Period to End a Sentence
Use a period to end a sentence that makes a statement, requests something, or gives a mild command.
(Statement) “A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top.”
(Request) Please arrange an on-site meeting.
(Mild Command) “Concentrate on finding your goal; then concentrate on reaching it.”
These early entrepreneurs (some of them were true visionaries) often met skepticism.
Period After an Initial or an Abbreviation
A period should be placed after an initial and after most abbreviations.
Let's meet in my office at 10 a.m.
Period After an Indirect Question
Use a period, not a question mark, after an indirect question.
I wonder how much that will cost us.
Ellipsis to Show Omitted Words
Use an ellipsis (three spaced periods) to indicate that words have been omitted in a quoted passage. Leave one space before and after each period.
(Original) All new employees must fill out the standard work forms—Social Security, insurance, and payroll. The forms, which may be obtained from your immediate supervisor, should be completed before beginning work. If you have any questions, please contact Rosa for assistance.
(Quotation) “All new employees must fill out the standard work forms . . . which may be obtained from your immediate supervisor . . . before beginning work.
Ellipsis at the End of a Sentence
If words from a quoted passage are omitted at the end of a sentence, the ellipsis follows the period.
“All new employees must fill out the standard work forms—Social Security, insurance, and payroll. . . . If you have any questions, please contact Rosa for assistance.”
If the quoted material is a complete sentence (even if it was not in the original), use a period and then an ellipsis.
“All new employees must fill out the standard work forms. . . . Please contact Rosa for assistance.”
Comma to Separate Independent Clauses
Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) when it is used to link two independent clauses.
Ability may get you to the top, but only character will keep you there.
“A doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”
—Frank Lloyd Wright
Marva quickly checked the document and corrected a few minor errors.
Comma to Separate Phrases and Clauses
A comma should follow an introductory adverb clause or a long introductory phrase (four words or more).
“If you don’t learn from your mistakes, there’s no sense making them.”
—Laurence J. Peter
For example, punctuation rules evolve through time.
There’s no sense making mistakes if you don’t learn from them.
Comma to Set Off Extra Information
Commas are used to set off explanatory phrases.
Drive-in banks, according to E. Joseph Cossman, were established so most of the cars could see their real owners.
Comma to Set Off Contrasted Elements
Commas are used to set off contrasted elements in a sentence.
This is real life, not fantasy.
Comma to Separate Adjectives
Commas are used between two or more adjectives that modify the same noun equally.
Using a database software package can be a reliable, efficient solution to many small-business problems.
A Closer Look
Use the tests below for help in deciding whether adjectives modify equally.
Switch the order of the adjectives. If the sentence is still clear, the adjectives modify equally. (If reliable and efficient were shifted in the example above, the sentence would still be clear; therefore, use a comma.)
Place and between the adjectives. Does the sentence still sound all right? If so, insert a comma (without and). (If and were inserted in the sentence above, it would still read well.)
Comma for Items in a Series
Commas are used to separate three or more items (words, phrases, or clauses) in a series.
The best workplace chair is one with a padded seat, an adjustable backrest, and a lumbar support system.
Vision problems can be caused by improper lighting or by computer glare or even by letters that are difficult to read.
The best workplace chair is one with a padded seat and an adjustable backrest and a lumbar support system.
Comma in Addresses and Dates
Commas are used to set off items in an address and in a date.
Send for your personal copy of Write for Business before December 31, 2019, from Thoughtful Learning, 772 W. Main St., Suite 302, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin 53147.
Comma to Separate a Vocative
A comma is used to separate a vocative (noun of address) from the rest of the sentence. (A vocative is the noun that names the person or persons spoken to.)
Jamie, would you like to join me for lunch today?
Comma to Set Off Interruptions
Commas are used to set off a word, a phrase, or a clause that interrupts the flow of a sentence. The following tests can help identify such expressions. The meaning of the sentence does not change if the expression is (1) omitted or (2) placed nearly anywhere in the sentence.
The problems, in the final analysis, were due largely to a lack of planning.
In the final analysis, the problems were due largely to a lack of planning.
Comma for Clarity or Emphasis
A comma may be used to clarify or to emphasize. Sometimes no specific rule calls for a comma, but one is needed to avoid confusion or to emphasize an important idea.
What he says, says volumes.
Comma to Set Off Exact Words
Commas are used to set off the exact words of the speaker from the rest of the sentence.
“Nothing in fine print is ever good news,” quipped Andy Rooney.
Do not use a comma before an indirect quotation. (The comma circled below should not be used.)
Comma to Set Off Nonrestrictive Modifiers
Commas are used to set off nonrestrictive phrases and clauses used as modifiers. Nonrestrictive phrases or clauses are those that are not essential to the basic meaning of the sentence.
Roy, who is training to be a supervisor, is an asset to our service department. (nonrestrictive)
Good service at a reasonable rate, which sums up the department’s philosophy, is the reason for the dealership’s success. (nonrestrictive)
Restrictive phrases or clauses—phrases or clauses that are needed in the sentence because they restrict or limit the meaning of the sentence—are not set off with commas.
Employees who are praised for new ideas are apt to be creative. (restrictive)
Companies that offer flexible hours usually have happier, more efficient workers. (restrictive)
The humorist Will Rogers was born in Oklahoma. (Will Rogers is required; do not use commas.)
Will Rogers, the humorist, was born in Oklahoma. (The humorist is not required; use commas.)
A Closer LookWhich and That: Use which to introduce nonrestrictive (unnecessary) clauses; use that to introduce restrictive (necessary) clauses. Doing so will help the reader quickly distinguish essential information from nonessential information.
The system that we implemented in March 2019 was selected after a year-long study.
Note: The clause beginning with that is necessary to identify which system.
The new system, which was implemented in March, has already improved productivity 40 percent.
Note: The main clause tells the reader important information about the new system; the clause beginning with which gives additional or nonessential information.
Comma to Set Off Appositives
Commas are used to set off an appositive, a noun or phrase that identifies the noun or pronoun it follows. (A restrictive appositive is essential to the basic meaning of the sentence; do not set it off with commas. See the second example below.)
Scott Erickson, a landscape designer, uses his tablet in the office and in the field. (nonrestrictive appositive)
Landscape designer Scott Erickson uses his tablet in the office and in the field. (restrictive appositive)
Comma in Large Numbers
Commas are used to separate numerals, or digits, in large numbers. For numbers of four digits or more, place a comma before every third digit, counting from the right.
This 3D printer costs $3,045.
Exceptions: Commas are not used in address numbers or in identification numbers.
12345 Karry Place
14 267.9 hectares (USA) or 14 267,9 hectares (European)
Commas to Enclose a Title
Commas are used to enclose initials, a title, or names that follow a surname.
Mr. Anton Sellek, Sr., and James Matthews, Esq., will arrive at noon.
Daly, C. U., and Herr, I. M., are not alphabetized correctly on this list.
John Kennedy Jr. had a variety of careers.Roman numeral suffixes are never set off by commas.
John Williams III is the CEO.
Comma Before Tag Sentences
A comma is used before a tag sentence, which is a short statement or question at the end of a sentence.
You took the job, didn’t you?
Comma to Separate Interjections
A comma is used to separate an interjection or a weak exclamation from the rest of the sentence.
OK, I’ll pass the latest sales figures on to the Accounting Department.
A Closer Look
In addition to understanding when and where to use commas correctly, you should also know when not to use commas.
Do not use a comma between compound predicates.
We started the van and discovered a problem. (NOT We started the van, and discovered a problem.)
Do not use a comma between a subject and a verb.
Our most recent marketing articles appeared online. (NOT Our most recent marketing articles , appeared online.)
Do not use a comma between a verb and its object or complement.
My supervisor said I should read The Business Journal. (NOT My supervisor said I should read, The Business Journal.)
Semicolon to Join Two Independent Clauses
A semicolon is used to join two related independent clauses. (Remember: Independent clauses can stand alone as separate sentences.)
Business has been good; it really does pay to advertise.
Acquiring new technology is one thing, using it efficiently is another.
Semicolon with a Conjunctive Adverb
A semicolon is used before a conjunctive adverb (also, besides, however, instead, then, therefore) that connects two independent clauses; a comma is often used after the adverb.
Too many overtime hours can lead to insanity; however, you’ll probably be too busy to notice.
Semicolons to Separate Items in a Series
A semicolon is used between items in a series if any of those items already have commas.
When renting a car, consider your budget restrictions; the model, type, and size of the car required; and any mileage, insurance, or additional charges that may apply.
Semicolon to Separate Independent Clauses
A semicolon is used to separate independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if one or both of the clauses are long or contain commas.
Tomorrow afternoon, please use the Main Street entrance; but after 5:00 p.m., use the First Street entrance.
Colon After a Salutation
A colon should be used in business communications after salutations and memo headings.
Dear Mr. Buffet:
To: Jeani Schultz
Colon to Indicate Time and Ratios
A colon is used between the parts of a number indicating time and between numbers in a ratio.
The ratio of managers to workers is 1:15.
Colon to Introduce Explanatory Material
A colon may be used to introduce a word or words that explain or summarize the main clause.
There is no future in any job: The future lies in the person who holds the job.
Colon as a Formal Introduction
A colon may be used following an independent clause that introduces a formal statement, a question, or a quotation.
Malcolm Forbes once offered this thought: “Failure is success if we learn from it.”
Colon to Introduce a List
A colon is used to introduce a list.
A good employee needs two things: a positive attitude and a willingness to learn.
A good employee needs a positive attitude and a willingness to learn. (NOT A good employee needs: a positive attitude and a willingness to learn. NOT A good employee needs a positive attitude and a willingness to: learn.)
Hyphen to Join Words in Compound Numbers
A hyphen is used to join compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine when they must be written out. A hyphen is also used when the numbers in a ratio are spelled out.
“There are some people who, in a fifty-fifty proposition, insist on getting the hyphen, too.”
—Laurence J. Peter
Hyphen to Make a Compound Noun
A hyphen can be used to create a compound noun.
Hyphen to Join Letters and Words
A hyphen is used to join a capital or lowercase letter to a noun or a participle.
Hyphen Between Numbers in a Fraction
A hyphen is used between the numerator and denominator of a fraction but not when one or both of those elements are already hyphenated.
Hyphens When Words Have Common Elements
A hyphen is used when two or more words have one or more common elements that are omitted in all but the last term.
The new travel policy applies to lower-, mid-, and upper-level management.
Hyphen to Make a Compound Adjective
A hyphen can be used to join two or more words that form a single adjective (a single grammatical unit) before a noun. Do not hyphenate the words forming the adjective when they follow the noun.
In this situation, use only double-insulated wire.
In this situation, use only wire that is double insulated.
freshly painted conference room (adverb ending in ly )
grade A milk (the letter A is the final element)
She usually takes a middle-of-the-road position. (adjective)
He usually takes the middle of the road. (noun)
Hyphen to Create New Words
A hyphen is usually used to form new words after the prefixes self, ex, all, and half. Also, a hyphen is used to connect any prefix to a proper noun, a proper adjective, or the official name of an office. A hyphen is also used with the suffix elect.
Hyphen to Divide a Word at the End of a Line
The hyphen is used to divide a word at the end of a line of print. A word may be divided only between syllables.
A Closer Look
Always divide a compound word between its basic units: attorney-at-law, not at-tor-ney-at-law.
When a vowel is a syllable by itself, divide the word after the vowel: ori-gin, not or-igin.
Divide at the prefix or suffix whenever possible: bi-lateral, not bilat-eral.
DO NOT DIVIDE:
Never divide a word so that it is difficult to recognize.
Never divide a one-syllable word: filed, trains, rough.
Avoid dividing a word of five letters or fewer: final, today, radar.
Never leave a single letter at the end of a line: omit-ted, not o-mitted.
Never divide contractions or abbreviations: couldn’t, not could-n’t.
Avoid dividing a number written as a figure: 42,300,000, not 42,300-000.
Avoid dividing the last word in a paragraph.
Avoid ending two consecutive lines with a hyphen.
Dash for Emphasis
Dashes are used to set off material (a word, phrase, or clause) for emphasis.
Before you have an argument with your boss, take a good look at both sides—her side and the outside.
If they try to rush me, I always say, “I’ve only got one other speed—and it’s slower.”
Dash to Set Off an Introductory Series
A dash is used to introduce a statement that explains or summarizes a series or list before it.
Widgets, carburetors, or bologna sandwiches—she could successfully market anything.
Dash to Set Off Explanations and Examples
A dash may be used to set off examples, explanations, and definitions.
Three of the applicants—James Johnson, Shiere Melin, and Santana Garcia—have been called back for second interviews.
The new network—which will be installed tomorrow—will allow us to link directly to our Chicago office.
Dash to Indicate Interrupted Speech
A dash is used to show interrupted or faltering dialogue in reports of speeches or conversations.
“The—ah—fourth item on the agenda is not really—is actually no longer a concern.”
Using Question Marks
Question Mark in a Direct Question
A question mark is used after a direct question.
Have you had any experience with Expedite?
I asked him if he had any experience with Expedite.
Question Mark When Two Clauses Ask Questions
When a question ends with a quotation that is also a question, only one question mark is used; it is placed inside the quotation marks.
On a day off, do you ever wake up in a panic, asking, “Am I late for work?”
Question Mark to Show Uncertainty
A question mark is placed within parentheses to show that an item (e.g., a date or number) is uncertain.
Next June will be the 30th (?) anniversary of Jurassic Park.
Question Mark in a Series of Questions
A question mark is used after each question in a series of questions.
When can we expect the order? Monday? Tuesday? Next week?
Question Mark for a Parenthetical Question
A question mark is used for a short question within parentheses or a question set off by dashes.
You must check your company handbook (do you have one?) for the dress code and sick-leave policy.
Using Exclamation Points
Exclamation Point to Express Strong Feeling
An exclamation point is used to convey strong feeling and should be used sparingly.
Service! Service! Service! These are the three laws of business.
Yes, we just found out that we got the account with no strings attached.
Exclamation Point with Quotation Marks
When used with quotation marks, the exclamation mark goes outside, unless the quotation itself is an exclamation.
Remember what she said: “Service!” You absolutely must read her latest article, “We Are Here to Serve”!
A Closer LookExclamation points show special emphasis. If you overuse them, they lose their effect. Also, avoid combining exclamation points and question marks.
Using Quotation Marks
Quotation Marks to Punctuate Titles
Quotation marks are used to enclose titles of speeches, short stories, songs, poems, episodes of radio or television programs, chapters or sections of books, unpublished works, and articles found in magazines, journals, newspapers, or encyclopedias. (Also see italics with titles.)
“Walk This Way” (song)
“Over the Top” (short story)
“Tricks of Trade” (magazine article)
“Managing in the Dark” (chapter in a book)
“Costo” (television episode)
“Oh, My Aching Back” (encyclopedia article)
“Ansett Blues” (poem)
“Natural Gas Prices March Higher” (journal article)
Placement of Periods and Commas with Quotation Marks
Periods and commas at the end of quoted material are always placed inside the quotation marks.
“Double-check the hotel reservations, Dave,” remarked Mr. Schmidt. “Our flight is going to be late.”
Placement of Semicolons and Colons with Quotation Marks
Semicolons and colons at the end of quoted material are always placed outside the quotation marks.
I just read “Computers and Creativity”; the chapter talks about the role of computers in the arts.
Placement of Other Punctuation with Quotation Marks
An exclamation point or a question mark is placed inside quotation marks when it is part of the quotation; it is placed outside when it is not part of the quotation.
I almost laughed when he asked, “That won’t be a problem, will it?”
Did you hear Molly say, “Oh, no, sir”?
Quotation Marks for Special Words
Quotation marks also may be used (1) to show that a word is being referred to as the word itself; (2) to indicate that a word is jargon, slang, or a coined word; or (3) to indicate that a word is being used in a special sense.
(1) What does the term “integrity” mean to you?
(2) Oh man, this party is so “lit”!
(3) One person showed up for the “team” meeting.
A Closer LookDo not use quotation marks as a way to emphasize key words.
We offer “fast” and “friendly” service.The quotation marks actually call into question whether the service is either fast or friendly.
Marking Quoted Material
Quotation marks are placed before and after the words in a direct quotation—a person’s exact words—but are not used with indirect quotations.
You may have heard Ms. Clark say that all supervisors should adopt the new report form. Actually, she said, “All supervisors should adapt the new report form for use in their departments.”
Quotation marks are placed before and after a quoted passage. Any word or punctuation mark that is not part of the original quotation must be placed inside brackets.
(Original) All supervisors should adapt the new report form for use in their departments.
(Quotation) “All supervisors should adapt [not adopt] the new report form for use in their departments.”
If more than one paragraph is quoted, quotation marks are placed before each paragraph and at the end of the last paragraph (Example A). Quotations that are more than four lines on a page are usually set off from the text by indenting 10 spaces from the left margin. Quotation marks are not used before or after the quoted material, unless they appear in the original passage (Example B).
Single quotation marks are used to show a quotation within a quotation.
Her exact words were “Bring your copy of the article ‘Right for Business’ to the afternoon workshop.”
Ms. Clark has directed all supervisors to “adapt the new report form for use in their departments.”
Italics to Punctuate Titles
Italics are used to indicate the titles of newspapers, magazines, journals, pamphlets, books, plays, podcasts, films, radio and television programs, ballets, operas, lengthy musical compositions, albums, software programs, and legal cases, as well as the names of ships, trains, aircraft, and spacecraft. (Also see quotation marks.)
Our Town (play)
It’s a Wonderful Life (film)
The First 20 Million Is Always the Hardest (book)
Nova (television program)
Washington Post (newspaper)
Boston Business Journal (journal)
Abbey Road (album)
Planet Money (podcast)
Office Array (software program)
Italics for Foreign Words and Phrases
Italics are used for foreign words and phrases that have not been fully assimilated into the English language.
All U.S. coins contain the phrase e pluribus unum. It means “out of many, one.”
Italics for a Word as a Word
Italics (or quotation marks) are used to indicate that a word is being referred to as a word. (If the word is defined, the definition is placed in quotation marks.)
On the Internet, the term cookie means “a unique identifier used to track visitors on a Web site.”
Italics for Technical Words
Italics (or quotation marks) are used to denote technical, scientific, or other specialized terms that may be unclear to most readers.
A denial-of-service attack occurs when hackers try to overwhelm a server with requests from multiple accounts.
Slash to Form a Fraction
A slash is used to separate the numerator from the denominator in a fraction.
Lamar has been in this department only 2 1/2 months.
Slash with Abbreviations
The slash is sometimes used in abbreviations.
c/o (in care of)
Slash to Express Alternatives and Two Functions
The slash can be used in place of “or” to show alternatives; it can also be used to show two functions.
Parentheses to Enclose References
Parentheses are often used to enclose references to authors, titles, or pages.
The latest numbers support our plan (see page 12) and show a need for expansion.
Parentheses to Enclose Dates and Explanatory Material
Parentheses are used to enclose dates or explanatory material that interrupts the normal sentence structure.
The average worker works 128 days each year (from January 1 to May 7) to pay all federal, state, and local taxes.
The Walk for Life event is set for early spring (Tuesday, March 12) and will be held at the Performing Arts Center.
Placement of Punctuation with Parentheses
When a parenthetical sentence comes after the main sentence, capitalize and punctuate the parenthetical sentence the same way you would any other complete sentence.
Depending on the meeting’s purpose, you may want to use small groups. (Small groups promote discussion.)When adding a parenthetical sentence within another sentence, do not capitalize it or use a period inside the parentheses.
The T-shaped setup (this can also accommodate small groups) is good for panel discussions.
Parentheses Around Numerals in a Numbered List
Parentheses are used to set off numerals or letters that introduce items in a list within a sentence.
A good used car will have (1) low mileage, (2) new tires, and (3) a clean interior.
Parentheses Within Parentheses
For unavoidable parentheses within parentheses, use brackets.
( . . . [ . . . ] . . . )
Brackets Around Comments Added for Clarity
Brackets are used before and after comments added to explain, clarify, or correct what another person has said or written.
“They [20th Century Fox] said they had no interest in seeing a picture with the word ‘star’ in it.”
—Sidney Gains, on Star Wars
“The funny thing is better [TV] shows don’t cost that much more than lousy shows.”
Brackets Around the Word sic
Brackets should be placed around the word sic (Latin for “thus” or “so”) when it appears within a quoted passage. Sic indicates that an error was made by the original speaker or writer.
“With this sales staff, your [sic] bound to succeed.”
Apostrophe in Place of Numbers or Letters
An apostrophe is used to show that one or more numerals or letters have been left out of numbers or words that are spelled as they are actually spoken.
class of ’22 (20 is left out)
good mornin’ (g is left out)
they’ll (wi is left out)
I’m (a is left out)
Apostrophe to Form Plurals
An apostrophe and s are used to form the plural of a letter, an abbreviation, a number, a sign, or a word referred to as a word.
p’s and q’s
This letter contains five actually’s and seven really’s.
Please change the can’ts [not can’t’s] to can’s.
Apostrophe to Form Singular Possessives
An apostrophe is used with a noun to show ownership. The possessive form of a singular noun is usually made by adding an apostrophe and s.
the office’s main entrance
Kansas’ (or Kansas’s) cornfields
Dallas’ (or Dallas’s) skyline
a waitress’ (or waitress’s) tips
Jones’s work Banks’s portfolio
the dress’s length
Apostrophe to Show Joint Possession
To indicate ownership shared by more than one noun, use the possessive form for only the last noun in the series.
Yolanda, Sara, and Elana’s project (All work together on one project.)
Yolanda’s, Sara’s, and Elana’s projects (Each works on her own project.)
Apostrophe to Form Plural Possessives
The possessive form of a plural noun ending in s or es is usually made by simply adding an apostrophe.
the Smiths’ family business
coordinator’s summary (coordinator is the owner)
coordinators’ summary (coordinators are the owners)
class’s instructor (class is the owner)
classes’ instructor (classes are the owners)
Apostrophe to Express Time or Amount
An apostrophe and s are used with a singular noun that is part of an expression indicating time or amount. Use the apostrophe alone with a plural noun of this type.
today’s stock quotes
two cents’ worth
a year’s experience
Apostrophe with Indefinite Pronouns
The possessive form of an indefinite pronoun is made by adding an apostrophe and s to the pronoun. (See also pronouns.)
no one’s fault
somebody else’s turn
Apostrophe in Compound Nouns
The possessive of a compound noun is made by placing the possessive ending after the last word.
attorney-at-law’s (singular) advertisement
the attorneys-at-law’s (plural) advertisements
manager in training’s (singular) enthusiasm
the managers in training’s (plural) enthusiasm
the advertisements of the attorneys-at-law
the enthusiasm of the managers in training
Apostrophe with Descriptive Words
Check a dictionary or your company’s style book for descriptive words ending in s.
Apostrophe with Names of Companies or Organizations
The possessive of a company or organization name is formed by adding an apostrophe and s. If the name ends in an s or a z sound, it is acceptable to add only an apostrophe.
The Bank of Madison’s new building
Siemens’ (or Siemens’s ) employee benefit package
Nolan Ventures’ quarterly report
Apostrophe with Stand-Alone Possessives
Use an apostrophe with a possessive noun that appears without the word it modifies.
The meeting will be at the Campbells’.
This quarter’s sales are running behind last quarter’s.
Apostrophe in Holidays
Most of the possessive holiday names are formed as if the names were singular nouns.
New Year’s Day
April Fools’ Day
Quotation marks (double)
Quotation marks (single)
. . .