Punctuation is a collection of marks and signs which break words up into groups and give other useful information to help us understand what we are reading and hearing. When we are reading out loud, the punctuation helps us know when to pause. The most common punctuation marks are:
shows the end of a sentence
shows a short pause in a sentence
shows surprise, humour or excitement
used to denote a question
used before a list or before giving evidence to prove a point
denotes a pause, longer than a comma
shows direct speech/a quotation/irony or sarcasm
denotes a missing letter or possession
used between words or in pairs
short mark used to link two words together
Used around an aside, or less important point
Capital letters are also used to help organise meaning and to structure writing.
Just imagine if we did not have any punctuation – it would be really difficult to read and understand. Read the passage below and see for yourself how hard it is to understand.
the mole had been working very hard all the morning spring cleaning his little home first with brooms then with dusters then on ladders and steps and chairs with a brush and a pail of whitewash till he had dust in his throat and eyes and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur and an aching back and weary arms spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing it was small wonder then that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor said bother and o blow and also hang spring-cleaning and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat
You might like to ask your child to put the correct punctuation into this passage, and then try it again once they have come to the end of this page
The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said 'Bother!' and 'O blow!' and also 'Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.
1. Full stop
The full stop can be used like a knife to cut sentences to the required length. There are several different ways to use the full stop.
to mark the end of a sentence, except those which are questions or exclamations: Paris is the capital of France. I enjoy reading books.
to show an abbreviation: Feb. for February; Tues. for Tuesday
three dots (also called an ellipsis) to show that only part of the sentence or text has been quoted or that it is being left up to the reader to complete the rest of the sentence: "Jack and Jill went up the hill..." After the flood, there were more problems...
full stop after a single word: sometimes a single word can form a sentence. In this case you place a full stop after the word as you would in any other sentence. "Hello." "Goodbye."
Answers to all the questions can be found on the entire document, which includes more questions, and it can be downloaded as a pdf here.
You can use commas to separate things in a list. You can also use them to mark out the less important part of a sentence.
Using commas to separate the items in a list: I would like carrots, an apple, cheese and fruit juice in my lunch box.
I came home, ate my tea, did my homework and watched TV.
Always make sure you use and to separate the last two items in your list. There should never be a white space before a comma and there should always be a white space after a comma.
Don't use a comma where you should use a full stop. If the words could stand alone as a sentence then you need to put a full stop or a joining word ('and', 'or' etc) in and not a comma.
On holiday we played on the beach, we went swimming, we went to the theme park and we played rounders.
This sentence is incorrect as either each part should stand alone as separate sentences or it could say:
On holiday we played on the beach, went swimming, went to the theme park and played rounders.
b. Using commas to show the less important part of a sentence.
This can make your sentences more interesting by adding extra information.
Shona, who was the elder child, always took the lead.
The words in between the commas give additional information, but the sentence makes sense without them.
You can check check this second use of commas by seeing if the sentence makes sense without the words between the commas.
Misplacing a comma can completely change the meaning of your sentence. Just look at these two examples:
“My mum says Amanda has no sense of humour.”
“My mum, says Amanda, has no sense of humour.”
Can you see the difference? In the first sentence, it is Amanda who has no sense of humour; in the second, it is Mum who has no sense of humour.
King Charles walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off.
King Charles walked and talked; half an hour after, his head was cut off.
This sentence needs a semi colon and a comma to make sense.
3. Exclamation mark
The exclamation mark is used to express astonishment or surprise or to emphasise a comment or short, sharp phrase.
b. You can also use it to show a phrase that is meant to be funny, ironic or sarcastic.
What a lovely day! (when it obviously is not a lovely day)
That was clever! (when someone has done something silly)
Don't overuse the exclamation mark.
4. Question mark
Use a question mark at the end of all direct questions:
How old are you?
Do you like dogs?
Is it raining?
Do not use a question mark for reported questions:
He asked me how old I am.
She asked me if I like dogs.
I asked Mum if it was raining.
Use a colon before a list, summary or quotation. You must only use a colon when it follows a complete sentence – ie a set of words which make sense on their own.
a. Before a list:
I could only find three of the crayons: blue, green and orange.
b. Before a summary:
To summarise: write your name, the date and then start your answer.
c. Before a quotation:
As Winnie the Pooh said: “I am a bear of very little brain.”
d. to introduce the effect of an action:
It snowed hard all day: the roads were impassable.
The colon is also used:
to separate chapter and verse in scripture - John 1:4
to separate hours and minutes - 16:40
to show ratios - 1:4
6. Semi colon
The semi colon is mainly used to:
a. combine two closely related complete sentences which are not joined by a conjunction.
The children broke up today; it has been a long term.
b. To separate items in a list when commas alone would be confusing, or where commas are already used.
The lion, the witch and the wardrobe; Mary Poppins; Rosie and Jim; and The wind in the willows.
7. Speech mark – also called quotation mark or inverted comma
Quotation marks are punctuation marks used in pairs to set off speech, a quotation, a phrase or a word. Quotation marks always come in pairs.
Use quotation marks:
a. for direct speech.
Audrey asked, "Why can't we go today?"
b. When quoting from a book or someone else’s words.
“In the beginning was the Word”
c. Stating a definition.
'Chien' is French for dog.
d. When writing the title of a book, film etc.
“The Wind in the Willows”; “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid”
e. Special meanings, noting inaccuracies or misnomers, etc.
The 'free gift' actually cost us ten pounds.
Full stops and commas always go inside quotation marks.
The sign changed from "Walk," to "Don't Walk," to "Walk" again within 30 seconds.
The apostrophe can be one of the most difficult punctuation marks to use correctly.
a. Use an apostrophe in nouns or pronouns to show possession.
b. Certain expressions relating to time, distance, and value also are written with an apostrophe.
four months’ worth
one metre’s length
c. Use an apostrophe with s to form the plural of numbers, letters, signs, and symbols.
Jake has scored 100’s on all his maths tests.
Your written “h’s” look more like “k’s.”
d. Use an apostrophe to indicate the omission of a word, letters, or numerals.
They’ve gone home.
The wedding was in ’07.
9 and 10 Hyphen and dash
Use a dash
a. for emphasis
The book was great — a really good read.
b. for explanation or addition
We went to the beach – it was very crowded.
c. In place of brackets or commas.
A pony called Pixie — the first of the series — was written in 1989.
Use a hyphen
a. to avoid multiple letters with some prefixes and suffixes
b. If the root word is capitalised.
c. With specific prefixes and suffixes.
self-sacrificing, all-seeing, ex-patriot,
d. To avoid ambiguity or awkward pronunciation.
e. Where a list of words each have the same prefix or suffix.
pre- and post-war, over- and under-weight
f. to form compound words
sit-in, stand-out, son-in-law
g. In compound adjectives that modify what they precede.