Although punctuation marks are small, punctuation takes on significant tasks: separating ideas, relating ideas to one another, clarifying meanings, and indicating changes from one voice to another. Without proper punctuation, readers can get confused and frustrated rather quickly. The following is a brief guide to all the puncutation types you will encounter in English and activities designed to give you practice with each of them.
In formal and semi-formal English writing, the sentence is the smallest complete textual unit. Aside from titles, anything less than a sentence (lacking an explicit or implicit noun or an explicit or implicit verb) is not acceptable. Most sentences in English end with periods (.), while question sentences end with question marks (?), and sentences indicating very strong emotions or voice end with exclamation marks (!):
- Doris is working in accounting these days.
- (You) Bring these papers to the notary.
- (Management class begins at) 9:30 in the morning.
- What’s the minimum page length for the final paper?
- I won a full scholarship!
Questions and exclamations tend to be shorter than other sentences. Although there are no hard and fast rules to follow for sentence length, it is a good idea to keep them from becoming “run-on” sentences. If you do not limit the length, you risk confusing your audience. If a sentence you have written is getting overly long (which is probably the case if there are a lot of other punctuation marks in the sentence, or a lot of information with no punctuation at all), break it down into smaller idea units and insert periods for each:
Without Correct Punctuation
Chiyoko is doing the presentation tomorrow, it will cover Reconstruction following the American Civil War, there were so many topics that we covered in the Civil War chapter that I don’t know how she was able to choose just one, and the presentation has to be less than twenty minutes!
With Correct Punctuation
Chiyoko is doing the presentation tomorrow. It will cover Reconstruction following the American Civil War. There were so many topics that we covered in the Civil War chapter that I don’t know how she was able to choose just one. The presentation has to be less than twenty minutes!