apostrophe is a very common punctuation mark in the English language, but it is not common in all languages. In Portuguese, for instance, we hardly ever use it. Maybe that explains why some students make mistakes when using it in English.

The fact is that we use an apostrophe in three situations. We use this punctuation mark to:

  1. form the possessive case (name + ‘s)
    John’s daughters are lovely girls
  2. contract a word or phrase
    can’t = cannot
  3. form the plurals of lowercase letters
    Be sure to cross your t’s

Here is a list of common words that use an apostrophe in English because they are contractions of one or more words.

ContractionFull form
aren’tare not
can’tcannot
couldn’tcould not
didn’tdid not
doesn’tdoes not
don’tdo not
hadn’thad not
hasn’thas not
haven’thave not
he’she has
he is
I’llI shall
I will
I’mI am
isn’tis not
it’sit has
it is
let’slet us
o’clockof the clock
she’dshe had
she would
shouldn’tshould not
that’sthat has
that is
wasn’twas not
we’rewe are
we’vewe have
won’twill not
you’reyou are

Many people make a common mistake with the apostrophe, so beware! Do not use this punctuation mark with plural nouns.

  • Incorrect: The TV’s are on sale.
  • Correct: The TVs are on sale.
  • Incorrect: We eat pizza on Friday’s.
  • Correct: We eat pizza on Fridays.

If you ever doubt when to use it, ask yourself if you can count the number of objects (three TVs, for example). If you can count the number, do not use an apostrophe.

6. Hyphen (-) and dash (–) 

These two punctuation marks are pretty similar, so it’s easy to confuse them. The hyphen is a short line and it is used to join two or more words to make a compound term, such as back-to-back and part-time. The dash, on the other hand, can be divided into two: the endash (–) and the emdash (—). The first, which is shorter, is used to indicate a range, such as “the 1800–1900 period”. The emdash is often used to improve readability or to emphasize something. Its use is similar to the comma, the parenthesis, and the colon. For example: “This recipe is the best — and believe me, I have tried many different recipes!” 

7. Brackets [ ], braces { } and parentheses ( ) 

We use brackets to insert information that can clarify something in the sentence. For instance, “He [Paul] will send the documents tomorrow.” Braces are punctuation marks that are not used that much in writing, but you see them often in computer programming or to indicate mathematical expressions. Parentheses are used to add extra information. They can usually be replaced by commas, though.

Here is an example: “Liam (who got his driver’s license last month) got a brand new car for his birthday.” We could also write: “Liam, who got his driver’s license last month, got a brand new car for his birthday.” 

8. Quotation marks (“ ”) 

Quotation marks are used in pairs. The first mark (“) looks different from the second one (”). We use it when saying something that another person has written  — which we call a “quote”. Single quotation marks (‘) are punctuation marks used when we need to quote something within a quote.  

Examples: 

  • “The car is red,” he said. 
  • “The paper is due tomorrow,” the teacher reminded them. 
punctuation marks in english, symbols in english, how to use a comma

9. Ellipsis (…) 

The ellipsis is represented by three periods. We use this punctuation mark to indicate an omission of words. It is common for students to use this punctuation whenever they don’t want to copy long texts. 

Internet symbols in English

Has someone ever asked you for your email in English and you realized at that very moment that you had no idea of how to say “@”, “_”, and “.”? Well, we are here to help you learn how to say these symbols in English!

My email is [email protected] 

I would say: My email is bruna-at-site-dot-com 

punctuation marks in english, symbols in english, how to use a comma

So here is a simple glossary for you to talk about the internet symbols and their English pronunciation: 

Symbol Word 
at 
underscore 
dot (not period!) 
slash 
backslash 
hash symbol, hash key, pound key (USA) 

Exercises to practice punctuation in English 

Ready to try using punctuation? Take this quiz to check your knowledge!

Want even more practice? Try playing this game right here.  

We hope this guide to punctuation marks in English helps you write better. Make sure that you are dedicating time to all English skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The reason why I say that is because many students focus too much on speaking, for instance, and totally forget about writing. Whenever you do that, punctuation gets more difficult. By reading in English, you will also learn a lot about punctuation marks. Happy studying!