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Punctuation

In written language, the use of standard marks to clarify


meaning. Punctuation marks are also used to help convey
the emphases and breathing pauses natural to speech, to
indicate sentence structure, and to enhance readability.
Punctuation varies from language to language and
preferences for specific marks vary from writer to writer,
but, within any given text, consistency is stylistically
favored. The contemporary trend is toward a minimum of
punctuation, with clarity as the main criterion for use. The
most common punctuation marks of modern English usage
are the following.

II PERIOD (.)

Most sentences end with a period, which signals a strong


pause. The mark is also used in decimals and after
abbreviations that do not contain apostrophes.

III COMMA (,)

The comma, a versatile and often misused punctuation


mark, indicates a light pause and is chiefly utilized to
separate a structural unit of a sentence. Commas appear
most frequently to set off principal clauses, parenthetical
material closely related to the main thought, direct
quotations, forms of direct address, coordinate adjectives,
and words or numbers that would otherwise be confusing.
Current usage favors the insertion of a comma only where a
pause is intended.

IV SEMICOLON (;)

This mark represents a pause weaker than a period but


stronger than a comma. It is used chiefly between principal
clauses and between components of a series, when the
components are lengthy or already contain commas.

V COLON (:)

The colon most often stands between an introductory


statement and an immediate amplification. It also follows
the salutation of a formal letter and divides hours from
minutes in statements of time.

VI QUESTION MARK (?)

With the exception of requests worded as queries, direct


questions end with question marks; requests sometimes
close with periods instead. In the body of a sentence a
question mark between parentheses suggests doubt.

VII EXCLAMATION POINT (!)

This mark ends a sentence expressing strong feeling,


surprise, or incredulity.

VIII APOSTROPHE (')


An apostrophe followed by the letter s at the end of a noun
signifies possessive case. The mark followed by an s also
pluralizes letters of the alphabet, figures, and words
discussed as words. Within contracted words, apostrophes
replace the eliminated letters.

IX HYPHEN (-)

Hyphens join many compound nouns, all compound


adjectives, and, when they are spelled out, the elements of
two-digit numbers and fractions. In word division
(hyphenation) a partial word at the end of a line is followed
by a hyphen and completed on the next line.

X DASH (—)

This mark usually stresses the materials that follow it.


Dashes also emphasize parenthetical thoughts and convey
sudden interruptions in thought.

XI QUOTATION MARKS (““)

Direct quotations are preceded and followed by these


marks. Slang and special-sense words and titles of short
written works, such as poems, short stories, and songs, are
also often set off by quotation marks.

XII PARENTHESES ( ( ) )

These marks enclose matter of secondary importance.


XIII BRACKETS ( [ ] )

Primarily used to enclose interpolated materials, brackets


also set off parenthetical matter within passages already
enclosed by parentheses.

XIV ELLIPSIS (...)

This mark stands for one or more omitted words; when the
omission occurs at the end of a sentence, the ellipsis
appears together with a period.

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