Punctuation For Beginners: What Is Punctuation?


Last year we featured a popular series for beginner writers: Grammar For Beginners. This year, we’re starting a series called ‘Punctuation For Beginners’. We have written various posts about this in the past, but we wanted to put the information in one place for you.

I am starting with:

What Is Punctuation?

“Punctuation marks are the traffic signals of language: they tell us to slow down, notice this, take a detour, and stop.” ~Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Punctuation is the name for the marks we use in writing. Punctuation marks are tools that have set functions. We use them to structure and organise our words, and to give sentences meaning and rhythm.

Punctuation marks help readers to understand what the writer is trying to say.

Without proper punctuation, serious sentences become jokes, misunderstandings flourish, and confusion reigns. For example, ‘Let’s eat, children!’ is very different to ‘Let’s eat children.’

These are the most common punctuation marks:

  1. The Full Stop
  2. The Comma
  3. The Question Mark
  4. The Exclamation Mark
  5. The Semicolon
  6. The Colon
  7. The Hyphen
  8. The Em Dash
  9. The Bracket or Parenthesis
  10. The Inverted Comma/Quotation Mark
  11. The Ellipsis
  12. The Bullet Point

I will be writing about them in the coming weeks, so look out for them every Tuesday. (Sign up for our newsletter to get our Daily Writing Links, and you won’t miss out.)

Why Do We Need Punctuation?

Our motto at Writers Write is ‘Write to communicate.’ Knowing how and when to use basic punctuation marks allows you to write clearly. If you use them well enough, it will be impossible to misunderstand what you are trying to say. Your sentences will be more user-friendly.

“When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly — with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow. In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.” ~Russell Baker

Is Punctuation The Same Everywhere?

The use of punctuation marks has changed over time. There are fewer punctuation marks in modern writing than there were in the past.

It also depends on where you use it. This sometimes changes according to the country in which you live, the organisation for which you write, or the company for which you work.

Many universities, newspapers, and companies create a style guide. This guide is a set of rules that promotes consistency within the organisation. Punctuation marks are included in this guide.

We use British English at Writers Write. The important thing is to be consistent.

Suggested reading: What Is A Style Guide And Why Do I Need One? and 10 Things You Should Not Exclude From Your Style Guide

British vs American English

There are a few differences between punctuation in British and American English. The following chart details some of those differences:

Source for chart: Your Dictionary

Next week, I will write about The Full Stop.

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 by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. Grammar For Beginners: All About Nouns
  2. 10 Extra Ways To Proofread Your Writing Like A Boss
  3. The Ultimate Grammar Cheat Sheet for Writers (Infographic)