Rules of Punctuation

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Rules of Punctuation

Using good punctuation helps us write clearly, makes our writing easier to read, and helps our readers understand what we mean. Exciting graphics and video footage combine with the rules of punctuation as students learn about period usage, the exclamation point, question marks, commas, the apostrophe, quotation marks, the colon, semicolon, and parentheses.

Learn how punctuation makes meaning clear when writing.

  1. Students will understand that good punctuation helps people to write clearly, makes pieces of writing easier to read, and enables the reader to understand what the writer is trying to say.
  2. Students will know the basic rules of punctuation as they apply to each form of punctuation (punctuation is underlined in each of the example sentences).
    1. Period: A period is used at the end of a sentence; it is a stop signal to indicate the end of a complete thought — Mike likes to snowboard. Periods are used after initials and abbreviations — T.J. and I went swimming ("T" and "J" are initials) — Dr. John was in the right place at the wrong time (Dr. is an abbreviation). Periods are also used as a decimal point — The toy costs $6.99 (The period separates dollars and cents). In addition, periods are used in outlines after the numbers and letters.
    2. Exclamation point: An exclamation point is placed at the end of a sentence or interjection to convey strong emotion of emphasis — Gosh! NBA officiating is terrible! It is important not to use too many exclamation points at the end of a sentence or in a piece of writing, because they can lose their meaning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    3. Question mark: A question mark is used at the end of a direct question; that is, when the writer is looking for information — How long does it take to drive from L.A. to Sacramento? Question marks also end incomplete questions — Is that so? In addition, question marks are used with statements that are meant to be questions — You live downtown? When a question ends in an abbreviation, a period is used at the end of the abbreviation, and then the question mark is added — When did you visit Washington, D.C.?
    4. Comma: A comma is a pause that separates ideas or elements in a sentence. Commas are used after each item in a list of at least three items — He bought a pair of shoes, two pairs of pants, and three shirts. Commas are used in addresses when written in a sentence; they are placed after the street name and the city. A comma is also used after the day in a date — July 4, 1776. When counting numbers from right to left, a comma is used after every three digits — 6,000,269,385. Commas are used to separate two or more adjectives that modify a noun — The dogs are fast, happy, and playful. Commas mark an interruption in the main thought of a sentence — Mandy, our dog, sleeps on her blanket. Commas are also used before the conjunction in a compound sentence — We took a bus to town, and we went shopping. In addition, a comma is used to the left of a quote if there is no period, question mark, or exclamation point — Janis said, "That works for me."
    5. Apostrophe: An apostrophe is used to form a possessive with a noun; i.e., it indicates something "owns" something else. If the possessive noun is singular, it is followed by an apostrophe and an "s" — The train's whistle is loud. If the possessive noun is plural, an apostrophe is placed after the "s" — The soccer players' shirts were blue. Apostrophes are also used in contractions to show that letters have been left out — He doesn't like to fall (The apostrophe shows the omission of the "o" — He does not like to fall.). Also, apostrophes are used to make letters and numbers plural — He received two A's and two B's on his report card.
    6. Quotation marks: Quotation marks are used before and after a direct quote — The coach said, "Let's play our best." Please note that a direct quote begins with a capital letter. Quotation marks are also used to indicate short titles (songs, books, etc.) — They are all singing the "Skye Boat Song". Also, quotation marks are put around words that are used in a special way — The car is "supersonic". Single quotes are put around a quotation that is within a quotation — The teacher said, "My favorite Patrick Henry quote is, 'Give me liberty or give me death.'"
    7. Colon: A colon is used between the digits indicating hours, minutes, and seconds — School started at 9:00 a.m. Colons are also used to introduce a series after a complete sentence — We bought vegetables: beans, peas, corn, and kale.
    8. Semicolon: Semicolons are used between two independent clauses, which eliminates the need for a comma and a conjunction — Some people like to ski; others like to swim. A semicolon is also used to separate words in a series when those words have punctuation — They were born on June 1, 1856; May 6, 1830; and March 31, 1851.
    9. Parentheses: Parentheses are used to enclose words or figures that clarify — The painting costs five hundred dollars ($500.00). Parentheses are also used for an aside; they allow an interruption to work into a sentence — We went on the ride (a fast one) and had a fun time. In addition, parentheses are used to enclose numbers of items listed in a sentence — There are eight (
    10. dancers. Note that periods go inside parentheses only if an entire sentence is inside the parentheses.

  1. Say what? Divide the class into groups of two, and make sure each student has some paper and a pencil. Have one student each group (the speaker) make up a sentence with various forms of punctuation and say it to the other member in the group (the writer). It is the writer's job to write out each sentence using proper punctuation. After a couple of rounds have the members switch roles. An interesting variation would be to have the writer make up a sentence with incorrect punctuation and the speaker say the sentence to see how the punctuation affects the way the sentence sounds.
  2. Punctuation journal: Each student will need a spiral bound notebook with "Punctuation Journal" written on the front. Every morning the teacher should write two or three sentences on the board that have incorrect punctuation. The students should copy each sentence in their journals. Then, the class should go over each sentence and make corrections. The students should write the correct version in their journals. Whenever the students have questions about punctuation, encourage them to look in their journals for answers.

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