English punctuation marks

English Punctuation Marks: Vocabulary for English language learners


English punctuation marks
English punctuation mark

English is loaded with punctuation. But, of course, so are other languages. Whether you are interested in Legal English or Business English, Academic English or General English (or English for children!) you might be interested to know the English terms for common English punctuation marks. This compendium, by the way, is just a starter list. There are so many others where these came from.

Here are some of the most common English punctuation marks:

1. Full-stop/Period ( . )

The “period” is the small dot at the end of your sentence (the expression of a “complete thought”). Example: I took English for Lawyers with ELG Consulting.  You can also call it a “full-stop.”

2. Comma ( , )

The comma is a  small curved symbol used to indicate a pause in written communication, separate independent or dependent clauses in a sentence, separate transition words from the main clause or phrase, and/or to indicate a list of items in a set.

Example 1: After the earthquake, life in Haiti never went back to normal.

Example 2 Life in Haiti never went back to normal after the earthquake, but it wasn’t due to a lack of international financial aid.

Example 3 After the earthquake, hurricane, outbreak of malaria, and other problems, life in Haiti got even more depressing.

3. Question Mark ( ? )

This is the end mark used to indicate a question/interrogative.

Example: Are these all the relevant documents? Using more than one question mark signifies that the user is in disbelief.

Example: These are all the documents? Are you serious??? (No more than one question mark should be used in formal written English, however.)

4. Quotation Mark ( ” )

This is used to indicate what someone said, verbatim; it could also be used to suggest that the writer is not persuaded that the word and:or its connotation is warranted.  Example 1: He said “I do not negotiate with terrorists.”

Example 2: He refused to negotiate with “terrorists.”  

5. Apostrophe ( ‘ )

This is used to show possession. Example: The captain’s daughter.

6. Dash ( – )

A dash is used to clarify a word, phrase or term that immediately precedes the dash. The dash functions as a type of parenthetical.

Example 1: When negotiating the terms of a distributor contract – or any type of agreement – it is necessary to consider all eventualities before signing on the dotted line.

Example 2: Legal English–meaning English for lawyers–is very technical.

7. Ampersand ( & )

The ampersand is used to express a very close collaboration, an essential partnership. It is also used to express “and” indicating that something (or someone) goes with something else.

Example 1: Porky & Bess are TV characters.

Example 2: Bonnie & Clyde used to rob banks.

Example 3: The CEO & his assistant were accused of misconduct. In formal writing, it is better to spell out “and” and use the ampersand only when referring to actual partnerships rather than just an association. So example 3 is unlikely to appear in formal written English.

8. Asterisk/Star ( * )

The star symbol or asterisk is used to highlight something for further review or for special attention usually in the footnotes. Putting a star/asterisk next to a sentence signals to the reader that there will be further information or comment pertaining to that sentence; and this is usually of an explanatory nature and will appear at the bottom of the report or document.  Example: Microsoft will lay off 200 people from its Paris office in 2014*  The reader of this sentence expects the writer to explain further about this lay off or perhaps more specifically about the year 2014 as it relates to the lay offs.

9. Slash ( / )

The slash, otherwise known as the forward slash  is often used to mean “and, or.” Example 1: The plaintiffs/injured parties must file a claim within one year or risk exceeding the statute of limitations. Example 2: The juxtaposition of light/space was breathtaking.  Example 3: This male/female gender classification is ridiculous. Example 4: The North/South divide is purely semantic.

10. Brackets/parentheses ( [] ( ) {} )

Brackets are often used to provide non-essential but clarifying information in a sentence. For example: The best ranked law firms in America (and everyone know there are a lot of law firms in America) are the ones where associates are encouraged to have a strong life/work balance.

So that is it for English punctuation marks. As noted above, there are many, many more English punctuation marks than just these. Maybe a second post on English punctuation marks will be forthcoming. Stay tuned.

NEXT: English Abstract Nouns: Examples of Common Abstract Nouns in English

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