Punctuation mark is very important in written English, it makes the intended meaning clear to the reader. Wrong placement of punctuation marks can affect the whole meaning of a sentence.
Below are some good examples on how to use them:

 

COLON (:)

The colon is a symbol that marks the discontinuity of a grammatical construction. The colon is a little softer than a period, but a little harder than a semicolon. It introduces a series of elements that illustrates or amplifies the information that preceded it. When a colon appears in a sentence, it gives the silent impression of “as follows,” “which is/are,” or “thus” The colon is employed in a number of ways.

  1. To introduce the logical sequence, or effect, of a fact stated before, as in the following examples:
    • Two things are temporal: life and wealth.
    • All the evidence point towards one thing: there was an affair between the secretary and the boss.
  2. To introduce a description
    • These are the materials for the project: cardboard, glue, and stickers.
    • There are three types of primary colours: red, green and blue.
      In the above examples, the word following the colon is not capitalized unless it a proper noun.
  3. Introduce a speech in a dialogue, especially in a script.
    • Ama: Where is the pencil
      Kofi: I placed it on the table yesterday
      Ama: It isn’t there anymore.
      Kofi: Then check below the table.
  4. Introduction of a definition
    • Democracy: a system of government based on the belief in freedom and equality among people.
    • Protagonist: the main character in a story or play.
  5. Introduce a list of items that complete a sentence; using a phrase such as ‘the following’, or ‘as follows’ before the list.
    • Students must choose three subjects from the following: Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics and Accounting.
  6. Separation of a title and corresponding subtitle.
    • The Lion and the Hyena: A tale of Two Predators
    • The Road to Honolulu: Part three
    • Star Trek: The Return of the Martians.
  7. Introduce a speech or quotation.
    • He ended with words of Nelson Mandela: “I dream of an Africa that is at peace with itself.”.
    • This is what the minister had to say: “The nation will stumble until the tariffs are reduced.”

SEMICOLON (;)

The use of the semicolon extends to two main instances: listing of items and linking of related clauses.
Let’s look at the following example.

  1. Examples involving a long list of items with internal punctuation.
    • The new ministerial appointments are as follows: Jerry Liman, Minister of Roads; Florence Darko, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Mumuni Issah, Minister of Agriculture; and Salma Bugri, Minister of Trade and Industry.
    • Three Regional capitals have been connected to the national grid: Ho, Volta Region; Koforidua, Eastern Region; and Sunyani, Brong Ahafo region.
  2. Between closely related independent clauses not linked with a coordinating conjunction.
    • He caused the blunder; he must fix it
    • Students came from all manner of schools; it was a truly memorable gathering.
  3. To join the parts of a compound sentence when coordinating conjunctions such as and, or, nor, but are not used.
    • I asked him to send the books to the office; I am sure he did otherwise.
    • Kofi yelled hysterically; nobody went to his aid.
    • Show me your friend; I will show you your character.
      NB: The last two sentences could have been “Kofi yelled hysterically but nobody went to his aid”, “Show me your friend and I will show you your character”.
  4. Between independent clauses linked with a transitional phrase or conjunctive adverb
    • I do not have much interest in the project; however, I suggest we give it a try.
    • Michael has recovered from his injuries considerably; nevertheless, the scars still remind him of that dreadful experience.
    • I needed to go for a walk; also, I needed to buy a pen.
    • The culprits were apprehended; furthermore, they were slapped with hard labour.
    • It rained continuously for three nights; consequently, the low-lying areas were severely flooded.
      Note that after each conjunctive adverb, a comma was added.
      I needed to go for a walk; also, I needed to buy a pen.
      I do not have much interest in the project; however, I suggest we give it a try.
      Remember to always place a comma after a conjunctive adverb. The conjunctive adverb is not part of the two independent clauses; it only links them.

EM DASH (—)

The em dash is the width of letter “m”, hence the name. It can function as a colon or semicolon in the
following cases:

  1. Joining two independent clauses in place of a semicolon
    So, for example, using the examples from the semicolon notes, we could write “He caused the blunder—he must fix it.” instead of “He caused the blunder; he must fix it”.
  2. Replace a colon when introducing phrases, clauses or examples.
    Again, instead of writing “All the evidence point towards one thing: there was an affair
    between the secretary and the boss.”, we could similarly write “All the evidence point
    towards one thing—there was an affair between the secretary and the boss.”
  3. To set off a clause or word in order to add emphasis.
    Example: I wrote every experience I had—especially the funny ones—and kept journals I read periodically.

EN DASH (-)

Unlink the em dash, the en dash has different uses. In writing, its length is the width of the letter “n”.
This is how it is used:

  1. It is used to indicate a close range, or a range with clearly defined upper and lower boundaries, of values (between dates, times, numbers etc.)
    • The feeding program is for children between ages 10-15
    • Pages 37-67 are missing.
    • The party lasted three hours: 3:00-6:00 p.m.
    • The last war between them was in October-December 2000.
    • King Bral (1234-1545) was only 15 when he ascended the throne.
  2. It is also used to contrast value or show the correlation between two things.
    • Hearts beat Kotoko 4-3 on penalties.
    • The Accra-Amsterdam-London flight has been cancelled.

HYPHEN (-)

The hyphen is used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. The hyphen is often confused with the en dash, which is typographically slightly longer and has different uses. Let’s look at how it is used in writing:

  1. Prefixes and Suffixes
    • pre-Trump era.
    • Post-Maternal treatment.
    • Anti-African demeanour.
  2. When vowels or consonants are repeated in a word, to ensure that both the prefix and suffix are properly articulated, a hyphen is required. Consider the following:
    • anti-imperialism
    • pseudo-official.
    • Child-dependency.
    • Fart-therapy.
  3. Joining Compound modifiers.
    Compound modifiers are a group of two or more words that together add more meaning to another word

    • He is the I-am-the-rich type of guy on campus
    • We enjoyed some chocolate-flavoured drink
    • His position is well-deserved.

COMMA (,)

This is the commonest punctuation mark. It largely used for separating items and usually used in representing a pause.

  1. Separating items in a list.
    • My uncle has a yacht, a Ferrari, a cruise boat and three houses
    • His teammates are Joel, Fred and Sabina
  2. Separating clauses
    • After winning the trophy, he signed up to join his previous team.
    • Once she gained admission into college, she gave out her textbooks to her siblings.
      Notice that there would be no need for a comma if the sentences are reversed.
      He signed up to join his previous team after winning the trophy she gave out her textbooks to her siblings once she gained admission into college.
      Separating clauses with commas is only possible when the dependent clause precedes the independent clause.
  3. Before Quotes
    • The teacher said, “Those who don’t iron their uniforms will be severely punished.”
    • Adowa asked, “Where are the test tubes.”
  4. In names, when the last names are written first, commas are used to separate last names from first names. This is the format: Last name, first name. This is illustrated in the example below.
    • Amugi, Fred.
      Here Amugi is the last name, and Fred is the first name.
  5. In Geographical names, where we want to indicate the region state, country and the like, we use commas to separate geographical names.
    • He comes from Johannesburg, South Africa.
    • We journeyed all the way to Lagos, Nigeria.
  6. Used to set off appositives in a sentence
    Appositives basically give more information about the subject.

    • The speaker, an accomplished Nobel Prize winner, delivered a thought-provoking speech.
    • Amina, the girl who won the International Quiz Bowl Competition, was present at the ceremony.
      In the examples above, the sentences between the commas are the appositives, giving more information on the subject.
  7. In dates.
    When dates are written in the format month day year or day month year, a comma separates the month or day from the year. Check the example below.

    • Ghana gained independence on 6th March 1957.
    • I was born on Saturday, June 13, 1998.
    • The tax law was passed on April 7, 1984.

APOSTROPHE (’)

This punctuation mark has two main uses:

  1. It is used to denote the omission of one or multiple letters in a word, as in can’t (cannot), don’t (do not) etc.
  2. It is used to denote possessiveness of nouns and pronouns in sentences.
    Let’s explore more about using the apostrophe in possessive nouns and pronouns.

    1. Singular Nouns
      • Kofi’s pencil
      • The school’s administrator
        NB: If a singular noun already ends in ‘s’, it is preferred not to include an additional ‘s’ at the end of the noun, though that is also acceptable. Example:

        • Rawlings’ army, James’ confession, The boss’ commission.
        • Rawlings’s army, James’s confession, The boss’s commission.
          Both situations are acceptable.
    2. Plural Nouns
      If the noun is a plural with an added ‘s’, there is no need to add an extra ‘s’ in the possessive.

      • Doctors’ salary has been increased.
        NB: There are nouns whose plural forms do not need as ‘s’. Example, the plural of woman is women; in this case, the possessive is generated by just adding an apostrophe plus an ‘s’ as done with singular nouns.

        • Children’s health is of great importance.
        • Women’s rights have been annulled.

EXCLAMATION MARK (!)

This punctuation symbol is used to indicate intense emotion such as pain, surprise, fear etc.
Examples:

  • DANGER! Potholes
  • Everybody be silent!
  • “Stop!”
  • “Help! I am bleeding”
  • What a game!
  • Oh my God!
  • Alas! she came home weary.

QUESTION MARK (?)

The usage of the question mark is quite familiar, but there is an important use of this punctuation sign in writing. Aside from the usual implementation of the question in sentences to express a query, it can also be placed after an item of doubtful accuracy. Example:

  • He was elected in 1957 (?) and resigned in 2005. Here, the question mark indicates that the date may not be correct. The use of the question mark is such examples as this one should be used in a meager degree. A writing that heavily implements the use of the question mark in this manner exposes the writer’s lack of knowledge.
  • It was Michael Halen (?) who led the millennial riots. Here, also, the use of the question mark signifies a feeling of doubt about who led the millennial riots. It could be Michael Halen or someone else; so, the question mark indicates that the information may be incorrect.

ELLIPSIS (…)

These set of three dots indicate an omission in a long text or passage. The omission usually occurs in the middle or end of a passage. Note that when applying the ellipsis, the meaning behind a quotation should remain clear and not completely distorted.

  • “I’ve seen the skies squeeze a frown. I have witnessed donkeys eat golden grass. No man shall ever remain prisoner to the walls of disgust…Even blessed shall be the nights of the apocalypse”
  • They think of themselves as gods in the land of men, but we all know what they truly are…

SLASH ( / )

This is the forward slash to be accurate. The backslash (\) is rarely used in writing. Here are some uses of the forward slash:

  1. To show options in formal writing
    • Dear Sir/Madam
  2. To indicate homophones
    • Taught/thought
  3. To separate dates
    • 21/08/2018

QUOTATION MARK (“ ”,‘ ’)

Quotation marks are mostly used to enclose the exact words said by someone, not paraphrases. They are heavily used in prose and fiction for dialogues. Both the single and double quotation marks are used in this domain.

  • “Eat hurriedly,” said the waiter.
  • ‘Eat hurriedly,’ said the waiter.
    NB: When there is a quotation with a quotation in a speech, make sure the different quotations are clearly exposed. This can be done by using a double quotation mark for the outer, and single quotation mark for the inner quote. Example:

    • “Samira shouted, ‘The Lion of Judah,’ ” Kofi revealed

See also:

How to write a formal letter (WASSCE)
List of formal letters (WASSCE)
List of an informal letter (WASSCE)
A sample of WASSCE informal letter

About Faddal Ibrahim

I’m a highly motivated individual with a strong affinity for self-development and a rigid attachment to a growth mindset. Genuinely enthusiastic about empowering myself and others to magnify our potentials, I find myself always on the lookout for amazing ways to do things differently and pushing myself to be extraordinary in the domains that pique my interest.

I’m a creative deep-thinker who refuses to be overwhelmed by stumbling blocks and always prepared for the next challenge and intellectual thrill in the arena of life. I critically observe and deconstruct the intricacies of human life and nothing ever seems to satiate my curiosity.

Literature, designing, and computer programming fill the vertices of my life’s triangle.

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