Learn all about English punctuation, with examples and quizzes, in this Adept English podcast all about the basics of grammar in English. Whether you speak English as a first language or a second language, proper punctuation matters. Punctuation is the glue that holds written communications together.
What is punctuation? Punctuation helps the reader to understand what you are trying to say. In English, there are many types of punctuation marks, e.g. comma, full stop (UK), period (US), semicolon, dash, question mark and exclamation mark. Punctuation helps the reader to discover the meaning by breaking up sentences and making it easier for them to read.
To write in English well, you need to understand the basics of punctuation. The
full stop is the only punctuation mark that is essential for meaningful communication. With a full stop, we can show whether we are making a statement or asking a question. Whether we’re emphasizing a point or showing emotion, and so on. Without it, it would reduce us to drawing pictures in order to communicate with each other.
Punctuation is important in English - it breaks phrases and clauses into understandable bits and pieces. This is true in business and academic writing, where clarity and professionalism are of the essence. However, punctuation can be a complex subject which can cause confusion for people learning English as a foreign language, or studying EFL at school. Learning English grammar through listening is much easier and quicker.
Practice makes perfect, but mistakes can happen. That’s why we created the English grammar section of our website. We have a whole English topic on our website that is dedicated to English grammar podcasts. Helping you to learn the more technical parts of the English language like English punctuation quickly and correctly.
Punctuation Professionalism Clarity Exclamation Quotation Apostrophe Elision Meaningful
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Speaking of English learning, grammar and punctuation are in there, part of what you need to know! So how about today we work on the names for some of those ‘punctuation marks’? As ever, vocabulary first of all - punctuation, PUNCTUATION. It’s a noun – and it’s an ‘uncountable noun’.
That means that you can’t say ‘a punctuation’ – we talk about punctuation as though it’s more like a substance. And ‘punctuation’ means all those little marks which you see when you read a piece of writing, a piece of text in English. It’s part of English grammar lessons.
So our main purpose at Adept English is in helping you move towards speaking English fluently. But I know that many of you need to pass exams in English, so that you can prove your level of English – and therefore being good at written English is also important to you and the basics of English grammar and punctuation are essential for this.
Now, of course, when I’m dealing with a subject like punctuation – there may be differences or similarities to English, depending upon what language you’re coming from. If your own language is a European language, like Spanish or French, Danish or Greek, you’ll use many of the same punctuation marks as we do in English.
There are some differences – for example to us, question marks in Spanish are ‘upside down’! But much of punctuation is similar. If you’re coming from a language like Japanese or Mandarin, some punctuation is the same and some is different. My research for this podcasts – and this is me learning – it told me that many languages of the world now do use European style punctuation. But there are languages that don’t punctuate, that don’t use punctuation. Thai was the example that I could find.
So how about I run through the names of the punctuation marks – then I’ll do a little ‘dictation’ exercise at the end, so that you can practise? I remember the names of punctuation marks in French precisely because my French teachers made us do ‘dictation’ or ‘dictée’ in French when I was at school. This meant that the teacher would read out a passage, for us to write down – and they would say the names of the various punctuation marks. It’s a good way of remembering them, because I still can!
French Flag on the river seine in Paris, France. An English language podcast all about English punctuation.
So of course, the most common one is the full stop. This comes at the end of each sentence and is represented by a dot, low down on the line. You’ll see full stops in the transcript at the end of each sentence. And sometimes we use the full stop after a number in a list.
Then comes the comma, that’s COMMA. And that’s the little mark, which sits on the line and looks maybe a little like the number 9. It’s used to break up sentences – so that you can take a breath – and also commas change the meaning. See my podcast on ‘Eats shoots and leaves’, number 409 for more on this. Commas are also used in lists, to separate the items on a list.
Next question marks. These come at the ends of sentences, or single words, instead of a full stop. And they show you that the speaker is asking a question. In spoken English, you can tell this, as the tone is raised at the end of a sentence. ‘Would you like a coffee?’, ‘Do you want to go for a walk?’
And exclamation marks. That’s ‘exclamation’, EXCLAMATION. That’s not an English word that’s much used – there’s a verb ‘to exclaim’, EXCLAIM. And this means ‘to cry out suddenly with surprise or other emotions’. If you’re reading the news and you read a story that’s really surprising or really shocking, you might ‘exclaim’ to the person you’re with. ‘Oh, look at that!’.
If the verb is ‘to exclaim’, the noun is ‘exclamation’. So an exclamation mark, which looks like a vertical line with a dot beneath it – it’s used in written English to show either that something is literally being said, with shock or surprise – or we use it when we are being slightly jokey about something. Or slightly surprising about something.
What else? There’s a question mark. Well, there are quotation marks or speech marks. These are little marks high on the line, that look like a 66 at the start of a quote and like a 99 at the end of it. These are used when you’re quoting speech. She said “I’m very happy to be here”. And he said “You’re welcome”. Inside those marks, the 66 and the 99 are the actual words the person said.
And we might use single quotation marks or single quotes when we’re either giving an example of something. So I use them when I’m discussing a particular word in English and explaining its meaning. You might also use them for the title of a book or a film. In the podcast transcripts, I might put the word concerned in single quote marks, so that you know that it’s the word I’m discussing. So here, I might say – ‘quotation’ (in quotes, single quotes) is spelt QUOTATION.
I’m only doing the common punctuation marks today, so the last punctuation mark that I’ll cover is the apostrophe. That’s a good word – ‘apostrophe’ is spelt APOSTROPHE. And the apostrophe is used in various ways. You use ‘apostrophe S’ to show when something belongs to someone, to show possession. For example, ‘Sam’s shoes’ or ‘the man’s feet’. They have apostrophe S. Even things can use apostrophe S – like ‘the tree’s leaves’.
But the apostrophe is also used when you have missed some letters out of a work. The apostrophe shows their absence. So this commonly happens in speech and in informal written English. The proper term for this is ‘elision’, ELISION and it’s when you say ‘it’s’, IT’S instead of ‘it is’. Or when you say ‘I’m’, I’M instead of ‘I am’.
And another thing we do in written English – the paragraph. A paragraph is a group of sentences on a related subject. If you’re writing and you’re developing a theme or an argument, you would use different paragraphs to make different points – or to write about slightly different aspects of a theme. So in the dictation, when I say ‘New paragraph’, that’s PARAGRAPH, I mean for you to write the next bit on a new line.
OK. Is that enough to be going on with? Shall we try a dictation? Use the following short passage to practise writing English, with punctuation marks. I’ve included quite a bit of speech, because you’ll have to work even harder to put in all the correct punctuation here.
So write this down, as near as you can to what I’m saying. Obviously you’ll need to pause the recording, as you write – and I’ll leave you to work out where the apostrophes go yourself. Here goes.
In the middle of the countryside [comma], there was a house on a hill [full stop]. The house was painted white and had a garden surrounding it [Full stop]. In the garden [comma], there lived some squirrels and a hedgehog [full stop]. The man who lived in the house was called Frederick and Frederick used to feed the squirrels and the hedgehogs [full stop]. [New paragraph]
One day [comma], Frederick came out into the garden with the his daughter [comma], Helena. [New paragraph]
[Open quotation marks] “How come you feed the squirrels [comma], dad [question mark] ? [close quotation marks]” asked Helena. [full stop] [New paragraph]
[Open quotation marks] “I guess because I like seeing them grow. [full stop] And they’re entertaining when they run up and down the trees, [comma] chasing each other [full stop] [close quotation marks]” Frederick replied.[full stop] [Open quotation marks] “And it’s hard for them in the winter [comma], when it’s really cold too. [full stop] [close quotation marks]” [New paragraph]
[Open quotation marks] “And what about the hedgehogs [question mark] ? [close quotation marks]” asked Helena. [full stop] [Open quotation marks] “Why do you feed them?” [question mark] [close quotation marks] [New paragraph]
[Open quotation marks] “Well [comma], [close quotation marks]” replied Frederick [comma], [Open quotation marks] “Feeding the hedgehogs is even more important as they’re getting much more rare these days and I guess if we don’t help them there’ll be even fewer. [full stop] [close quotation marks]’ [New paragraph]
Just then [comma], out popped a squirrel [comma], right by where they were standing. [full stop] [New paragraph]
[Open quotation marks] “Argh!” [exclamation mark] [Close quotation marks] shrieked Helena. [full stop] [Open quotation marks] “That made me jump!” [exclamation mark] [close quotation marks]
Whew – that was quite hard work, wasn’t it? How did you find writing that out? Well, hopefully listening to this will help you anchor in your mind the names of the most common punctuation marks for your English learning.
Grammar and punctuation are topics that we sometimes cover and hopefully this gave you some good writing and spelling practice too. Check your written work with the transcript.
And if you listen to this podcast a few times, you’ll not forget the words for full stop, comma, quotation marks, new paragraph, question mark and exclamation mark. They’ll be anchored in your mind. English grammar basics and punctuation too!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.