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Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLaSS): Grammar Toolkit/Punctuation

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Punctuation

The main function of punctuation is to provide a link between words, parts of sentences and sentences. Some punctuation signs, such as the apostrophe (‘), also play a more specific grammatical role (e.g., showing possession). It is important to place punctuation marks carefully, as this can affect the meaning of your text.


Consider, for example, the differences in meaning between:

The students, who wanted to watch the football match, were given permission to leave the lecture early. (=all of the students left the lecture early)
The students who wanted to watch the football match were given permission to leave the lecture early. (=only those students who wanted to watch the football left the lecture early, the others remained behind)

Common punctuation signs

⇒The full stop (.)

A full stop is often used to separate sentences. The first word of these sentences should start with a capital letter:

E.g.  The lecturer delivered a presentation on Punctuation signs. The presentation was attended by all of the students in the cohort.

⇒The semicolon (;)

A semicolon is often used to separate sections of a sentence that make sense on their own (often described as ‘independent clauses’). No capitalization is needed:

E.g.  The lecturer delivered a presentation on Punctuation signs; the presentation was attended by all of the students in the cohort.

 

For more details, watch this short video on semicolons.

⇒The comma (,)

A comma usually links words or different parts of a sentence:

E.g. Today’s presentation described the functions of full stops, commas, semicolons and colons.

 

⇒The colon (:)

A colon (:) is most commonly used before a list of items or before an explanation.

 E.g. Today’s presentation discussed: full stops, commas and colons.

 

For more details, watch this video on the differences between colons, commas and semicolons.

The apostrophe (‘)

The main function of the apostrophe is to show possession.

  • The apostrophe is placed before possessive ‘s’ to show one possessor:

E.g. (1) The lecturer’s glasses were still on the table. (one lecturer)

                   means the same as

(2) The glasses of the lecturer were still on the table.

  • The apostrophe is placed after plurals’ to show  more than one possessor:

(3) The lecturers’ glasses were on the table. (more than one lecturer)

                 means the same as

(4) The glasses of the lecturers were on the table.

 

►The apostrophe is also used to show a letter has been omitted:

E.g. (1) It’s time to start writing up your essay.

              can be re-written as

(2) It is time to start writing up your essay.

N.B. In academic writing, you should avoid the abbreviated form (1), which is considered less formal.

Common errors using the apostrophe

♦Sometimes the apostrophe is informally used to form the plural of nouns E.g. TV’s, potato’s and computer’s.

♦Please note that ALL plural forms using the apostrophe are incorrect.

♦The grammatically correct forms for the examples above are TVs, potatoes and computers.

 

Still not sure? Watch this short video on using the apostrophe.

Punctuation checklist

 

Library Resources

Further resources

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

→Check this overview of punctuation marks with practical activities from the University of Bristol

→Find out how good your use of punctuation is with this quiz from the Telegraph!

Downloads

To download a PDF copy of the Punctuation checklist, please click the link below.