Gathered by Paz H Diaz, Ph.D.

Punctuation marks can make or break a sentence, and an entire story. They tell us when to stop , pause or ask questions. They guide us in reading a text out loud, and in making our message come across better.

Thus, it is vital to have a good grasp of punctuation marks and their uses.

Here’s a list and how they are applied in sentences.


a. Use a comma after each item in a series of three or more.

    Many studies indicate favorable results in function, decreased pain and range of motion.

  Many studies indicate favorable results in function, decreased pain, and range of


b. Use a comma when you join independent clauses with one of the seven coordinating conjunctions (and, or, nor, but, so, yet , for).

  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

c. Use a semicolon when you join independent clauses without a coordinating conjunction.

  Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. d. Do not use a comma to separate subject and verb.

  His enthusiasm for the subject and his desire to be of help, led him to volunteer.

  His enthusiasm for the subject and his desire to be of help led him to volunteer. e. Use a colon to introduce a list or a long or formal quotation after a complete sentence.

Otherwise make the quotation part of the grammar of your sentence.

  Strunk (1995) asserts that: “Too many programmes are already underfinanced” (p.


  Strunk (1995) asserts: “Too many programmes are already underfinanced” (p. 87).

  Strunk’s assertion (1995) that “Too many programmes are already underfinanced”

(p. 87) is based on questionable assumptions.


    Insert a comma wherever there would be a slight pause between words or phrases in the spoken sentence.

    Insert a semicolon between two parts of a sentence; the proviso is that both parts must be able to stand alone as separate sentences.

   Use a colon to introduce an explanation or an example of something: here is an

example. If there are several simple explanations or examples, separate them with commas; otherwise, use semicolons.

    Avoid excessive use of parentheses ( ). Use them to make an aside (an extra remark) only if commas could be confusing. Never use parentheses within parentheses: find another way of saying it.

    Use brackets [ ] for material inserted into a quotation and ellipsis (three dots) for material omitted: According to Smith (1999), “few such [descriptive] studies were done… before


   Use dashes–two hyphens with no spaces anywhere–for emphatic asides.

    Use one or two spaces after a period, colon, or semicolon. Note, though, that Web browsers delete more than one space unless you make them non-breaking spaces.

   Use double quotation marks (“) for speech and verbatim quotations.

    If a quotation is long, type it as an indented block of text without quotation marks, as shown in this example:

According to Smith (1982)…

The “newbie effect” disappeared when behaviors were studied in this manner. Examples of methods included indirect observation, self-reports, and retrospective questionnaires. (p. 276)

    Use double quotation marks the first time you introduce a newly coined or slang term; do not use quotation marks thereafter.

    Don’t use “smart quotes” (66 and 99), because they create problems when translated into Web documents.

   Use single quotation marks (‘) for quotes within quotes.

   Use the apostrophe (‘) to denote possession: an athlete’s responses, two athletes’ responses. But note that its = of it, whereas it’s = it is.

    Put commas, semicolons, colons, and periods outside closing quotation marks: “this”, for example, but not “this,” or “this.” Exception: “If the quotation ends in a complete sentence, the period is part of the quote and should therefore go inside the quotation marks, like this.” [APA: all punctuation goes within the quotation marks.]

   Use of and/or instead of or is acceptable when you want to emphasize either or both.

   The forward slash (/) can be used instead of or in sentences that are already replete with ands and/or ors.

Web site, but not in a website);

o  names of tests (the Stroop Color-Word Test);

o  nouns followed by numbers (on Day 2, in Group B) but not in the control group;

o  names of institutional departments (Department of Sport Science, University of

Wherever), but not of disciplines (a department of sport science);

o  references to sections of the article (in the Methods section; see Results; in

Figure 1; in Table 2; see Appendix 3; in Chapter 4).


    Use your spelling checker to decide whether to include a hyphen with a prefix. If the word is not recognized without a hyphen, put one in. Examples: non-athlete, ultra- marathon, pre-treatment. [APA: use a hyphen only with self-.]

    Here is the paradigm example of hyphenation of adjectives or nouns: a clear-cut case. (If you wrote a clear cut case, you would imply a cut case that was clear. The emphasis in pronunciation also provides a clue.) More examples: role-playing technique, two-way analysis of variance, high-anxiety group. Hyphenation is not necessary if the first word is an adverb or comparative adjective (according to APA, anyway): widely used text, randomly assigned subjects, higher anxiety group.

    Note also: t-test results, but results of t tests; student-centered teaching, but the teaching was student centered.

   Note also: long- and short-term memory; 2-, 5-, and 10-min trials.