Punctuation Marks Every Writer Should Know

If you want to communicate effectively, you have to learn how to use punctuation marks the right way. They provide clarity, help you emphasize certain parts of your text, define the cadence or rhythm of a sentence, and most importantly, make your writing look much more professional!

But if you’re new to writing, you might need a little help learning about a few of the more obscure punctuation marks, and it doesn’t hurt to brush up on the basics either. In this post, I’ll be breaking down 13 essential punctuation marks that every writer should know!

Let’s kick things off with a simple but crucial question.

What are punctuation marks?

In a nutshell, punctuation marks are characters or signs that can organize a sentence, clarify its tone, and communicate its meaning as efficiently as possible. Think of your sentence like a road and the words like cars traveling along it. Now, if there were no markings on the road or traffic signals to control the traffic flow, everything would descend into chaos! Just like roads need markings, signs, and signals, so do your sentences. 

What are all the punctuation marks used in the English language?

  1. Quotation Marks

These are also sometimes called “speech marks” which should give you a hint about how to use them! Also, did you notice how I used them in the previous sentence? You can also use them to highlight a specific part of the text.

They come in two forms, namely single (‘ ‘) and double (“ “). Double quotation marks are the more popular option, especially in American English. You can use them to mark when a person is speaking or to indicate that you’re mentioning a title or a quote. For example, if you’re talking about the movie “Iron Man”, you have to enclose it in quotation marks, and the same goes for direct speech as well. However, remember that quotation marks aren’t for indirect speech!

  1. Period

Also called a “full stop” in British English, these punctuation marks ( . ) can indicate the end of a sentence. I’ve used them multiple times already, and they’ve helped you to figure out where to pause between sentences!

Periods are the most common forms of punctuation in the English language. You can also use them to mark abbreviations, such as Dr. instead of Doctor, and they can help you write out decimal points as well like Pi, which is 3.142!

  1. Parentheses

Parentheses, or a parenthesis for short, can cordon off bits of information in a sentence. They’re also called “round brackets”, and they look like this ( ). They’re quite useful in situations where you want to go off on a brief tangent or give some context about something you’re trying to say. Here’s an example of parentheses used in a sentence:

Grandma came over at three o’clock (she got held up in traffic), and we had tea together.

As you can see in the example, some extra information was added to the brackets without interrupting the sentence’s natural flow.

  1. Colon

No, not cologne! Unlike its fragrant homonym, a colon is simply two dots placed vertically like this ( : ). The colon itself is in the middle of the brackets, just like in all of the other examples above. You can use it to transition into lists, set up an explanation, or sometimes before direct speech, though this isn’t as common as the other uses.

A couple of other uses for the colon are for telling the time (3:00 has a colon in it!) and for scripture, like when you specify what part of the Bible a particular verse is from.

  1. Semicolon

Ah, the semicolon! One of the English language’s most elusive and mysterious punctuation marks, which makes many people use it incorrectly. It looks like this ( ; ), and it can replace conjunctions like “and” or “but” to transition between statements a bit more elegantly, like this:

He loved steak; she was vegetarian.

  1. Question Mark

This one’s pretty simple. A question mark looks like this ( ? ), and it clarifies that a particular sentence is, well, a question!

  1. Exclamation Mark

Exclamation marks ( ! ) can add some excitement to a sentence. Any string of words that convey strong emotions, whether that’s anger, joy, or surprise, should end in an exclamation mark.

  1. Comma

The main use of a comma ( , ) is separation. It can separate items in a list, clauses in a sentence just like this one, or add some important context. Here are two examples that show the usefulness of commas:

“I already ate, mom.”


“I already ate mom.”

Since you don’t want anyone to think you ate your mother, the comma will be doing a lot of heavy lifting in the sentence!

  1. Apostrophe

Two situations call for an apostrophe ( ‘ ). Firstly, they can indicate who owns a particular item or object. Check out the following example:

“This is Bob’s shirt.”

The apostrophe clarifies that the shirt belongs to Bob! Now, as for the second use case, here’s another example:

“I can’t go to the park today.”

Here, the apostrophe contracts “cannot”. This helps with brevity and clarity, and also makes it rolls easier off the tongue.

  1. Dash

Formally called a hyphen, a dash ( – ) indicates a specified range. For example, if you want to say “all the numbers between 1 and 10,” you can just say “1-10”. It’s can also convey travel, like saying “A Paris-London flight”. Another use case is for names, like if someone takes their husband’s name but also keeps theirs after marriage. Finally, dashes can be used in direct speech to indicate a sudden stop.

  1. Ellipses 

Two situations call for the use of ellipses ( … ). Use an ellipsis (which is the singular form) to convey a pause in direct speech or to tell the reader that you cut certain words from a quotation.

  1. Slash

In most forms of writing, a forward slash ( / ) separates two alternatives, like movie/film, he/she, etc. You can also use them to separate dates, like 09/18/2022 for 18th September 2022.

How to check if punctuation is used correctly in writing?

You can rely on your intuition, or you could eliminate all possibility of human error by using an online tool. Grammarlookup can help you weed out any possible errors in your punctuation in the blink of an eye, and it’s just one of the many tools at your disposal!

Free Grammar And Punctuation Check!

Grammarlookup uses artificial intelligence to check grammar and punctuation mistakes in your writing, eliminate spelling errors, and highlight 1000s of style issues to make your writing exceptional.

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