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Punctuation Rules (Eng 1)

Here is a summary of punctuation and capitalization rules, organized to help you organize and remember them. I have highlighted words to help you recall each rule. Sometimes I have gathered them into subgroups.


Five End-Mark Rules
  1. A statement is followed by a period.
  2. A question is followed by a question mark.
  3. An exclamation is followed by an exclamation point.
  4. An imperative sentence is followed by either a period or an exclamation point.
  5. An abbreviation is followed by a period.
Four Rules for Irregular Abbreviations (See "Notes" on p. 739-740 of your textbook)
  1. A two-letter state abbreviation, used only before a zip code, has no periods and has both letters of the abbreviation in upper case (caps). [Bethesda, MD 20816]
  2. Abbreviations for government agencies and some other widely used abbreviations again use all capital letters and no periods. [CIA, NAACP]
  3. Abbreviations for metric units of measure customarily use no periods but are lower case. [cc, ml, km]
  4. When an abbreviation with a period ends a sentence, the second period is not necessary, but a question mark or exclamation point would follow the period required by the abbreviation. [This is Sam, Jr. (but) Is this Sam, Jr.? ]
Seven Capitalization Rules
  1. Capitalize the first word in every sentence.
  2. Capitalize the pronoun I.
  3. Capitalize the interjection O.
  4. Capitalize proper nouns.
    • people's names
    • geographical names
    • special events
    • historical events/periods
    • nationalities, races, religions
    • brand names
    • ships, planets, awards, specific places, things, events
  5. Capitalize proper adjectives.
  6. Do not capitalize the names of school subjects except languages and course names followed by a number.
  7. Capitalize titles.
    • title before a name
    • title of high official
    • family relationship when used with or in place of person's name
    • first and all important words of publication titles, movies, songs, works of art
    • words referring to the Deity (other than those of ancient mythology)
Three Colon Rules
  1. Use a colon before a list of items, especially after expressions like as follows or the following. A colon says "note what follows." A colon suggests equality.
  2. Use a colon before a statement that expands or clarifies a preceding statement.
  3. Use a colon in conventional situations. between hours and minutes in time after the salutation of a business letter
Three Rules for Italics/Underlining
  1. Use underlining (italics) for titles of books, periodicals, works of art, films, record albums, television series, trains, ships, aircraft, spacecraft, and so on. (Titles of major works)
  2. Use underlining (italics) to indicate words referred to as words, letters referred to as letters, numerals referred to as numerals.
  3. Italicize foreign words.
Four Semicolon Rules
  1. Use a semicolon between independent clauses in a sentence if they are not joined by and, but, or, nor, for, yet.
  2. Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by such words as for example, for instance, that is, besides, accordingly, moreover, nevertheless, furthermore, otherwise, therefore, however, consequently, instead, hence. (In other words, between independent clauses joined by transitional words that are not conjunctions.)
  3. Use a semicolon to separate the independent clauses of a compound sentence if either of the independent clauses contains potentially confusing commas.
  4. Use semicolons instead of commas to separate a list of items which themselves contain commas. (The "Upgrade Rule")
Four Apostrophe Rules Possessives
  1. To form the possessive case of a singular noun, add an apostrophe and an s. Do not use apostrophes to form the possessives of the personal pronouns.
  2. To form the possessive case of a plural noun ending in s, add only the apostrophe. Contractions
  3. Use an apostrophe to show where letters have been omitted in a contraction.
  4. Use an apostrophe and s to form the plural of letters, numbers, and signs, and for words referred to as words. N. B. such letters, numbers, signs, or words as words would be in italics
Four Hyphen Rules
  1. Use a hyphen to divide a word at the end of a line. Divide words only between syllables, and make sure at least two syllables end up on the second line.
  2. Use a hyphen with compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
  3. Use a hyphen with fractions used as adjectives.
  4. Use a hyphen with the prefixes ex-, self-, and all- and with the suffix -elect.
Ten Quotation Rules
  1. Use quotation marks to enclose a direct quotation-a person's exact words. How to punctuate and capitalize a quotation
  2. A direct quotation begins with a capital letter.
  3. When a quoted sentence is divided into two parts by an interrupting expression such as he said or Mother asked, the second part begins [read that as continues] with a small letter. (Split quotation)
  4. A direct quotation is set off from the rest of the sentence by commas or by a question mark or exclamation point. Where to place end marks in a quote
  5. A period or comma following a quotation should be placed inside the closing quotation marks.
  6. A question mark or an exclamation point should be placed inside the closing quotation marks if the quotation is a question or exclamation. Otherwise it should be placed outside. Special placement of quotes
  7. When you write dialogue (two or more persons having a conversation), begin a new paragraph each time you change speakers.
  8. When a quotation consists of several sentences, put quotation marks only at the beginning and at the end of the whole quotation, not around each sentence in the quotation.
  9. Use single quotation marks to enclose a quotation within a quotation. Conventional uses
  10. Use quotation marks to enclose titles of chapters, articles, short stories, poems, songs, and other parts of books or magazines. (Minor works or parts of works)
Eight Comma Rules

Multiple items (to separate or join)

  1. Use commas to separate items in a series.
  2. Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives that come before a noun.
  3. Use a comma before and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet when it joins independent clauses.

Parenthetical and interrupter words

  1. Use commas to set off an expression that interrupts a sentence.
    1. non-essential participle phrases or subordinate clauses
    2. non-essential appositives or appositive phrases
    3. words used in direct address
    4. parenthetical expressions
  2. Use a comma after yes, no, or any mild exclamation such as well or why at the beginning of a sentence.
  3. Use a comma after an introductory phrase or clause.
    1. always follow an introductory participle phrase with a comma
    2. always follow an introductory adverb clause with a comma
    3. put a comma after multiple prepositional phrases that begin a sentence; do not put a comma after a single introductory prepositional phrase unless to omit the comma would cause confusion

Conventional situations

  1. Use commas in certain conventional situations.
    1. items in dates and addresses
    2. after the salutation of a friendly letter and the closing of any letter
  2. Do not use unnecessary commas.
Parentheses & Dashes Rules
  1. Use parentheses to enclose material added to a sentence but not of major importance. (An understated interruption) Place a space outside the parentheses (before the first unless it begins a sentence and after the last unless it ends a sentence), but do not place a space after the opening parenthesis or before the closing parenthesis.
  2. Use a dash to indicate an abrupt break in thought or speech. (Use dashes to enclose an overstated interruption?)
    1. Do not put a space on either side of an em-dash (the type of dash we are discussing here).
    2. To type an em-dash on a Macintosh computer, hold down the Option and Shift keys and press the Hyphen key. If your typewriter or printer cannot make an em-dash, use two hyphens in a row (without spaces) to indicate an em-dash.
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© 1997-1999 J. Adrian Verkouteren