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WE 431 Marking Punctuation

Teacher Tips and Answers


Page 431

Marking Punctuation

What's Ahead


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

At the End of a Sentence

Use a period to end a sentence that makes a statement, a command, or a request.

Taro won the fishing contest. (statement)

Take his picture. (command)

Please pass the bait. (request)

After an Initial

Place a period after an initial in a person’s name.

Susan B. Anthony

J. R. R. Tolkien

As a Decimal

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

Robert is 99.9 percent sure that the bus pass costs $2.50.

After Abbreviations

Use a period after an abbreviation.

Mr.  Mrs.  Ms.

Jr.  Dr.  p.m.

After Final Abbreviations

Use only one period when an abbreviation is the last word in a sentence.

When Josie is nervous, she whistles, wiggles, winks, etc.

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An ellipsis (three spaced periods) is used to show omitted words or sentences and to indicate a pause in dialogue.

Tip When writing an ellipsis, leave one space before, after, and between each period. On a computer, your software may automatically change three dots without spaces to an ellipsis. In that case, leave out the spaces.

To Show Omitted Words

Use an ellipsis to show that one or more words have been left out of a quotation.

Complete Quotation:

“Jellyfish have no bones or brains. They are 95 percent water. Their insides hold a thick layer of jellylike stuff.”

Shortened Quotation:

“Jellyfish . . . are 95 percent water. Their insides hold a thick layer of jellylike stuff.”

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.

“Jellyfish have no bones or brains. . . . Their insides hold a thick layer of jellylike stuff.”

To Show a Pause

Use an ellipsis to indicate a pause in dialogue.

“That’s . . . incredible!” I cried.

Scuba Diver and Jellyfish
© Thoughtful Learning 2024

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Commas are used to keep words and ideas from running together. They tell your reader where to pause, which makes your writing easier to read.

Between Items in a Series

Place commas between words, phrases, or clauses in a series. (A series is three items or more in a row.)

I know someone who likes pepperoni, onions, and olives on her pizza. (words)

During the summer I read mysteries, ride my bike, and play basketball. (phrases)

In Dates and Addresses

Use commas to separate items in addresses and dates.

We had a huge family reunion on July 4, 2024, at Montrose Beach.

Mia’s new address is 3344 South First Street, Atlanta, GA 30200.

Tip Do not use a comma between the state and ZIP code.

To Keep Numbers Clear

Place commas between hundreds, thousands, millions, and so on.

Rodney’s car has 200,000 miles on it. He’s trying to sell it for $1,000.

Tip Commas are not used in years: 1776, 2030.

To Set Off Interruptions

Use commas to set off a word, phrase, or clause that interrupts the main thought of a sentence.

As it turned out, however, Rodney sold the car for $250.

To Set Off Dialogue

Use a comma to set off the exact words of a speaker from the rest of the sentence.

The stranded frog replied, “I’m just waiting for the toad truck.”

No comma is needed when reporting rather than repeating what a speaker said.

Talia said she missed her bus yesterday.

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Comma (continued)

In Direct Address

Use commas to separate a noun of direct address (the person being spoken to) from the rest of the sentence.

Please, Carla, learn some new jokes.

Between Two Independent Clauses

Use a comma between two independent clauses that are joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet).

Aquarium workers love animals, so they regularly rescue injured ones.

The team rehabilitated the injured sea lion pups, and then they released them.

Tip Do not connect two independent clauses with a comma only. (See page 468 for more information about independent clauses.)

In Letter Writing

Place a comma after the salutation, or greeting, in a friendly letter and after the closing in all letters.

Dear Uncle Jim, (greeting)

Your niece, (closing)

Sincerely, (closing)

To Separate Adjectives

Use commas to separate two or more adjectives that equally modify a noun.

I like the feel of warm, salty water when I go wading.

Tip Use these tests to discover if adjectives modify equally:

  1. Switch the order of the adjectives; if the sentence is still clear, the adjectives modify equally (use a comma).
  2. Insert and between the adjectives; if the sentence reads well, use a comma when and is omitted.

To Set Off Interjections

Use a comma to separate an interjection or a weak exclamation from the rest of the sentence.

Wow, look at that sunrise!

Hey, why are you up so early!

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To Set Off Appositives

Use commas to set off appositives. An appositive is a word or phrase that renames the noun or pronoun that comes before it.

My father, a great cook, makes the best egg rolls in town. (an appositive phrase)

To Set Off Introductory Phrases and Clauses

Use a comma to separate a long phrase or clause that comes before the main part of the sentence.

After checking my knee pads, I skated off. (phrase)

If you practice often, skating is easy. (clause)


The semicolon is sometimes used in place of a period; other times, it works like a comma.

To Join Two Independent Clauses

Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when there is no coordinating conjunction between them.

My aunt has a new motorboat; I wish I were old enough to drive it.

She takes me fishing in it; however, I still don’t get to drive it.

TipIndependent clauses can stand alone as separate sentences. (See page 468 for more information about independent clauses; see page 489 for an explanation of coordinating conjunctions.)

To Separate Groups of Words That Contain Commas

Use a semicolon to separate a series of phrases if any of the phrases already contain commas.

We crossed the stream; unpacked our tents, fishing poles, and cooking gear; and finally took time to have lunch.

Tip The second phrase contains commas. Therefore, semicolons are used to separate the three main phrases.

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A colon is used to introduce a list or to draw attention to the information that follows. Colons are also used in business letters and between the numbers expressing time.

To Introduce a List

Use a colon to introduce a list following a complete sentence.

Snorkelers need the right equipment: fins, masks, and life belts.

When introducing a list, the colon often comes after summary words like the following or these things.

Scuba divers often see the following: barracuda, eels, turtles, and jellyfish.

Tip It is incorrect to use a colon after a preposition or a verb.

I made a salad of: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and broccoli.

    (The colon is incorrectly used after the preposition of.)

My favorite salad toppings include: bacon, raisins, sunflower seeds, and croûtons.

    (The colon is incorrectly used after the verb include.)

After a Salutation

Place a colon after the salutation of a business letter.

Dear Ms. Koplin:

Dear Chairperson:

Between Numbers in Time

Place a colon between the parts of a number indicating time.

The race begins at 1:30 p.m.

I’ll meet you at 12:00 noon.

As a Formal Introduction

Use a colon to introduce an important quotation in a serious report, essay, or news story.

President Lincoln concluded the Gettysburg Address with these famous words: “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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A hyphen is used to divide a word at the end of a line. Hyphens are also used to join or create new words. (Note: Your computer may automatically hyphenate words at the end of lines.)

To Divide a Word

Use a hyphen to divide a word when you run out of room at the end of a line. Divide words only between syllables. (The word en-vi-ron-ment can be divided in three places.)

Gaylord Nelson showed concern for the envi-
ronment by founding Earth Day.

Tip Here are some other guidelines for hyphenating words:

  1. Never divide a one-syllable word: showed.
  2. Never divide a one-letter syllable from the rest of the word: i-dentity.
  3. Never divide contractions: haven’t, shouldn’t.

In Compound Words

Use a hyphen in certain compound words.




Between Numbers in Fractions

Use a hyphen between the numbers in a fraction.

One-fourth of the group gobbled seven-eighths of the cake!

To Form an Adjective

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

blue-green sea

sister-proof closet

tooth-filled smile

well-worn jeans

To Create New Words

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







To Join Letters and Words

Use a hyphen to join a letter to a word.





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A dash is used to show a break in a sentence, to emphasize certain words, or to show that a speaker has been interrupted.

In a Sentence Break

Use a dash to show a sudden break in a sentence.

The skateboard—if you didn’t notice—has a wheel missing.

For Emphasis

Use a dash to emphasize a word, a series of words, a phrase, or a clause.

You can learn about many subjects—from customs to careers—on the Internet.

In Interrupted Speech

Use a dash to show that one person’s speech is being interrupted by another person.

Well, hello—yes, I—that’s right—yes, I—sure, I’d love to—I’ll be there!


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

In Contractions

Use an apostrophe to show that one or more letters have been left out to form a contraction. The list below shows some common contractions.

Common Contractions

couldn’t (could not)

didn’t (did not)

doesn’t (does not)

don’t (do not)

hasn’t (has not)

haven’t (have not)

I’ll (I will)

isn’t (is not)

it’s (it is; it has)

I’ve (I have)

she’s (she is)

they’ll (they will)

they’re (they are)

wouldn’t (would not)

you’d (you would)

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To Form Plurals

Use an apostrophe and s to form the plural of a letter or a sign.

A’s (letter)

+’s (sign)

In Place of Omitted Numbers or Letters

Use an apostrophe to show that one or more letters or numbers have been left out.

class of ’26 (20 is left out)

fixin’ to go (g is left out)

To Form Singular Possessives

Add an apostrophe and s to make the possessive form of most singular nouns.

My sister’s hobby is jazz dancing.

Lucas’s hobby is collecting pencil stubs.

Gus’s hobby is fishing.

To Form Plural Possessives

Add just an apostrophe to make the possessive form of plural nouns ending in s.

the girls’ logrolling team

For plural nouns not ending in s, add an apostrophe and an s.

children’s books

To Form Shared Possessives

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

Jim, Jeb, and Jerry’s fish.

Three Guys and a Fish
© Thoughtful Learning 2024

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Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are used to enclose the exact words of the speaker, to show that words are used in a special way, and to punctuate titles.

To Set Off Direct Quotations

Place quotation marks before and after spoken words.

“Rosa Parks is one of our true American heroes,” the teacher reminded her students.

Placement of Punctuation

Put periods and commas that come at the end of quoted words inside quotation marks.

Trey said, “Let’s make tuna sandwiches.”

“I like salami,” replied Richard.

Place question marks or exclamation points inside the quotation marks when they punctuate the quotation; place them outside when they punctuate the main sentence.

“Will we have chips and pickles?” asked Trey.

“Yes!” replied Rich.

Did you hear Mom say, “We’re out of pickles”?

For Special Words

Quotation marks may be used to set apart a word that is being discussed.

The word “scrumptious” is hard to spell.

To Punctuate Titles

Place quotation marks around titles of short works: songs, poems, short stories, essays, and chapters of books. Also use quotation marks with articles found in magazines, newspapers, or encyclopedias or on the Internet.


“America the Beautiful”

Short Story

“McBroom Tells the Truth”


“Water, Water Everywhere”

Tip When you write a title, capitalize the first word, the last word, and every word in between except for articles (a, an, the), short prepositions (by, for, with), and coordinating conjunctions (and, or, but).

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Question Mark

A question mark is used after a direct question (an interrogative sentence) and to show doubt about the correctness of something.

After a Direct Question

Place a question mark at the end of a direct question.

Would you like to visit other planets?

To Show Doubt

Place a question mark in parentheses to show that you aren’t sure a fact is correct.

The ship arrived in Boston on July 23(?), 1652.

Exclamation Point

An exclamation point is used to express strong feeling. It may be placed after a word, a phrase, or a sentence.

To Express Strong Feeling

Surprise! (word)

Happy birthday! (phrase)

Wait for me! (sentence)

Tip Never use double exclamation points in school writing assignments or other formal documents.


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

To Add Information

Use parentheses to add information.

The map (figure 2) will help you understand the explorer’s route.

To Make an Idea Clearer

Use parentheses to make an idea clearer.

Five of the students provided background music (humming very quietly) for the singer.

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Italics and Underlining

Italics is a printer’s term for type that is slightly slanted. Italics are used for many types of titles and for special words. (Note: In handwritten material, each word or letter that should be in italics is underlined. If you use a computer, you should use italics.)

For Titles

Use italics (or underlining) for titles of plays, books, newspapers, magazines, television programs, movies, music albums, and other complete works.


The Wiz or The Wiz


Exploring an Ocean Tide Pool

Television Program




For Special Words

Use italics (or underlining) to indicate names of aircraft and ships.


Columbia or Columbia



Use italics (or underlining) to indicate foreign words.

E pluribus unum, meaning “out of many, one,” is written on many US coins.

Use italics (or underlining) to indicate words discussed as words, rather than for their meaning.

The word freedom means different things to different people.

Punctuation Marks

é Accent

’ Apostrophe

* Asterisk

[ ] Brackets

^ Caret

: Colon

, Comma

— Dash

/ Diagonal/Slash

. . . Ellipsis

! Exclamation Point

- Hyphen

( ) Parentheses

. Period

? Question Mark

“ ” Quotation Marks

; Semicolon

__ Underscore

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

Vocabulary List:
  • semicolon: a dot on top of a comma ( ; ), which functions as a "soft period" or a "hard comma"; used to connect two sentences or to make a stronger break in a list that already contain commas

Vocabulary List:
  • colon: two stacked dots ( : ) used to introduce a list or draw attention to the information that follows it

Vocabulary List:
  • hyphen: a short horizontal line ( - ) that connects words into compounds or divides words at the end of lines

Vocabulary List:
  • dash: a long horizontal line ( — )that shows a break in a sentence or when a speaker is interrupted, functioning as a dramatic comma

  • apostrophe: small mark ( ' ) that indicates possession or shows where letters were left out of a contraction

Vocabulary List:
  • quotation marks: sets of marks ( " " ) that come on either side of the exact words of a speaker

Vocabulary List:
  • question mark: curled mark ( ? ) that comes at the end of a question or that shows confusion

  • exclamation point: strong mark ( ! ) that shows strong emotion or emphasis

  • parentheses: sets of curved marks ( / ) that set off additional information

Vocabulary List:
  • italics: slanted letters that show titles, words used as words, or foreign words

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