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Spoken English - Punctuation

PBSS Learning Centre
05/02/2017 0 0



Punctuation marks are important in both written and spoken English. In written English, the correct usage of these symbols helps to express the intended meaning of the sentence. In spoken English, punctuation marks denote the pauses and intonations to be used when reading aloud.

Incorrect punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence.

For instance, compare the following two sentences: 

Let’s eat Mom.

Let’s eat, Mom. 

Do you see how the usage of a comma changes the entire meaning in both the sentences? The disappearance of comma in the first sentence indicates that the speaker is asking to eat their Mom, which does not make sense. Whereas, the comma after let’s eat in the second sentence helps to convey the meaning that the speaker is suggesting to their Mom to go and start eating, which sounds more sensible and also saves a life.

Symbols of Punctuation

Some of the commonly used punctuation marks are: 

Full Stop- (.) Usually used at the end of a sentence.

Question Mark- (?) Usually used at the end of an interrogative sentence to form a question.

Comma- (,) Usually used to denote a pause in a sentence.

Exclamation Mark- (!) Used to denote shock, surprise, anger or a raised voice.

Colon – (:) Used to indicate what is to follow next

Semi Colon (;) Used to link two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction or used to separate two independent clauses in place of comma

Apostrophe- (') Used to show possession or for contraction of word.

Full Stop:

The full stop or the period (.) is the strongest punctuation in the English language. It indicates, when used at the end of a sentence, a strong pause. Look at the following examples.

  1. Let’s go there.
  2. I like this laptop.
  3. Read this book.
  4. I will go home.

This is the most common and obvious use of the full stop but it is also used in some other situations.

  1. After abbreviations like etc., a.m., p.m.
  2. After words like “Goodbye.” “All right.” “Hi.”
  • I will see you soon.
  • Hi Amit. How are you?
  • All right. Let’s finish this by Thursday.
  1. After titles like Mr., Mrs., Dr. etc.
  2. After decimal points like:
  • The sales fell by 6.3% this week.
  • The share market index rose by 5.1% this quarter.

An ellipsis (...) is often used to indicate a pause, an unfinished sentence or when trailing off into silence. It is also a handy tool when you’re quoting and want to omit certain words.

  1. He drank and drank...and then drank some more.
  2. “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history,...”

Question Mark: 

The question mark (?) is an important part of the English language and was developed sometime around the 18th Century. Like the full stop (.), this punctuation mark is used mainly at the end of an interrogative sentence. Many people use it incorrectly or don’t use it when required. Read this article and you will understand when and how to use the question mark.

The most obvious and common use of the question mark is to end a direct question. Look at the following sentences.

  1. Where are you going?
  2. What is this?
  3. Are you mad?
  4. Is this the place?
  5. How much is this phone for?

Most people don’t know that the question mark has other uses as well. Let’s take a look.

  1. To indicate uncertainty.
  2. He lived till 1990(?) and was buried near his house.
  3. Gandhi ji, 2nd October 1869(?) – 1948, was a great Indian leader. 
  1. In a series of questions.
  2. What? He isn’t coming? When did you speak to him?
  3. He’s been hospitalized? Why didn’t you tell me? Is he better now?
  4. This is your car? When did you buy this? How much did it cost?
  1. To end a tag question (a statement followed by a question).
  2. His phone was stolen, wasn’t it?
  3. She’s a great painter, isn’t she?
  4. He’s lost his job, hasn’t he?

Many times, people use questions marks even when they’re not required. One such situation would be indirect questions; these do not require a question mark.

  1. Rohit asked Nidhi to marry him.
  2. The Principal asked him his name.
  3. His father wondered whether the car was fine


A comma is a punctuation used to denote a pause in the sentence. A comma is used to structure a sentence and helps the reader understand the meaning of the sentence.

The following are the most common usages of the comma in the English language.

  1. To separate a series of words (nouns, adjectives, verbs or adverbs) in a sentence. 

Ramesh, Shravan, Dilip and Radha went for the meeting.

Sheetal is an intelligent, loyal and hardworking employee.

You must complete the assignment honestly, correctly and quickly.

Manish ran, swam and cycled to complete the athletic event. 

  1. To separate a series of phrases in a sentence. 

Amit completed his homework, packed his bags, polished his shoes and went to sleep.

I went to the market, bought the present, got it gift wrapped and came to the birthday party. 

  1. To separate the parenthetical elements (a part of a sentence that can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence).

M.S. Dhoni, India’s cricket captain, hit a six to win the match.

Vishnu, the head boy of the school, has been absent for the last three days. 

  1. To separate the quoted parts from the rest of the sentence.

The great leader told the crowd, “I will fast till death until our demands are met.”

“Please go back to your houses,” said the policeman to the crowd.

Exclamation Mark

The exclamation mark is a punctuation used to express strong feelings or emotions. It is commonly used after interjections or exclamations.

It is one of the most misused punctuation marks in the English language. We tend to use exclamation marks more often than what is required.

The exclamation mark should be mainly used to demonstrate shock, surprise, anger or a raised voice. The following cases demonstrate correct usage of this punctuation.

       Go away! I don’t want to talk to you!
       Shut Up!

In addition, the exclamation mark can also be used in very informal writing or to express irony, humour or sarcasm.

Colon and Semi Colon

Many English speakers are uncertain about the correct usage of the colon and the semi colon.
The colon ( : ) is a punctuation mark consisting of two dots one over the other whereas the semi colon ( ; ) consists of a dot above a comma.
In the majority of the cases, the colon is used to introduce a list of things while a semi colon is used to separate sentences where the conjunction has been left out.

The following examples will make the usage clear. 



I have packed my cricket kit with the equipment I need: bats, gloves and pads.

Sumit likes to play cricket; Amit likes to play soccer.

A man needs three things to survive: air, water and food.

I drank lemonade; Manish drank tea. 

The following sentence will illustrate the use of both these punctuation marks - 

I talked to four men: Amit, who is from Delhi; Manoj, who is from Lucknow; Vinod, who is from Mumbai; and Mohan, who is from Patna.


The apostrophe is an important punctuation mark in the English language which is often used incorrectly.

Here are some common incorrect usages of the apostrophe

            - Your’s shoes are red.
            - I went to their’s house.
            - The book’s are on the table.
            - The flower’s are in the vase.

The apostrophe has two distinct uses in English. 

Used to show possession:

  •   - Bat owned by Ravi – Ravi’s bat
  •   - Doll owned by Sita – Sita’s doll

Used to show contractions of words:

  •   - It is so cold today – It’s so cold today
  •   - I have not done my homework – I haven’t done my homework

Punctuation Rules:

  1. Every sentence must end with a full stop.
  2. Proper nouns (names of people, places, brands, etc, i.e. unique instances of a class) must always be capitalised.
  3. When you use opening quotation marks, do not forget to use closing quotation marks at the end of the quoted word or phrase.
  4. Quotation marks are when quoting or sometimes to convey irony, not for emphasis; emphasis is conveyed by emboldening or italicisation, followed by an exclamation mark.
  5. Do not use an apostrophe when you are pluralising a word. The plural of toy is toys, not toy’s. Apostrophes are used to form contractions (it is = it’s) and indicate possession.
  6. The ellipsis, used to indicate variously the intentional omission of a section of text, an unfinished thought, and a trailing off into silence, consists of only 3 dots. It is pointless to add more dots to an ellipsis. This is excessive punctuation, which is in other words incorrect punctuation.
  7. As per the rules of British English, any punctuation mark that is not part of a quoted section of text must be placed outside the quotation marks. However, in the case of direct speech, punctuation marks must be enclosed within the quotation marks.
  8. Do not link independent clauses with commas. Independent clauses are groupings of words that can stand alone as sentences. For example, in He knew how to drive, that he didn’t do it very often was a matter more nerves, not inability both the parts before and after the comma are full sentences. In such cases, the comma is not the correct punctuation mark of connection. In needs to be replaced with a semi-colon (‘;’). The sentence becomes: He knew how to drive; that he didn’t do it very often was matter of nerves, not inability.
  9. Use a comma after the introductory element of a sentence. The introductory element is a word or a phrase that begins a sentence by providing background, or simply modifies it. For example, Honestly I don’t know how I managed to escape is wrong, because the word ‘honestly’ modifies the sentence. Hence, it should be Honestly, I don’t know how I managed to escap.
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