Punctuation is the system of symbols that we use to separate sentences and parts of sentences, and to make their meaning clear.
Each symbol is called a punctuation mark.
For example (., ! – : etc)
Punctuation marks can be grouped into:
(i) End marks
(ii) The comma
(iii) The semicolon and the colon
(iv) The hyphen
(v) The apostrophe
(vi) Quotation mark
(i) End Marks
There are three kinds of end marks: the full stop (.), the question mark (?), and the exclamation mark (!).
End marks show where sentences end.
(a) The full stop (.)
A full stop is used to end a complete sentence.
We use a full stop to end:
A declarative sentence- a sentence that makes a state
- The highest skyscraper in Nairobi is Times Tower.
An imperative sentence – a sentence that makes a request or tells someone to do something.
Please climb the stairs carefully.
Note: An imperative sentence is followed by an exclamation mark when it expresses a strong emotion.
Example: Be careful!
At the end of an indirect question – one that tells what someone asked, without using the person’s exact words.
The naughty boy wanted to know why there was no mid-term break.
Other uses of the full stop
Full stops are also used:
After initials and after most abbreviations
L.L.Coo J. Mr. Sammy Njagi 11:00 A.M. Sept. Wed.
Note that some abbreviations do not require full stops:
M (metres), FM (frequency modulation), Km kilometres)
After each number or letter that shows a division of an outline or precedes an item in a list.
- Parts of speech
- Types of nouns
- Uses of nouns
- Types of verbs
- Uses of verbs
Between numerals representing dollars, cents, before a decimal and in percentages
$ 25.65 165.42 25.3%
(b) The question mark (?)
The question mark is used at the end of an interrogative sentence (a sentence that asks a question).
When was the Times Tower built?
Who built it?
(c) The Exclamation mark (!)
The exclamation mark is used at the end of the exclamatory sentence and after an interjection.
(An exclamatory sentence expresses strong feeling, emotion or emphasis.
An interjection is a word or group of words that expresses strong feelings).
Exclamatory sentence: Oh, what a tall building it is! Interjections: Superb! Fantastic! Impressive! An exclamation mark can also be used at the end of an imperative sentence that expresses strong feeling.
Sit! And stay in that chair if you know what’s good for you!
(ii) The comma
There are a number of uses of the comma in English.
A comma generally tells the reader where to pause.
They are used: to separate words in a series except the last the three or four items in a series can be nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, phrases, independent clauses, or other parts of sentences.
Nouns: John, Jim, Jack walk to school every day.
Verbs: He located, patched, and sealed the leak in the tyre.
Adverbs: She walked quickly, steadily, and calmly.
Prepositional phrases: He walked through the park, over the bridge, and onto the streets.
Independent clauses: The match was over, the crowd cheered, and Barcelona received the first- place trophy.
Adjectives: The fresh, ripe fruit was placed in a bowl.
Note in the above examples that a comma must be used just before the conjunction.
Before the conjunction in a compound sentence.
Some students were taking their lunch, but others were studying.
Marto photographed the accident scene, and he sold the pictures to the newspaper.
Would she be a lawyer, or would she be a doctor?
Note: A comma is not required in very short compound sentence in which the parts are joined by and.
However, always use a comma before the conjunctions but and or.
Marto photographed the accident scene and Toni reported it.
Marto photographed the accident scene, but Toni reported it.
Note also: A comma is not required before the conjunction that joins the parts of a compound verb unless there are more than two parts.
Mary entered and won the beauty contest.
That camera focuses, flashes, and rewinds automatically.
After introductory words phrases or clauses Special elements add specific information to a sentence, but they are not essential.
A comma is used to separate a special element from the rest of the sentence.
Word: Cautiously, he entered the building
Phrase: After his failure, he disappeared from the public scene.
Clause: Because he had practised daily, he presented his new song perfectly.
Note: If the pause after a short introductory element is very brief, you may omit the comma.
At first he was unsure of his singing ability.
Finally it was his turn.
Commas are also used after introductory words such as yes, no, oh and well when they begin a sentence.
Well, it’s just too cold out there.
No, it isn’t seven yet.
Oh, you have spilled the milk.
With interrupters, Interrupters are words that break, or interrupt the flow of thought in a sentence.
The commas are used before and after the interrupter to indicate pauses.
I didn’t expect, however, to lose the job.
So many people, assumed, sing as well as he does.
He was chosen, nevertheless, as the new band leader.
To set off nouns of direct address
Yes, Kalu, you can borrow my book.
Sarah, do you know where I kept my phone?
How is your leg, grandpa?
To set off the spoken words in a direct sentence or quotation from the speech tag
Jackson said, “After my injury I had to learn to walk again”.
“The therapists urged me to keep trying,” he continued.
If the speech tag interrupts the spoken words commas are used after the last word of the first part of the spoken words and after the last word in the speech tag.
“After a while,” he added, “I was walking without a cane”.
Note: When a sentence is indirect or reported, no commas are used.
He added that after a while he was walking without a cane.
When writing dates, place a comma after the day of the month.
July 3, 1965. December 12, 2010
When referring to geographical location.
Place a comma between the name of the town or city and the name of the state, district, or country.
Kibingoti, Lagos, Carol, South Africa, Kenya
After the closing of a friendly or business letter.
Examples: Dear Rose, Yours sincerely,
(iii) The semicolon (;) and the colon (:)
(a) The semicolon (;)
The semicolon is used:
To separate the parts of a compound sentence when no conjunction is used.
Example: Mountain climbing is exciting; it can also be dangerous.
Note that the semicolon replaces the comma and the coordinating conjunction.
Conjunctions that are commonly replaced by semicolons are and, but, or, for, and nor.
Before a conjunctive adverb that joins the clauses of a compound sentence (conjunctive adverbs are words like therefore, however, hence, so, then, moreover, nevertheless, yet, consequently, and besides).
Example: The competition takes place in July; however, I prefer August.
To separate the parts of a series when commas occurs within the parts.
Example: Last year I flew to Johannesburg, South Africa; Cairo, Egypt; and Kingston, Jamaica.
(iv) The colon (:)
The colon is used:
To introduce a list of items
My school bag contains the following items: exercise books, text books, pencils, pens, a geometrical set, and a packet of crayons.
After the greeting of a business letter
Dear Mr. Okon:
Between numerals that represent hours and minutes and between chapter and verse in a biblical reference
6:00 P.M. Exodus 2:1-3
(v) The Hyphen (-)
The hyphen is used:
To divide a word at the end of a line of writing.
Note that only words with two or more syllables may be divided at the end of a line and words should be divided only between syllables.
When walking along the streets of Nawao Town, he met his friend, Tunde.
Never divide a word of one syllable and do not divide words to leave a single letter at the end or beginning of a line.
In compound adjectives that come before the nouns they modify and in certain compound nouns.
Samuel Wanjiru was a world-famous athlete.
She is my sister-in-law.
In compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine and in fractions.
Seventy-three relatives one-quarter full
(vi) The Apostrophe (’)
The apostrophe is used:
To form the possessive of a singular noun
Add an apostrophe and an s.
The baby’s cot James’s car Joseph’s radio
To form the possessive of a plural noun that does not end in s Add an apostrophe and an s.
Examples: children’s, men’s, women’s
To form the possessive of a plural noun that ends in s – Add only the apostrophe.
To form the possessive of an indefinite pronoun
Use an apostrophe and an s.
Everybody’s, somebody’s, nobody’s
Note: Never use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun like our, yours, hers, theirs.
In names of organisations and business,
Show possession in the last word only
The United Nations’ brochure
In hyphenated terms
Show possession in the last word only.
My mother-in-law’s photograph album
In cases of joint ownership
Show possession in the last word only.
Peter and Patrick’s Limousine
In forming contractions In contractions, apostrophes replace omitted letters.
Examples: she’s = she is, aren’t = are not. I’m = I am, it’s = It is, isn’t = is not, we’ll = we wil,l can’t = cannot, won’t = will not, they’ve = they have
To show that part of a date has been omitted
The tribal clashes of ’08 (the tribal clashes of 2008)
The’82 coup attempt (the 1982 coup attempt)
(vii) Quotation Marks (“ “)
The quotation marks are used:
To enclose the spoken words in a direct sentence.
Indirect sentences need no quotation marks.
Direct speech: The presidential candidate promised, “Creating new jobs for the youths will be my first priority”.
Indirect speech: The presidential candidate promised that creating new jobs would be his first priority.
(i) Always begin a direct quotation with a capital letter.
The minister said, “You must conserve our environment”.
(ii) When the spoken words are divided by the speech tag, begin the second part of the quotation with a small letter.
“Bring me the money,” said the moneylender, “before the end of the day”.
If the second part of the quotation is a complete sentence, the first word of this sentence is capitalized.
Example: “I am scared,” said the borrower.
“That moneylender is a brute.”
(iii) Place commas and full stops inside quotation marks
Place semicolons and colons outside quotation marks.
“Last month,” the borrower explained, “I borrowed some money from the moneylender.”
Carol said to the borrower, “And you refused to repay back on time”; however, the borrower did not agree.
These candidates were suggested in the article “Our Country’s Future”: Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, and Martha Karua.
(iv) Place question marks and exclamation marks inside quotation marks if they belong to the quotation.
Place them outside if they do not belong to the quotation.
Carol asked, “How much money did you borrow?”
Did the borrower say, “I can’t remember”?
“You are a fool!” exclaimed Carol.
(v) Use single quotation marks to enclose a title or quotation within a quotation.
“Carol heard the borrower say, ‘I can’t remember’ before she lost her temper.”
If the tile or quotation within the quotation ends the sentence, use both the single and the double quotation marks after the last word of a sentence.
“Carol heard the borrower say, ‘I can’t remember.’”
(v) In a quotation of more than one paragraph, use quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph and the end of the final paragraph.
Punctuate each of the following sentences appropriately.
- He earned about three million dollars that year
- You know who Jomo Kenyatta was, don’t you
- What a wonderful and inspired leader he was
- He was also a person who helped many people
- Some people write stories but others write poems.
- Try to write a concise informative and interesting letter.
- Also make sure your letter as a heading an inside address a salutation a body a closing and your signature.
- One of the most exciting modern developments I believe is the computer.
- Today is July 2 2011. I will never forget this date.
- I have lived in Sagana Kirinyaga County since 2008.
- Try submitting your work to these Publishers Longhorn Publishers Jomo Kenyatta Foundation or Oxford University Press.
- Remember a writing career requires the following traits confidence perseverance and a thick skin!
- Long ago people used hand sharpened straws or reeds as pens.
- Fountain pens were invented in our great grandparents time
- Soft tip pens and rolling ball pens were invented twenty five years ago
- What would you do if you couldn’t build a house for yourself
- You find someone who could built It for you wouldn’t you.
- These archives are important to modern historians research.
- In his play shreds of tenderness, John Ruganda said people who have never lived through a coup d’etat have romantic ideas about it.
- Mr. Mureithi said a short letter to a friend is an insult.
- He earned about three million dollars that year.
- You know who Jomo Kenyatta was, don’t you?
- What a wonderful and inspired leader he was!
- He was also a person who helped many people.
- Some people write stories, but other write poems.
- Try to write a concise, informative, and interesting letter.
- Also make sure that your letter has a heading, an inside address, a salutation, a body, a closing, and your signature.
- One of the most exciting modern developments, I believe, is the computer.
- Today is July 2, 2011. I will never forget this date.
- I have lived in Sagana, Kirinyaga County, since 2008
- Try submitting your work to the following publishers: Longhorn Publishers, Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, or Oxford University Press.
- Remember, a writing career requires the following traits: confidence, perseverance, and a thick skin!
- Long ago, people used hand – sharpened straws and reeds as pens.
- Fountain pens were invented in our great – grandparents’ time.
- Soft-tip pens and rolling-ball pens were invented twenty-five years ago.
- What would you do if you couldn’t build a house for yourself?
- You’d find someone who could build it for you, wouldn’t you?
- These archives are important to modern historians’ research.
- In his play Shreds of Tenderness, John Ruganda said, “People who have never lived through a coup d’etat have romantic ideas about it.”
- Mr. Mureithi said, “A short letter to a friend is an insult.