It would’ve been long ago since you might have heard or read about “punctuation marks”. Yes, it was back in our school days that an English teacher would try their best to make us understand the difference between a colon and semicolon, comma and inverted comma, and so on..

Now, let’s brush up on our punctuation marks skills so that the next time we’re preparing CV or writing any important content, we do it right!

Punctuation marks in English: How to make good use of the basics

Hyphenating where required

What’s the difference between “small-business incentive” and “small business incentive, “limited-liability clause” and “limited liability clause”?

The above examples differ from each other only because of the use of hyphenation. When two or more words need to be joined and shown as a noun, they must be hyphenated – except for some limitations.

For eg. Instead of “Do Not Disturb”, the hotel’s door sign must display “Do-not-disturb” sign signalling the staff not to intrude guests’ privacy. Similarly, a company is “a-decade-old” and not “a decade old”.

The exceptions include:

  • Simple phrases that are formed by an adverb and an adjective in past-participle form.
  • Phrases that are formed using proper nouns.
  • Phrasal adjectives generally used after a noun they’re used to describe.

Using a comma

Comma is one of the most vital punctuation marks when writing important content like job application, resume, or cover letter. Generally people mistake comma to be as a separator. Although it’s partially true, comma also suggests order of importance.

For eg. a simple series <cycle, bus, train, and tractor> suggests using comma before the conjunction “and” and even to separate the items.

Authorities to the likes of The Chicago Manual of Style wrote professional, technical, and scholarly articles advocating the use of comma. It’s been explained in the simplest form as – “it is sometimes wrong or worse to omit a comma, but never wrong to include it.”

punctuation marks

Never use an apostrophe for plurals

Plurals are better off without using apostrophe marks. A generic way to pluralize words is to format them in italics so that it appends with an “s”.

Wrong use of apostrophe gets common when you’re pluralizing proper nouns, especially names.

For eg. <“Mr. & Mrs. Steven” – The bag belongs to the Stevens> Here, we cannot have apostrophe mark for Steven, not only would it be grammatically wrong but also strange to sound.

Using bullets to garner more attention

It is no longer a secret that the reader puts in more efforts and attention to read through “bulleted” content. That’s because not only bullets give clearer readability but also makes the reader understand the content. Follow these golden rules to format your content along bullets:

  • Write explanatory sentences, starting with an introduction and ending on a colon
  • Try to keep the length of each points somewhat similar length for a neat look
  • Arrange the items as an hanging indent for the bullets to distinct towards the left
  • Go for single-spacing between the items so that the content does not look overcrowded
  • Do not go overboard in using bullets everywhere along your content as it can get distracting

Using colons and commas after a salutation

Punctuation marks including colons and commas are generally used in formal correspondence <Eg. Dear Mr. Smith,>. However, use of commas and colons also depend on the relationship you share with the person on the other side.

But while addressing your recipient in a letter or email, you should never use a semicolon. Like for instance, <Dear Mr. Smith;> Not only it is grammatically incorrect but also pointless to use a semicolon after a salutation.

Avoiding comma in date format

Many people have a habit of frequently using commas to separate date from the month and year. However, experts say that commas should not appear in between month and year <April 2015>. While the standard American format suggests including a comma after the day <15, August 2015>

The comma must be skipped while writing date in the day-month-year format <15 August 2015>

Don’t overuse quotation marks

Last but not the least, unnecessary use of quotation marks must be avoided as much possible. Overuse of quotation marks can give out mixed signals apart from their core function of setting off a quotation.

Sometimes quotation marks suggests a nasty attitude, while other times they imply importance to the specific word. So given the various possible meanings, quotation punctuation marks are not a recommendable choice for highlighting words or phrases.

Instead, according to experts, it is the role of Italic type formatting to portray an unambiguous signal. Following should also be avoided:

  • Overusing the “bold” formatting within the content, which normally is used for headings and titles
  • Capitalizing every word – not only making it harder and longer to read but also irritating to glance through
  • Underlining and “bold” formatting Italicized words or phrases

So now you know how and why punctuation marks can make quite a difference whenever and however they are mentioned..