All about punctuation marks

Learn how to make your sentence pop with a punch of punctuation! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

December 12, 2023

All about punctuation marks

Learn how to make your sentence pop with a punch of punctuation! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

Dec 12, 2023

All about punctuation marks

Learn how to make your sentence pop with a punch of punctuation! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

Dec 12, 2023

Key takeaways

  • Punctuation helps perfect your writing – Using punctuation skillfully helps clarify your writing and provide your readers with additional information they need to understand what you’re saying.
  • Punctuation is a universal concept…and it’s everywhere – Cultures have been using punctuation since the dawn of time. It’s a foundational skill to master before moving on to higher grades. 
  • You’ll always need punctuation – You’ll find that common uses for punctuation include both written and oral content. Yep, you can “see” or “hear” punctuation just by changes in one’s voice and speech!

Ready to make some perfectly powerful sentences? Don’t forget to add a dash of punctuation! Whether you hope to be a writer someday or graduate with super high grades, punctuation is an essential skill to master. 

Punctuation marks add spice to your sentences and tell your reader or listener exactly what you mean — without even using words! 

If you feel nervous about using commas, quotation marks, or other forms of punctuation marks in sentences, don’t worry. We’ll help you learn how to confidently navigate common punctuation found in the American and British English language.

Read on to learn more about all common punctuation marks.

Different types of punctuation marks

Full stops ( . )

Full stops act as a “full stop” to a sentence or an idea. Chances are, you’ve already come across these in your homework or classwork. Full stops are used at every end of a sentence.

Examples of full stops in action include: 

  • Margot walked the dog. 
  • Tony enjoyed his pizza slice, watching birds play outside the window.

Comma ( , )

Commas show a natural point of pause between parts of your sentence. You can use commas in lists, too. We’ll show you how down below: 

  • She didn’t know how she could be so tired, since she had slept well the night before. 
  • Joe went to the cafe and came home with a pastry, a coffee, and a tea.

Semicolons ( ; )

Semicolons are like the older sibling of a comma when it comes to the world of punctuation marks. They are generally placed between two clauses or two subject-and-predicate pairings. 

They can separate ideas and signal a stronger pause than a comma. Examples of semicolons in action include: 

  • The hot wings were delicious; students found them perfectly spicy.
  • I’ve walked the dog; you can tell that the dog has been walking from the footprints in the snow.

Colons ( : )

Colons are used after complete sentences to suggest ideas that are related to the previous sentence. We know that sounds confusing, but it’s quite simple. You can also use colons before a list or a quote. 

Here are a few examples of colons in sentences: 

  • Miley had one mission: to sing as if she was someone famous. 
  • Ingredients needed for a pizza include: one crust, a cup of sauce, and all of the cheese you can eat.

Quotation marks ( “ ” )

Quotation marks are also known as speech marks or inverted command. For our intents and purposes, quotation marks — “ ” —  can be used to show someone is talking. They can also be used to quote a quote, of course, often acting as a form of informal emphasis. 

Examples of this include: 

  • “Do your best, that’s all you can do!” — The team at Discovery Education 
  • “No,” Stacy said, shaking her head. “I never wanted a burger. I wanted pizza.”

Brackets (round type)

Brackets are a special form of quotation marks that “set apart” words in a sentence, or sentences themselves. You won’t see these often! Not sure what to look for? Brackets look like you’re putting a literal box around part of a sentence, calling attention or setting it aside for something else.

  • I read that book (Winnie the Pooh) in preschool! 
  • I can’t believe that she (Sarah Marshall) is back in school…

Possessive Apostrophes ( ‘ )

Apostrophes are often used to show that someone owns something or that there’s a letter missing in a word. We’ll show you some samples below: 

  • That blue book over there is Tracy’s notebook. 
  • He’s my friend, Mark. (He’s is short for “he is.” So, instead of “He is my friend, Mark,” we write “He’s my friend, Mark.) 

Ellipses ( … )

These three dots often mean something’s been left out, or the person speaking in the sentence has “trailed off” in a long pause. Here are some examples: 

  • Lisa began to count. “1, 2, 3…7, 8, 9, 10!” She ran off in search of the hiders. 
  • “I just don’t know what to do…” Conor sighed.

Question mark ( ? )

Question marks are easy — and you’ve probably run into them once or twice! They indicate that what’s being said is a question, or is something that someone isn’t sure about. Here’s what we mean: 

  • Hey, what color is the sky today? Blue or gray?
  • Do you have Mrs. White for science class? 

Exclamation mark ( ! )

Exclamation points exclaim things, giving a little “bang” or “pop” to your sentences. They often indicate something exciting or someone yelling.

  • Kary, be careful of that bump!
  • Ouch!! I bumped my toe!
  • WHEEEE! The rollercoaster is so fast!

Em dash ( — )

Em dashes can indicate a sentence break, or they can replace excessive commas in sentences with multiple clauses. They can make a sentence far easier to read and understand. Here are two examples:

  • We made cookies — white chocolate chip, M&M, and nut butter — for the bake sale.
  • I saw Caroline laugh — no, cry — at that picture over there.

En dash ( – )

En dashes are used to show a range of something. They can also connect two words like we’d see in the case of a complex compound adjective. For example:

  • “Read pages 102–110 tonight,” Ms. Marvel said.
  • The American Idol-winning singer released her first pop album on Thursday.

Hyphen ( - )

Hyphens link words in a sentence, or they can show that something is missing in the phrase. 

  • We made a short- and long-term plan. 
  • I needed a little pick-me-up after the tough day I had.

Parentheses ( )

Parentheses, also known as brackets in the UK, can do a bunch of cool things. They can indicate an afterthought or a thought that interrupted your first, original thought. Here are a few examples to show you what we mean: 

  • I am going to visit my step-sister (from my dad’s side) today. 
  • (I wasn’t really going to go.)

Common mistakes with punctuation marks

Misuse of the comma

Commas are the topic of quite a bit of discussion in the field. There are three main areas of misuse to keep an eye out for: 

The Oxford comma debate. You’ll see this debate come up a lot when you’re writing lists. While it’s now become a matter of style, the Oxford comma used to be preferred to avoid contextual confusion in sentences. 

  • For example: “I talk with my sisters, my friend and my cat can indicate that your friend and your cat are related to you (when they aren’t!) The Oxford comma helps clarify the above example: “I talk with my sisters, my friend, and my cat.” 


Too many commas. While it’s easy to overuse commas as “breaks” in your sentence, too many can be confusing (and they can lead to run-on sentences!) 

  • For example: “The birds, wouldn’t stop chirping, and they disrupted my morning slumber, this made me feel upset, how about you?” 


You can avoid this by removing unnecessary commas. This would be revised to look like: “The birds wouldn’t stop chirping, and they disrupted my morning slumber. This made me feel upset, how about you?” 

Comma splices. These happen when sentences are connected by a comma, which can create a run-on sentence. 

  • For example: “The rain slammed the window, I made some cookies to warm up the house.” 


The example can be corrected by using a full stop to end the sentence. “The rain slammed the window. I made some cookies to warm up the house.” 

Incorrect usage of colons and semicolons

While semicolons and colons look alike, they’re not the same. Problems can arise when you use both interchangeably. Colons usually come before a list or an example. Semicolons can join sentences together without using a conjunction. 

Improper colon use. The topic of the book is: Mathematics. 

Proper colon use. I have several classes I’m taking this year: artistry, sculpting, and marketing. 

Improper semicolon use. Biking to work; I’ve heard the news.

Proper semicolon use. I was biking to work when I heard the news; have you heard it? 

Apostrophe errors

Many writers confuse the use of its and it’s. 

  • Its is a possessive pronoun that has no defined gender. 
  • It’s is a contraction (short form) of “it has” or “it is.” 


⏰Our rule of thumb: If you can substitute it’s for “it is” or “it has” in the sentence you’re writing, you can continue using it. If you can’t, consider switching to “its.”

The power of punctuation in creating meaning

Punctuation can add meaning to your sentences. While this is great, using the wrong punctuation can completely change the flow and intention of your sentence, which is why it’s so important to get it right the first time. 

  • For example: I like cooking leaves and rocks vs. I like cooking, leaves, and rocks. (Chances are, you don’t really love eating all that nature has to offer!)

Explore punctuation with DoodleEnglish

DoodleEnglish is an app that’s filled with thousands of fun, interactive exercises covering grammar, punctuation, spelling and more!

Designed by teachers, it creates each child a unique work programme tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills in English. Try it for free today!

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FAQs about punctuation

You can use commas as a way to separate list items or to add natural breaks in your sentence flow overall. When speaking, the pauses you take when listing items or working through a spoken sentence are where commas would go if you were writing what you’re saying. 

In this vein, you can read a written sentence aloud in the same way — putting natural pauses wherever a comma should go.

The primary 16 punctuation marks used by students include:

  1. Commas 
  2. Semicolons
  3. Hyphen
  4. Exclamation mark 
  5. Ellipsis
  6. Dash 
  7. Full stop 
  8. Question mark 
  9. Parenthesis 
  10. Quotation mark 
  11. Apostrophe 
  12. Colon 
  13. Brackets
  14. Ampersand 
  15. Asterisk
  16. Slash

A colon can be used if you’re working to introduce information set up by a previously stated clause. You can also use it before a list, or before a separate explanation. Semicolons work like “helping hands,” connecting two clauses in a sentence. The best part? You won’t need a conjunction when you’re using semicolons this way.

Parentheses and brackets may look similar, but they have different use cases. For example, parentheses often are used to add extra information within a given passage. Brackets can be used to add clarifying information within a quote.

Screenshot 2023-10-13 at 16.29.14

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