Brief Overview of Punctuation
When speaking, we can pause or change the tone of our voices to indicate emphasis. When writing, we must use punctuation to indicate these places of emphasis. This resource should help to clarify when and how to use various marks of punctuation.
Contributors:Morgan Sousa, Dana Lynn Driscoll
Last Edited: 2018-03-07 01:34:20
When speaking, we can pause or change the tone of our voices to indicate emphasis. When writing, we use punctuation to indicate these places of emphases. This handout should help to clarify when and how to use various marks of punctuation.
Independent clause: a clause that has a subject and a verb and can stand alone; a complete sentence
Dependent clause: a clause that has a subject and a verb but cannot stand alone; an incomplete sentence
Use a comma to join two independent clauses and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, so).
Road construction can be inconvenient, but it is necessary.
The new house has a large fenced backyard, so I am sure our dog will enjoy it.
Use a comma after an introductory phrase, prepositional phrase, or dependent clause.
To get a good grade, you must complete all your assignments.
Because Dad caught the chicken pox, we canceled our vacation.
After the wedding, the guests attended the reception.
Use a comma to separate elements in a series. Although there is no set rule that requires a comma before the last item in a series, it seems to be a general academic convention to include it. The examples below demonstrate this trend.
On her vacation, Lisa visited Greece, Spain, and Italy.
In their speeches, many of the candidates promised to help protect the environment, bring about world peace, and end world hunger.
Use a comma to separate nonessential elements from a sentence. More specifically, when a sentence includes information that is not crucial to the message or intent of the sentence, enclose it in or separate it by commas.
John's truck, a red Chevrolet, needs new tires.
When he realized he had overslept, Matt rushed to his car and hurried to work.
Use a comma between coordinate adjectives (adjectives that are equal and reversible).
The irritable, fidgety crowd waited impatiently for the rally speeches to begin.
The sturdy, compact suitcase made a perfect gift.
Use a comma after a transitional element (however, therefore, nonetheless, also, otherwise, finally, instead, thus, of course, above all, for example, in other words, as a result, on the other hand, in conclusion, in addition)
For example, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Indians are popular baseball teams.
If you really want to get a good grade this semester, however, you must complete all assignments, attend class, and study your notes.
Use a comma with quoted words.
"Yes," she promised. Todd replied, saying, "I will be back this afternoon."
Use a comma in a date.
October 25, 1999
Monday, October 25, 1999
25 October 1999
Use a comma in a number.
1614 High Street
Use a comma in a personal title.
Pam Smith, MD
Mike Rose, Chief Financial Officer for Operations, reported the quarter's earnings.
Use a comma to separate a city name from the state.
West Lafayette, Indiana
Avoid comma splices (two independent clauses joined only by a comma). Instead, separate the clauses with a period, with a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction, or with a semicolon.
Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when the second clause restates the first or when the two clauses are of equal emphasis.
Road construction in Dallas has hindered travel around town; streets have become covered with bulldozers, trucks, and cones.
Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when the second clause begins with a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, moreover, furthermore, thus, meanwhile, nonetheless, otherwise) or a transition (in fact, for example, that is, for instance, in addition, in other words, on the other hand, even so).
Terrorism in the United States has become a recent concern; in fact, the concern for America's safety has led to an awareness of global terrorism.
Use a semicolon to join elements of a series when individual items of the series already include commas.
Recent sites of the Olympic Games include Athens, Greece; Salt Lake City, Utah; Sydney, Australia; Nagano, Japan.
For more information on semicolons, please see the "90-Second Semicolon" vidcast series on the Purdue OWL YouTube Channel.
Use a colon to join two independent clauses when you wish to emphasize the second clause.
Road construction in Dallas has hindered travel around town: parts of Main, Fifth, and West Street are closed during the construction.
Use a colon after an independent clause when it is followed by a list, a quotation, an appositive, or other ideas directly related to the independent clause.
Julie went to the store for some groceries: milk, bread, coffee, and cheese.
In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln urges Americans to rededicate themselves to the unfinished work of the deceased soldiers: "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
I know the perfect job for her: a politician.
Use a colon at the end of a business letter greeting.
To Whom It May Concern:
Use a colon to separate the hour and minute(s) in a time notation.
Use a colon to separate the chapter and verse in a Biblical reference.
Parentheses are used to emphasize content. They place more emphasis on the enclosed content than commas. Use parentheses to set off nonessential material, such as dates, clarifying information, or sources, from a sentence.
Muhammed Ali (1942-2016), arguably the greatest athlete of all time, claimed he would "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
Dashes are used to set off or emphasize the content enclosed within dashes or the content that follows a dash. Dashes place more emphasis on this content than parentheses.
Perhaps one reason why the term has been so problematic—so resistant to definition, and yet so transitory in those definitions—is because of its multitude of applications.
In terms of public legitimacy—that is, in terms of garnering support from state legislators, parents, donors, and university administrators—English departments are primarily places where advanced literacy is taught.
The U.S.S. Constitution became known as "Old Ironsides" during the War of 1812—during which the cannonballs fired from the British H.M.S. Guerriere merely bounced off the sides of the Constitution.
To some of you, my proposals may seem radical—even revolutionary.
Use a dash to set off an appositive phrase that already includes commas. An appositive is a word that adds explanatory or clarifying information to the noun that precedes it.
The cousins—Tina, Todd, and Sam—arrived at the party together.
Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotations. Note that commas and periods are placed inside the closing quotation mark, and colons and semicolons are placed outside. The placement of question and exclamation marks depends on the situation.
He asked, "When will you be arriving?" I answered, "Sometime after 6:30."
Use quotation marks to indicate the novel, ironic, or reserved use of a word.
History is stained with blood spilled in the name of "justice."
Use quotation marks around the titles of short poems, song titles, short stories, magazine or newspaper articles, essays, speeches, chapter titles, short films, and episodes of television or radio shows.
"Self-Reliance," by Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Just Like a Woman," by Bob Dylan
"The Smelly Car," an episode of Seinfeld
Do not use quotation marks in indirect or block quotations.
Underlining and italics are often used interchangeably. Before word-processing programs were widely available, writers would underline certain words to indicate to publishers to italicize whatever was underlined. Although the general trend has been moving toward italicizing instead of underlining, you should remain consistent with your choice throughout your paper. To be safe, you could check with your teacher to find out which he/she prefers. Italicize the titles of magazines, books, newspapers, academic journals, films, television shows, long poems, plays of three or more acts, operas, musical albums, works of art, websites, and individual trains, planes, or ships.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali
Italicize foreign words.
Semper fi, the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps, means "always faithful."
Italicize a word or phrase to add emphasis.
The truth is of utmost concern!
Italicize a word when referring to that word.
The word justice is often misunderstood and therefore misused.
Learn how to properly use italics and emphasis
Have you ever found yourself questioning your use of italics in a term paper or essay? Does using italicized print worry you to the extent you just avoid italics altogether? When is the right time to use italics? This article will explain when to use those slanted letters and when it is best to leave them upright.
Seven instances when italics are appropriate in an essay
There are approximately seven instances when it is appropriate to use italics in academic writing. Italics will likely appear in papers ranging from the arts to the sciences and will serve many functions. To simplify things, we have defined when to use italics in Arts and Humanities papers (four instances) and when to use them in the Sciences (three instances).
Italics in the Arts
There are many instances when humanities students find themselves unsure whether something they have just written deserves emphasis. If your situation doesn't fall under one of the following categories, use standard font.
When including a title that can stand alone, it should be italicized in almost every instance. This could be the title of a book, a story, a newspaper, or even your favorite television show. Here is an example of a properly written title:
Adam and I watched an episode of Family Guy yesterday; the whole thing was a parody of The Da Vinci Code!
It is important to remember that if a punctuation mark (an exclamation or question mark) is included in the title, you must italicize it as well.
Titles that should not be italicized are those of religious texts. The Bible is not italicized, nor are the titles of the books within it. Shorter titles, such as short stories from an anthology, journal articles, and episodes of television shows, cannot stand alone and thus should not be italicized.
When italicizing titles in footnotes, citations, and bibliographies, remember to reference the style guide required by your professor.
When you really need to emphasize a word in writing, italics are the best way to do it. Italics can be used to ensure readers recognize the word requires emphasis. The effective use of italics in this manner can add flare to writing and indicate more poignant text:
Susan yelled, "I hate microeconomics!"
In this example, the italics serve to illustrate Susan's loathing of microeconomics. Without the emphasis, this sentence may not have stressed how much she truly despises the subject. A word of warning from the professionals at our essay editing service: Always use discretion when italicizing words for the purpose of emphasis in an academic essay. Professors are often annoyed by the overuse of emphasis.
Sounds reproduced as words
If you've ever tried to write a children's book, you may have come across this italics-worthy situation. If a bear growls and you want to present this auditory occurrence in a more immersive way, Grrrrrr! may find its way into your writing. Make sure the distinction between the name of the sound and the sound itself is clear. Meow is the sound a cat makes, but the word makes no attempt at reproducing the sound. On the other hand, should you write "Meeeeeooooowww went the grey barn cat," make sure the reproduced sound gets italicized.
Names of vehicles
When mentioning any vehicle in your academic writing, whether it's the Titanic or Apollo 13, remember to italicize its name. The exception to this rule is the brand name of vehicles. So, if you're writing a paper that requires commentary concerning the Rolls-Royce that kills Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby, leave the italics off.
Italics in the Sciences
There are instances in scientific and technical writing where italics are necessary. These instances may cross over into the realm of Arts writing, but most often they will be seen within the context of technical writing. There are three common instances where italics should be used.
Words in a foreign language
When you are writing a lab report or scientific paper and must include a term written in a foreign language, italics are key. This is often seen in legal or medical papers in the form of Latin words. They appear quite often, and should be italicized to show readers they are in another language. Here is an example from a medical document:
"Three pills are to be administered to the patient ante cibum."
While most people would not write "before meals" in Latin, this term is appropriate in a medical context and thus must be written in Latin, as well as be italicized.
Introducing a term
When a new term is introduced in a scientific essay, it is common practice to write the word in italics upon first use. When readers see a term in italics, they automatically know this is the first time the word has been used and should therefore pay attention to its meaning.
Physical quantities and mathematical constants
When measures of quantity or a mathematical constant are written, they should be placed in italics. A mathematical constant is the letter used to represent a particular static mathematical standard such as:
"When we measured the particle velocity, v, recorded in the experiment…"
The "v" represents the constant in a mathematical equation and thus must be written in italics.
When in doubt, ask for help
Should a time arise when you aren't sure whether to use italics, simply refer to this article to see if your situation falls into any of the categories listed above. If it does, use italics; if it doesn't, it's probably best to use standard font. If you're still unsure, feel free to submit your document to our essay editors for a professional review.
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You're writing an essay, and you want a good grade, or at least to make yourself understood. How can you make this easier for your reader?
When writing a scientific paper or lab report, remember that your purpose is to communicate your findings to the reader and to explain the research behind your findings. However, proving your overall knowledge of the subject in question is just as important.
Technical writers are responsible for conveying complex, specialized information to a more general audience. Successful technical writing tips are as follows: excellent grammar and punctuation, a clear and logical writing style, a genuine understanding of the subject, and strict attention to the accuracy of the information presented.
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