Basic Punctuation Rules and Help

Since proper punctuation is an essential part of successful communication, remembering basic punctuation rules will make it easier for you to write clearly and effectively.

Punctuation Must Be Parallel

When punctuation is parallel it means that interrupting a main clause with a dash or a comma requires using the same punctuation at the beginning and end of the clause.

Incorrect: The teenagers, students from Mrs. Smith’s art class—went on a field trip to the museum.

Correct: The teenagers, students from Mrs. Smith’s art class, went on a field trip to the museum.

Correct: The teenagers—students from Mrs. Smith’s art class—went on a field trip to the museum.

This rule also means that you should not use a semicolon to set off just one item in a list.

Incorrect: I have lived in Des Moines, Iowa, Seattle, Washington; and Boise, Idaho.

Correct: I have lived in Des Moines, Iowa; Seattle, Washington; and Boise, Idaho.

An Emdash is a Strong Comma

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An emdash (the longest of the three dashes) can be used for many of the same purposes as a comma. A pair of emdashes can be used if the sentence already contains commas or to mark off information for emphasis; while a single emdash draws attention to a modifier or an extra piece of information.

Sarah hated walking to school—it was all uphill—but she had no choice, she had missed the bus again.

For his birthday, Mark received a sweater, a jacket, a savings bond—and a new bike!

Pizza, chocolate, and ice cream—these are my favorite foods.

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