Online English writing tips: Symbols and Punctuation Marks in English

Online English writing tips: Symbols and Punctuation Marks in English

What is the one thing we notice in our students when they enroll to online spoken English classes? -While they are learning a new language, they strive to get better in every aspect – be it speaking, reading or writing

As the leading online English speaking course in India, it is our constant endeavour to help you succeed in your English learning journey. In our prior articles we learnt about the significance of English vocabulary development as well practical tips to improve English Grammar as well as spoken English. Now lets move to the next step in our article series to learn English online.

Writing has always been one of the most important aspects in a human’s life, as much in the preceding centuries, as it is today. Whether it was the cave men drawing and writing on the walls, or us communicating with letters and telegrams, to now typing away on our phones and laptops. Whether the reasons are personal or professional, we all need to learn the skill of writing.

As an online English tutor I believe that if we want to communicate well, we need to understand that language is a two-way street. We need to be able to create material with our own ingenuity and output that new knowledge into the world. That’s because, when we write something, we leave a lasting record of our language, unlike when speaking.

This is where correct knowledge of symbols and punctuation marks becomes important.

What are symbols and punctuation marks?

In speaking, we use pauses and the pitch of the voice to make what we say clear. Punctuation plays a similar role in writing, making it easier to read. The most common punctuation marks in English are: capital letters and full stops, question marks, commas, colons and semi-colons, exclamation marks and quotation marks.

Symbols and punctuation marks are essential for anyone who is learning a language. Punctuation is a group of symbols used to communicate to a reader how to interpret a written text, making writing more clear. Another term is typographical symbol that is not actually a punctuation mark but may still be used in writing for various purposes. Typographical symbols are generally avoided in formal writing but it might be used in informal writing.

Commonly used Punctuation marks in English writing

The use of punctuation can change the meaning of your sentence. Let’s look at this sentence: “Let’s eat, Mum”. When written in that way, Mum is invited to eat with us. Without the comma, “Let’s eat Mum”, it means we are offering to eat to Mum. Do you see the importance of punctuation marks?

Let’s look at some common punctuation marks you will use when writing in English.

  • Full Stop (.)- The period or full stop is placed at the end of a sentence to show that it is complete. For Example- I went to market yesterday. Periods are also often used in abbreviations. Mr. (Mister), Dr. (Doctor) etc.
  • Comma (,)- Comma is used to separate elements in a sentence. It is used to break down sentences, combining two clauses or showing us when to pause. Let’s have a look at this sentence, “I went to the market to buy curd, milk, bread, cheese and eggs. What do you observe? We have used the comma to separate all the items a person got at the market.
  • Secondly, comma is also used to separate two complete sentences that are separated by any of these conjunctions: and, but, yet, for, or, nor, and so. For Example: “They purchased the laptop, but they still need to purchase a new mouse.”
    Thirdly, commas are also used to set off nonessential elements in a sentence. For Example: Parth, who is wearing the white T-shirt, is our new coach. Fourthly, they are used to separate the coordinate adjectives. For Example: The cute, sweet boy talked to me.
  • Colon (:) - The colon is used after a word to to introduce additional information. For Example: - “Misha has three hobbies: cooking, playing, and drawing.” Colons can also be used to emphasize something. For example: “There is one thing Betty loves more than anything: her mother.” A common place where colon is used is when we express time. We often put this punctuation mark between the hour and the minute like 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 p.m.
  • Semicolon (;) - We use a semicolon to join two main independent clauses that somehow are still connected. Semicolons show a closer relationship between the clauses than a full stop. For Example- My sister got a blue dress; I got a white one.
  • Question Mark (?)- Question marks are used to indicate questions, mainly to end a question or interrogative sentences. For Example- (i) Why are you upset? (ii) Where are you going?
  • Exclamation Mark (!)- The exclamation mark is used to express happiness, excitement, surprise, or to add emphasis. They end a sentence, adding an emotion. For Example: Wow! that’s a lovely painting.
  • Apostrophe (‘)- The apostrophe is a very common punctuation mark in the English language. An apostrophe is used in three situations: -
  • To form the possessive case (name + ‘s). For Example- Meera’s bag was lost.
  • Contract a word or phrase. For Example- can’t- cannot, don’t- do not
  • Form the plurals of lowercase letters. For Example- Be sure to cross your t’s
  • Hyphen (-) and Dashes- All these punctuation marks are often referred to as “dashes.” However, they all serve different purposes.
  • Hyphen (-)- The hyphen is a short line and it is used to form compound words. For Example- I went to lunch with my father-in-law.
  • En dash (–)- It is used to indicate a range or express ranges or is sometimes used in more complex compound words. For Example- (i) The homework questions are on pages 120-123.
  • (ii) The songwriter has written a several Tony Award–winning productions.
  • Em dash (—)- The em dash (longer dash) is often used is used to indicate a pause, interrupted speech or to emphasize something. For example: “The thief was someone whom I knew—Katy!”
  • Quotation marks (“ ”) – Quotation marks are a pair of punctuation marks used primarily to mark the beginning and end of a passage. Quote is used when saying something that another person has written. For Example- “The bus is moving,” he said.
  • Parentheses ( )- A parenthesis is a word, phrase, or sentence that is used to add additional information. Mary (who had an aversion to water) was going to swim.
  • Brackets [ ] and braces { }- We use brackets to insert information that can clarify something in the sentence or to separate non-essential or additional information from a sentence. For Example, “She [Nairobil] will send the bags tomorrow.”
  • Braces are punctuation marks that are not used that much in writing, but can be seen in computer programming or to indicate mathematical expressions.
  • Ellipsis- It is a punctuation mark that is represented by three dots. Ellipses are used to indicate:
  • Omission of Words: ‘Today...we are going to announce our new members.’
  • Within a quotation: When Newton said, “an object in motion remains in motion” … he developed the law of motion.

Punctuation is essential while writing as it expresses one's thoughts. Everyone should understand that punctuations should help convey the message you want your writing to show. Usage of flashcards can be used where different words and punctuation marks can be written and the students can be asked to change the meaning of the sentence using different punctuation marks. Thereafter, the sentences should be read out loud in order to get the usage of the punctuation marks correct.

The more you write, the more you will be able to use these symbols and punctuation marks well.

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