Handy Tips on English Punctuation


When you write your essays and papers, you should pay attention not only to what thoughts you express, but also to how you do it. Punctuation is a powerful tool in the hands of a skillful writer; there are cases when the meaning of a whole phrase depends on one comma. Basically, when creating a text in English, you have to juggle several punctuation marks:

  • a full stop,

  • a comma,

  • a dash,

  • a colon,

  • a semicolon,

  • a question mark,

  • and an exclamation mark.

While full stops, question and exclamation marks usually do not present any difficulties, some students find it hard to master the use of English commas, dashes, colons and semicolons. That is why in this article our college essay writing service will specifically dwell on these four punctuation marks.

A comma

A comma is the most commonly used punctuation character; not only in the English language, but, according to the statistics, in all the world languages. You can shift the meaning of your phrase completely only by means of a comma. Learning the rules of its usage will help you avoid misunderstandings with other people who you communicate with by correspondence. It will also improve the quality of your academic writing because there you should pay much attention to English grammar. So, let’s move to the main rules of placing a comma in a sentence.

First of all, you should use it every time you enumerate words or word combinations:

  • In the morning I take a shower, brush my teeth, clean the bathroom and then go to the kitchen to have breakfast.

  • I didn’t like the way he looked at me, his agitated manner of gesticulation and the fact that we were alone in that park.

Then, commas help us to separate some parts of a sentence from the whole. You may need this when you speckle your written speech with parentheses: adverbs, appositives and so on. Look at the examples and follow them when writing your own texts:

  • Peter, an astronomer, strongly believed that there was a connection between the position of the Moon and the weather on our planet.

  • I wanted to go to the party that night. However, I was under house arrest and couldn’t get out.

A comma is required when you have an adverbial or adjective clause placed at the beginning of your sentence. If such a clause appears only after the main clause, no comma is needed. From now on, you should start paying attention to the order in which you present your subordinate clauses.

  • After the morning mist had vanished away and the first rays of sun started making their way through heavy clouds, Jim went out to the veranda and looked around him.

  • Jim went out to the veranda and looked around him after the morning mist had vanished away and the first rays of sun started making their way through heavy clouds.

It is also important to use a comma to separate two independent clauses with one of the following conjunctions between them: and, but, nor, or, so, for, yet. If none of them is present, and the connection between the two parts of the sentence is asyndetic, you will need a semicolon, but we will touch upon it a bit later.

  • The alarm clock rang twice, but I wasn’t ready to face a new day.

  • Mary didn’t find any coffee in the kitchen, so she had to put on warm clothes and go out to the convenience store.

A dash

The trick with English dash is that it is extensively confused with a hyphen. You should remember that the latter is a considerably shorter sign that helps to separate parts of compound words (as in an off-the-wall movie). In turn, a dash has to do with syntax and divides parts of sentences, not words. It means you should use a dash in the next cases.

First, if you want to include specification in your sentence. Short parentheses can be surrounded by commas, but longer ones require either dashes or brackets at the beginning and at the end of them:

  • Kate – although she was very nervous at first – managed to pass her exam with flying colors.

  • When the woman corrected all the mistakes – and there were 52 of them – she sighed and continued with another article.

Secondly, you will need a dash to emphasize a conclusion at the end of your sentence. Standard rules require the use of a colon in this case, but you can place a dash instead in more informal writing (which, by the way, falls into the category of language to avoid in college essays):

  • He decided that he would not return to this place – ever.

  • Several cakes and a bottle of Coke to top it all – this is what Ann should not have eaten that evening.

A colon

Colons in English grammar have one primary goal, which is introducing enumeration. Thus, if you are about to enlist several articles, put a colon before doing so:

  • You don’t need many ingredients for this recipe: some sugar, butter, cocoa powder, flour and eggs will be enough.

  • I have to check whether I took everything I need: the passport, tickets and some cash.

We used the bold style to attract your attention to the generalizing words. They describe the essence of what you enumerate, but if there were no such words in your sentence, you would not need a colon in them. Compare:

  • You need only some sugar, butter, cocoa powder, flour and eggs for this recipe.

  • I have to check whether I took the passport, tickets and some cash.

Another prerequisite for using colons is a sentence with two independent clauses in which the second clause is meant to illustrate or explain the first one. To find out if this is the case when writing an essay, try inserting because or that is between the clauses. If one of them fits, then you need to place a colon:

  • I didn’t have much time for preparation: my train leaved out at 6 pm.

  • I couldn’t stand being with this girl in the same room: my hatred towards her was almost unbearable.

A semicolon

Semicolons in English should be used between two independent clauses without any conjunctions between them. Compare these two sentences:

  • Sam didn’t like the idea, and the expression on his face clearly showed it.

  • Sam didn’t like the idea; the expression on his face clearly showed it.

If even after reading this educational post you find it difficult to use English punctuation in practice (and you are sure that rereading the post will not help you), there is another way how our company can assist you. Try our professional editing services for improving your texts. When our editors have worked on your essay, you can be sure that all punctuation has been placed according to the rules of English grammar. Moreover, we guarantee the correction of any other mistakes in your document. Do not let grammar worries overwhelm you because the solution is closer that you may think.