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WOC 479 Marking Punctuation

Teacher Tips and Answers


WOC 479

Page 479

Student with Question Mark

Marking Punctuation


A period is used to end a sentence. It is also used after initials, after abbreviations, and as a decimal point.

479.1 At the End of Sentences

A period is used to end a sentence that makes a statement, a request, or a mild command.

Homes in the future will have many high-tech features. (statement)

Set your skylights to darken during a sunny summer day or grow clear on a cold winter’s night. (request)

Don’t worry. (mild command)

Your robot housekeeper will cook your favorite meals as well as clean your room. (statement)

Note: Do not place a period after a parenthetical statement that is within another sentence.

479.2 After an Initial

A period should be placed after an initial.

J. R. R. Tolkien

The W. A. Franke College of Business

479.3 After Abbreviations

A period is placed after each part of an abbreviation—unless the abbreviation is an acronym. An acronym is a word formed from the first (or first few) letters of words in a set phrase. (See 501.5.)


Mr.  Mrs.  Ms.  Dr.  B.C.E.  C.E.



Note: When an abbreviation is the last word in a sentence, use only one period at the end of the sentence.

Fossil fuels will eventually be replaced by renewable energy sources such as hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, etc.

479.4 As a Decimal

Use a period as a decimal point or to separate dollars and cents.

For $6.33 on Tuesdays, I can buy three taco supremes. But is it smart to spend 33.3 percent of my allowance on tacos?

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Question Mark

A question mark is used after an interrogative sentence or to show doubt about the correctness of a fact or figure.

Fishing with a Question Mark

480.1 Direct Question

A question mark is used at the end of a direct question (an interrogative sentence).

Have you ever heard of a sunken galleon code-named the Black Swan by those who discovered it?

480.2 Indirect Question

No question mark is used after an indirect question.

Mr. Dehnke asked if anyone was interested in doing a report on the ship and its treasure.

He also asked if we knew the significance of the name Black Swan.

480.3 To Show Doubt

The question mark is placed within parentheses to show that the writer isn’t sure a fact or figure is correct.

The treasure, worth $500 million (?), has become the object of several court battles.

Exclamation Point

An exclamation point may be placed after a word, a phrase, or a sentence to show emotion. (The exclamation point should not be overused.)

480.4 To Express Strong Feeling

The exclamation point is used to show excitement or strong feeling. 

Yeah! Wow! Oh my!

Surprise! You’ve won the million-dollar sweepstakes!

Caution: Never use multiple exclamation points; such punctuation is unnecessary.


I’m rich!!!


I’m rich!

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An ellipsis (three periods) is used to show a pause in dialogue or to show that words or sentences have been left out. (Leave one space before, between, and after the periods.)

481.1 To Show a Pause

An ellipsis is used to show a pause in dialogue.

“My report,” said Jimar, “is on . . . um . . . cars of the future. One website that I . . . um . . . found online said that cars would someday run on sunshine. I mean . . . is this . . . a plot to keep teenage drivers home at night?”

481.2 To Show Omitted Words

An ellipsis can be used to show that one or more words have been left out of a quotation. (Read this excerpt from a report.)

The Arctic ice cap is shrinking fast. Most scientists agree that this is happening because of climate change. Heat-trapping gases, called greenhouse gases, are emitted into the atmosphere and raise the temperatures at the North Pole.

Here’s how to quote the report above, leaving some words out.

“The Arctic ice cap is shrinking . . . because of climate change. Heat-trapping gases . . . raise the temperatures at the North Pole.”

481.3 At the End of a Sentence

If the words left out are at the end of a sentence, use a period followed by an ellipsis.

“The Arctic ice cap is shrinking fast. . . . Heat trapping gases . . . raise the temperatures at the North Pole.”

Student Holding Question Mark

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Commas are used to indicate a pause or a change in thought. Commas keep words and ideas from running together, making writing easier to read. No other punctuation mark is more important to understand than the comma.

482.1 Between Items in a Series

Commas are used between words, phrases, or clauses in a series. (A series contains at least three items.)

Spanish, French, and German are all languages often taught in schools today, but Chinese, English, and Hindi are the languages spoken by the most people in the world. (words)

Being comfortable with technology, working well with others, and knowing another language and culture are important skills for today’s workers. (phrases)

482.2 To Keep Numbers Clear

Commas are used to separate the digits in a number in order to distinguish hundreds, thousands, millions, and so on.

In 2023, 878,500 immigrants became U.S. citizens. The greatest number of these people came from Mexico (111,570), India (58,860), and the Philippines (44,804).

Note: Commas are not used in years. It is also acceptable to use a combination of numerals and words for large numbers in the millions and billions. (See page 502 for more information.)

482.3 In Dates and Addresses

Commas are used to distinguish items in an address and items in a date.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born on January 15, 1929, in his father’s house at 501 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia.

On August 28, 1963, he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

The King Center, founded on the principle of nonviolent social change, is located at 449 Auburn Avenue NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30312.

Note: There is no comma between the state and the ZIP code.

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483.1 To Set Off Dialogue

Commas are used to set off the exact words of the speaker from the rest of the sentence.

“With this new AI app,” the website says, “your computer recognizes, deletes, and blocks spam emails.”

Note: When you are reporting or summarizing what someone said, do not use a comma (or quotation marks), as in the example below. The words if and that often signal dialogue that is being reported rather than quoted.

The website says that this new AI app can recognize, delete, and block spam emails.

483.2 To Set Off Interruptions

Commas are used to set off a word, a phrase, or a clause that interrupts the main thought of a sentence. Such expressions can be identified with the following tests:

  1. You can omit them without changing the meaning of the sentence.
  2. You can place them nearly anywhere in the sentence without changing its meaning.

New technology changes how we live. Most people, for example, check the time on their phone. As a result, they don’t need watches anymore.

483.3 To Set Off Interjections

A comma is used to separate an interjection or a weak exclamation from the rest of the sentence.

Really, I haven’t worn a watch for years!

Sure, but I’ll bet you would wear a smartwatch. Man, with a flick of your wrist, you’ve got the time and temperature and an Internet hot spot.

483.4 In Direct Address

Commas are used to separate a noun of direct address from the rest of the sentence. (A noun of direct address is the noun that names the person spoken to in the sentence.)

Jana, are you watching videos on YouTube instead of doing your homework?

No, Mom, I’m doing research for my report on independent filmmakers.

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Comma . . .

484.1 To Enclose Information

Commas are used to enclose a title or initials and names that follow a person’s last name.

On our tour of the Medical College of Wisconsin, we met President John R. Raymond, Sr., M.D., as well as Dean of Graduate Studies Ravi Misra, Ph.D., and Chief Operating Officer Matthew Lester, M.B.A., M.H.A., C.P.A.

484.2 Between Two Independent Clauses

A comma is used between two independent clauses that are joined by coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet).

Some businesses sell their products exclusively online, so it’s possible to start a retail business without a physical store.

Avoid Comma Splices A comma splice results when two independent clauses are “spliced” together with only a comma—and no conjunction. (See page 62.)

484.3 To Separate Clauses and Phrases

A comma should separate an adverb clause or a long modifying phrase from the independent clause that follows it.

Because we all have busy schedules, shopping online is very convenient. (adverb clause)

According to health officials, that convenience may be encouraging too much sitting. (long modifying phrase)

Many times we should walk or bike to a nearby store when we get the chance. (Commas are often omitted after short introductory phrases or when the adverb clause follows the independent clause.)

484.4 To Set Off Appositives

An appositive is a word or phrase that identifies or renames a noun or pronoun. (Do not use commas with restrictive appositives, which are necessary to the meaning of the sentence.)

Java, a classic programming language, was developed by James Gosling, a team leader at Sun Microsystems. (The two appositive phrases are set off with commas.)

The programming language Java has the motto “write once, run anywhere.” (Java is not set off because it is needed to make the sentence clear—it is a restrictive appositive.)

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485.1 To Separate Adjectives

Commas are used to separate two or more adjectives that equally modify the same noun.

Many intelligent, well-educated scientists think that one of Jupiter’s moons could harbor life.

Intelligent and well-educated are separated by a comma because they modify scientists equally.

Scientists believe this cold Jovian moon has a liquid ocean beneath its surface.

Cold and Jovian do not modify moon equally; therefore, no comma separates the adjectives.

Use these two tests to help you decide if adjectives modify equally. (Try them on the sentences above.)

  1. Switch the order of the adjectives; if the sentence is clear, the adjectives modify equally.
  2. Put the word and between the adjectives; if the sentence reads well, use a comma when and is taken out.

485.2 To Set Off Phrases

Commas are used to separate an explanatory phrase from the rest of the sentence.

English, the language computers speak worldwide, is also the most widely used language in science and medicine.

485.3 To Set Off Nonrestrictive Phrases and Clauses

Commas are used to punctuate nonrestrictive phrases and clauses (those phrases or clauses that are not necessary to the basic meaning of the sentence).

Glaciers, which begin as layers of snow, are rivers of ice. The Bering Glacier, North America’s largest, is in Alaska. This glacier has been thinning and retreating, which means it weighs less.

The clause which begin as layers of snow, the phrase North America’s largest, and the clause which means it weighs less are nonrestrictive (not required); they include additional information. If they were left out, the meaning of the sentence would remain clear.

The fault line that lies under the Bering Glacier is now less compressed and less stable. That means more earthquakes.

The clause that lies under the Bering Glacier is restrictive (required); it is needed to complete the meaning of the sentence and, therefore, is not set off with commas.

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A semicolon is a cross between a period and a comma. It sometimes serves as a stopping point (a period), and other times, as a pause (a comma).

486.1 To Join Two Independent Clauses

A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses that are not connected with a coordinating conjunction. (Independent clauses can stand alone as separate sentences.)

I’ll admit it; I’m a bit of a gear-headed gadget freak.

See 528.4 for an explanation and examples of independent clauses.

486.2 To Set Off Two Independent Clauses

Use a semicolon to separate independent clauses if they are long or if they already contain commas.

My uncle has given me several gadgety gifts for my birthdays, everything from an automatic French-fry maker to a robotic scorpion; but I’m saving my money for my must-have item—a robotic lawn mower!

486.3 With Conjunctive Adverbs

A semicolon is also used to join two independent clauses when the clauses are connected only by a conjunctive adverb (also, as a result, for example, however, therefore, instead).

The robotic lawn mower wanders across the lawn until it senses a buried wire and turns; however, if there is a break in the wire, the lawn mower might just make a run for freedom.

486.4 To Separate Groups That Contain Commas

A semicolon is used to distinguish groups of items within a list.

The three R’s have been used to mean different things—reading, ’riting (writing), and ’rithmetic (arithmetic); relief, recovery, and reform; reduce, reuse, and recycle—to name just a few.

We can remember lists with the help of acronyms—HOMES for (Great Lakes) Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior; ROY G. BIV for (rainbow colors) red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet; and SPRAP for (freedoms) speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition.

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A colon may be used to introduce a letter, a list, or an important point. Colons are also used between the numbers in time.

487.1 After a Salutation

A colon may be used after the salutation of a business letter.

Dear Mr. Grave:

487.2 As a Formal Introduction

A colon may be used to formally introduce a sentence, a question, or a quotation.

Here’s how one scientist explained the danger of degrading the environment: “It’s like pulling bricks from a wall; everything will seem fine until the wall suddenly collapses.”

487.3 For Emphasis

A colon is used to emphasize a word or phrase.

Because of pollution, loss of habitat, and a strange fungal disease, one group of animals is slowly dying off worldwide: amphibians.

487.4 Between Numerals Indicating Time

A colon is used between the parts of a number that indicates time.

My older brother takes a college class on biodiversity from 1:50 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

487.5 To Introduce a List

A colon is used to introduce a list.

Here are several reasons to stop using foam containers: They quickly fill our landfills and take 500 years to dissolve, they give off close to 90 harmful gases if incinerated, and they are made from nonrenewable oil or natural gas.

Note: When introducing a list, place the colon after summary words—the following, these things—or after words that describe the subject of the list.


To conserve water you should: install a low-flow showerhead, turn the water off while brushing your teeth, and fix drippy faucets.


To conserve water do the following three things: Install a low-flow showerhead, turn the water off while brushing your teeth, and fix drippy faucets.

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The dash can be used to show a sudden break in thought, to set off added information, to show that someone’s words are being interrupted, and to emphasize an idea.

488.1 To Indicate a Sudden Break

A dash can be used to show a sudden break in a sentence.

There is one thing—actually several—that my parents dislike about cell phones: being “connected” all the time, looking out for drivers who are talking on the phone, and getting “surprise” charges on the phone bill.

488.2 To Set Off Added Information

A dash can be used to add explanatory information to a sentence.

Interest in clean energy systems—including solar, wind, and geothermal—is creating thousands of new jobs.

A degree in renewable energy—attainable in a few semesters—is offered at many technical institutes and colleges around the country.

488.3 To Show Interrupted Speech and for Emphasis

Dashes are used to show interruptions in someone’s speech.

Why, hello—yes, I understand—no, I remember—oh—of course, I won’t—I’ll—sure, right away.

A dash is also used to emphasize the idea that follows it.

I know one thing for sure about my aunt—she’s always thinking of others.


Parentheses are used around words that add information to a sentence or help make an idea clearer.

488.4 To Add Information

Use parentheses when adding or clarifying information.

Colombia (a country in the northwest corner of South America) hosts a rainforest reserve (Orito Ingi-Ande) meant to conserve medicinal plants (those that contain healing compounds for treating diseases).

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The hyphen is used to divide words at the end of a line, to join the words in compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine, and to form compound words. It is also used to join numbers that indicate the life span of an individual and the scores of a game.

489.1 To Divide a Word

The hyphen is used to divide a word when you run out of room at the end of a line. Divide words only between syllables. Here are some additional guidelines:

  • Never divide a one-syllable word: raised, through.
  • Avoid dividing a word of five letters or less: paper, study.
  • Never divide a one-letter syllable from the rest of the word: omit-ted, not o-mitted.
  • Never divide abbreviations or contractions.
  • Never divide the last word in more than two lines in a row or the last word in a paragraph.
  • When a vowel is a syllable by itself, divide the word after the vowel: epi-sode,not ep-isode.

489.2 In Compound Words

The hyphen is used to make some compound words.

e-commerce  eco-conscious

toll-free number  retro-rocket

three-story building  all-star

489.3 To Avoid Confusion or Awkward Spelling

Use a hyphen with prefixes or suffixes to avoid confusion or awkward spelling.

Re-cover (not recover) the display tables with clean shelf paper.

It has a bell-like (not belllike) shape.

489.4 Between Numbers in a Fraction

A hyphen is used between the numbers in a fraction, but not between the numerator and denominator when one or both are already hyphenated.



seven thirty-seconds (7/32)

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Hyphen . . .

490.1 To Create New Words

A hyphen is used to form new words beginning with the prefixes self, ex, all and great. A hyphen is also used with suffixes such as elect and free.

Easy access to health information on the Internet has given rise to a lot of self-diagnosing.

Despite advances in health care, we have not created a germ-free world. Some bacteria no longer respond to all-purpose antibiotics.

490.2 To Join Letters and Words

A hyphen is used to join a capital letter to a noun or participle.

U-turn  T-bar lift

X-ray therapy  PG-rated movie

490.3 To Form an Adjective

Use the hyphen to join two or more words that work together to form a single-thought adjective before a noun.

voice-recognition software

in-the-park home run

microwave-safe plate

Note: When words forming the adjective come after the noun, do not hyphenate them.

This plate is microwave safe.

Caution: When the first of the words ends in ly, do not use a hyphen; also, do not use a hyphen when a number or letter is the final part of a one-thought adjective.

newly designed computer freshly painted room

grade A milk type B personality

Student Holding Question Mark

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Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are used to set off the exact words of a speaker, to show what a writer has “borrowed” from another book or magazine, to set off the titles of certain publications, and to show that certain words are used in a special way.

491.1 To Set Off Direct Quotations

Quotation marks are placed before and after direct quotations.

Futurist Don Reynolds says, “Today’s students will go through an average of four careers in one life span.”

491.2 For Quoting a Quotation

Single quotation marks are used to punctuate a quotation within a quotation.

“When Mr. Kurt said, ‘Read this book by tomorrow,’ I was stunned,” said Sung Kim.

491.3 For Long Quotations

If more than one paragraph is quoted, quotation marks are placed before each paragraph and at the end of the last paragraph.

Long Quotations

In research papers or reports, quotations that are more than four lines on a page are usually set off from the rest of the paper by indenting 10 spaces from the left.

Long Quotations

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Quotation Marks . . .

492.1 Placement of Punctuation

Periods and commas after quoted material always go inside the quotation marks.

“Let’s go,” said Angelo. Angelo said, “Let’s go.”

An exclamation point or a question mark is placed inside the quotation marks when it punctuates the quotation; it is placed outside when it punctuates the main sentence.

Ari asked, “How much do skydiving lessons cost?”

Did I hear Angelo say, “I love skydiving”?

Semicolons or colons after quoted material go outside the quotation marks.

Ari memorized the poem “Sky”; he also recited “Rain.”

492.2 For Special Words

Quotation marks also may be used (1) to set apart a word that is being discussed, (2) to indicate that a word is slang, or (3) to point out that a word or phrase is being used in a special way.

  1. Ari’s vocabulary suddenly contains words like “drop zone” and “aerodynamics.”
  2. He’s sure that diving out of a plane with a parachute is “all good.”
  3. Ari’s parents wish he would “dive” into some other hobby.

492.3 To Punctuate Titles

Other Titles

Quotation marks are used to punctuate titles of songs, poems, short stories, lectures, episodes of radio or television programs, chapters of books, and articles found in magazines, newspapers, or encyclopedias.

“What Was I Made For?” (song)

“The Raven” (poem)

“The Pearls of Parlay” (short story)

“The Pug We Love” (a television episode)

“We’ll Never Conquer Space” (a chapter in a book)

“Teen Rescues Stranded Dolphin” (newspaper article)

Note: When you punctuate a title, capitalize the first word, the last word, and every word in between except for articles, short prepositions, and coordinating conjunctions.

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Italics and Underlining

Italics is slightly slanted type. In this sentence, the word happiness appears in italics. In handwritten material, each word or letter that should be in italics is underlined.

493.1 In Titles

Italicize (or underline) the titles of books, plays, book-length poems, magazines, radio and television programs, movies, CDs, videos, the names of aircraft and ships, and newspapers.

Biomes (book)

Scientific American (magazine)

SportsCenter (TV program)

Oppenheimer (movie)

GUTS (album)

Orion (space ship)

John F. Kennedy (carrier ship)

Boston Globe (newspaper)

Note: Titles are put in italics (underlining) or quotation marks to set them off when you refer to them in your writing. The titles are not punctuated in these ways on the works themselves. Therefore, do not use underlining or quotation marks for your titles at the tops of your papers.

493.2 For Foreign Words

Italicize (or underline) foreign words that are not commonly used in everyday English. Also italicize scientific names.

My little brother, terror that he is, often exclaims, “Veni, vidi, vici!

Scientists are worried about the survival of Ursus maritimus, the large creamy-white bear of the North.

493.3 For Special Uses

Italicize (or underline) any number, letter, or word that is being discussed or used in a special way. (Sometimes quotation marks are used for this same purpose. See 492.2.)

One exception to the i before e rule is the word sheik.

493.4 Handwritten

When writing by hand, underline words that should be italicized.

In Tumble, the author explores the culture of lucha libre wrestling.

493.5 Digital

When using a computer, put words in italics.

In Tumble, the author explores the culture of lucha libre wrestling.

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An apostrophe is used to show possession, to form plurals, or to show that one or more letters have been left out of a word.

494.1 In Contractions

An apostrophe is used to show that one or more letters have been left out of a word to form a contraction.

don’t (do not; o is left out)

she’d (she would; woul is left out)

it’s (it is; i is left out)

494.2 In Place of Omitted Letters or Numbers

An apostrophe is used to show that one or more digits have been left out of a number, or that one or more letters have been left out of a word to show its special pronunciation.

class of ’32 (20 is left out)

y’all (the letters ou are left out)

Note: Letters and numbers are usually not omitted in formal writing. They are, however, often left out in dialogue because dialogue needs to sound natural.

494.3 To Form Plurals

An apostrophe and s are used to form the plural of a letter, a sign, a number, or a word discussed as a word.

A’s  +’s  8’s  to’s

Don’t use too many and’s in your writing.

494.4 To Express Time or Amount

An apostrophe is used with an adjective that indicates time or amount.

Today’s students have many online classes available to them.

Three years’ study time earned my sister her bachelor’s degree.

494.5 To Form Possessives in Compound Nouns

The possessive of a compound noun is formed by placing the possessive ending after the last word.

She loves her sister-in-law’s hip-hop music.

Before they could set a date for the meeting, they had to check the secretary of state’s schedule.

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495.1 To Form Possessives with Indefinite Pronouns

The possessive of an indefinite pronoun is formed by adding an apostrophe and s.

everyone’s  anyone’s  somebody’s

Note: For two-word pronouns, add an apostrophe and s to the second word.

somebody else’s

495.2 To Form Singular Possessives

To form the possessive of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and s.

Some believe that our country’s electricity can be produced exclusively with renewable energy sources by 2050.

Note: You may add just an apostrophe to a singular noun ending with an s or a z sound.

Texas’ wind farms (or) Texas’s wind farms

Alexis’ electric bill (or) Alexis’s electric bill

Note: You usually add an apostrophe and s to singular one-syllable nouns that end with an s or a z sound.

boss’s birthday  Chris’s report

495.3 To Form Plural Possessives

The possessive form of plural nouns ending in s is usually made by adding just an apostrophe. For plural nouns not ending in s, an apostrophe and s must be added.

students’ homework  children’s toys

Remember! The word immediately before the apostrophe is the owner.

bus’s new seat belts (bus is the owner)

buses’ new seat belts (buses are the owners)

495.4 To Show Shared Possession

When possession is shared by more than one noun, add an apostrophe and s to the last noun in the series.

Ray, Liz, and Mark’s robot project (All three work on the same project.)

Ray’s, Liz’s, and Mark’s robot projects (Each has a separate project.)

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Vocabulary List:
  • period: dot that ends a sentence, follows initials and abbreviations, and is used as a decimal point

Vocabulary List:
  • question mark: curled line above a dot, used to end a question or show doubt about correctness

  • exclamation point: vertical line above a dot used to show strong emotion

Vocabulary List:
  • ellipsis: a set of three spaced dots ( . . . ) that indicate a pause or missing words

Vocabulary List:
  • comma: dot with a curved tail, used to indicate a pause or a change in thought

Vocabulary List:
  • nonrestrictive: words that provide extra information and are not essential to the basic meaning of the sentence

  • restrictive: words that are essential to the basic meaning of the sentence

Vocabulary List:
  • semicolon: dot above a dot with a tail, indicating a softer stop than a period, or a harder pause than a comma

Vocabulary List:
  • colon: dot above a dot, introducing a letter, a list, or an important point; also used between numbers in time

Vocabulary List:
  • sensory details: horizontal line (sometimes formed from two hyphens) showing a dramatic break in thought, extra information, or an interruption

  • parentheses: set of two curved lines used around words that add information

Vocabulary List:
  • hyphen: short horizontal line used to form compound words, numbers between twenty-two and ninety-nine, and ranges of numbers in ages or scores

Vocabulary List:
  • quotation marks: sets of curved marks surrounding the exact words of someone else; also used around titles of short works

Vocabulary List:
  • italics: slanted lettering used to indicate titles of longer works or words used as words

Vocabulary List:
  • apostrophe: raised curved mark used to indicate missing letters in contractions and possessive forms of nouns

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