Understanding Punctuation Marks in English!

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Punctuation marks in English can be confusing. If you've ever caught yourself searching for what is ‘ called? Or what is…called? Look no further. We’ll briefly explain each punctuation mark, how it functions, when to use it, and what each one is called.

Punctuation is a set of symbols used in written English to separate sentences to clarify their meaning. They also act as pause breaks, so the sentence isn’t one continuous text. There are quite a few symbols; each is called a punctuation mark.

Punctuation marks, is this

Types Of Punctuation: What Is This Symbol Called?

There are many 14 types of punctuation marks in English; we've split some of them into sub-categories.

What is ( … ) called? Ellipsis 

The ellipsis symbol is commonly formed using three periods ( …)

Ellipses are used for the following reasons.

  • Omitting unnecessary information. For example, "this is the best movie… I’ve ever seen one before."
  • When using sections of a quote to make the quote more powerful. For example, Barack Obama said,  "change will not come if we wait….We are the ones we’ve been waiting for." - In this example, we used three ellipses because the quote ended and a period to indicate the start of a new sentence.

Here is an example sentence:

  • He counted "one, two, three…up to 20 before we got bored."

What is ( ' ) called? Apostrophe 

An apostrophe (') is used when we want to get rid of a letter or letters in a word, for possessive nouns or plural lowercase letters.

Apostrophes are used in the following situations.

  • Getting contractions in a word. For example, I’ve instead of I have.
  • Possessive nouns to indicate possession. For example, Sally’s house is huge.
  • For omitting letters in a number. For example, the class of ´23

Here is an example sentence:

  • She’s got a dog called Benji, but he’s not currently living with her.

What is ( : ) called? Colon

A colon (:) symbol has many uses.

  • The colon symbol is used after an introduction, quotation, examples, or a series of related words. For example, "Understanding English: Punctuation Marks, Parts Of Speech, And Adjectives."
  • Between two independent sentences or clauses when the second sentence is related to or explains the first. For example, I’m running late: I woke up late.
  • To emphasize a point. For example, he had one true love: his Mom.
  • When writing dialogue. For example, reporter: "What’s the best holiday you’ve ever had?" "Sam: I think when I was a kid…we went to Sardinia."

Here is an example sentence:

  • I’m getting the bus now: I missed the first one.

What is ( ; ) called and how to use ( ; )? Semicolon

Semicolons (;) are used in the following situations.

  • Series of related words, when the word series contains commas, we use a semicolon to separate them. For example, The Beatles were made up of John Lennon on vocals; Paul McCartney, vocals, bass, guitar, and keyboard; George Harrison, guitar, vocals, sitar; and Ringo Starr on drums, vocals, and keyboard.
  • When relating two full sentences, but only when you can also use a period. For example, My grades depend on my work; if I continue to study hard, I’m sure I’ll get there.

Here is an example sentence:

  • I’ve got a huge presentation tomorrow; I can’t go out to eat.

What is the ( - ) sign called? Hyphen

A hyphen symbol (-) is used when joining words together, a compound adjective such as a six-page file, or a compound noun such as mother-in-law.

  • When using a compound adjective. For example, once-in-a-lifetime
  • When using a compound noun. For example, self-confidence or x-ray.

Here is an example sentence:

  • I once saw a man-eating snake.

What is the ( — ) sign called? En dash sign & em dash sign

The dash sign ( — or – ) is a long horizontal line, and it’s used for two different things; that’s why we have the en dash sign and the em dash sign.

( – ) en dash sign

  • The en dash sign is used for expressing a period of time. For example, 1995-2020.
  • The en dash sign is also used for a sequence of numbers. For example, 1-5.
  • When scoring in sports. For example, 2-1 to….
  • Showing distance instead of using ‘to.’ For example, Paris-London is about a 1.5 hours flight.

Here is an example:

  • 2005-2006.

( — em dash sign )

  • The em dash sign is used to break up a sentence. For example, call my teacher— Mr. Smith— by next week.
  • When changing subjects within one sentence. For example, how are you getting there? —- by the way, he didn’t phone me last night.
  • To emphasize a point. For example, my son would love to come to your party —-  I can’t get him there though.

Here is an example sentence:

  • The soccer team scored 2-1 in the match.

What is the ( , ) sign called? Comma

A comma (,) is used in English to separate words, ideas, or sentences. In spoken English, a comma is used to pause, which helps the meaning.

Commas are used in the following situations:

  • To separate a series of items. For example, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk are all dairy products.
  • Before coordinating conjunctions such as; and, but, or, etc., for example, Jenny loved playing with her new doll. However, she forgot to bring it.

Here is an example sentence:

  • Jerry forgot her camera in the car, so she couldn’t take any photos.

What is ( " " ) called? Double quotation marks 

Next up, we have double quotation marks (" ") This punctuation mark is used when you want to quote directly.

  • Double quotation marks are helpful when you want to name a familiar term or slang. For example, "normal" behavior.
  • When quoting someone for the first time, use a double quotation. For example, she said, "don’t forget your swimming trunks."

Here is an example sentence:

  • He said, "It’s horrible," as his friend said, ‘I don’t think it’s too bad.’

What is ( ' ' ) called? Single quotation marks

Single quotation marks (' ') are used in the following situations:

  • When putting quotations into quotes. For example, "She said, ‘she doesn’t want dinner,’ my sister told us."
  • When using quoted titles within a title. For example, Julia was preparing her final exam on "The analysis of ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare."

Here is an example sentence:

  • "He didn’t tell me much, but he did say, ‘he was moving house soon,’ my uncle told us."

What is ( ? ) called? Question mark

Question marks are used when asking questions. In English, they are placed at the end of the sentence.

Here are some example sentences:

  • Would you like some coffee?
  • What’s your name?

What is ( . ) called? Period

A period ends a sentence.

  • After titles in American English.
  • Between numbers. For example, 1.5.
  • End of a command. For example, close the window, please.
  • And the end of an abbreviated word. For example, in Dec. (December)

Here are some example sentences:

  • The War Of The Roses.
  • We’ll be there in 2.5 hours.

What is ( ! ) called? Exclamation mark or Exclamation Point

An exclamation mark (!) is used to show surprise, wonder, or emphasize a point.

Here are some example sentences:

  • Wow! I didn’t know you had three kids.
  • Watch out!

What is ( / ) called? Forward dash sign, slash forward, or oblique

A forward slash is used to give alternatives in replace of "or," especially in informal language. A forward slash can also be used for the following situations:

  • Dates
  • Fractions
  • Separating lines
  • Abbreviations
  • Website URLs

Here are some example sentences:

  • His/hers
  • 07/04/1997

What is ( _ ) called? Underscore

An underscore is a type of punctuation used initially to underline things. Nowadays, it’s used in computer programming to create spacing between words.

Here is an example sentence:

  • Word_Tips_Finder

What is ( ) called? Round brackets

Round brackets ( ) are used to highlight words or introduce a separate point, normally an afterthought.

Here is an example sentence:

  • We were walking (I don’t know where) and we saw a huge dog running towards us!

What is [ ] called? Square Brackets 

Square brackets, on the other hand, are used for edits. For example, when you want to edit a quote.

Here is an example sentence:

  • "She can’t take it [her bag] with her," he said.

If you want to learn more about punctuation, check out our related content below!


Check your understanding with these punctuation mark flashcards.