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Punctuation

Here is a basic overview of eleven punctuation marks and their uses.


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Use a period

-at the end of a sentence or command.
•The building was sold.
•Please rise.

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Use a comma

-to set off dates and addresses.
•On May 20, 1994, her address was 21 Evans Way, Dallas, Texas.

-after the salutation in an informal letter and the closing in any letter.
•Dear Ann,
•Sincerely,
•Very truly yours,

-to set off interruptive words or phrases.
•While looking for her keys, she found her pen.
•The woman, although quite elderly, made an effective witness.

-to set off appositives.
•Ann Lyle, the noted doctor, wrote the article.

-before a conjunction that introduces an independent clause.
•He wanted to drive, but his car was out of gas.

-to set off items in a series.
•The boys were Tim, Mike, Al, and Steve.

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Use an apostrophe

-to indicate possession or ownership.
•the judge's chamber
•the boys' pens

For words such as men, women, and children that do not form their plurals by adding an "s," form the possessive just as you would for singular words.
•women's caucus
•men's shoes
•children's toys

-to show plurals of numbers and letters used as words.
•There are two Exhibit B's.

-to indicate omission of letters in contractions.
•can't
•it's
•don't

The only meaning of "it's" is "it is." To show possession, do not use an apostrophe; use "its."
•It's a wise court that explains the reasoning of its decisions.

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Use a semicolon

-to connect two independent but related clauses.
•That was his final offer; it was nonnegotiable.

-to connect two independent clauses joined by a conjunctive adverb.
•His appearance was imposing; however, that appearance belied his character.

-to separate items in a list.
•You must find the following: The defendant failed to exercise due care; that lack of due care caused the accident; and the plaintiff was damaged thereby.

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Use quotation marks

-to indicate a speaker's words.
•Mr. Lee said, "Call the meeting to order."

-to explain or emphasize a word.
•The author misspelled the word "occasion."

Use quotation marks only for quotes of 49 or fewer words. For quotes of 50 or more words, block indent the quote and single space; do not use quotation marks. Place commas and periods inside quotation marks.

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Use a colon

-after the salutation of a formal letter.
•Dear Mr. Campbell:

-to introduce a list.
•He lived in three cities: Boston, Dallas, and Miami.

-to indicate something that will follow.
•Her testimony had one objective: to discredit the plaintiff.

-to introduce a quotation (although a comma may be used).
•The judge stated: "This was a premeditated act."

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Use parentheses

-to set off interruptions or explanations, to introduce abbreviations, or to direct readers to other information.
•John (not his father) answered. Techno Strategies Company ("TSC") alleged fraud (Para. 9).

Note: In some instances commas may be used instead.

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Use a hyphen

-to divide words between syllables from one line to the next.

-in compound adjectives.
•a would-be actress

-after some prefixes.
•anti-establishment
•pre-Renaissance
•re-evaluate

-to form compounds.
•an ex-president

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Dashes, Slashes, and Exclamation Marks

Dashes are used to set off explanations and interruptions or to indicate an abrupt break.

Slashes are used between two words.
•and/or

Exclamation marks are used for emphasis.

These marks are all informal punctuation marks and are rarely used in formal, business, or legal writing.

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