Hyphens are the short lines that separate the words in the expressions ‘non-English’ and ‘ex-husband’.

When to use hyphens?

We usually use a hyphen between the two words in a two-part adjective in which the second part ends in -ed or -ing.

  • Good-looking
  • Broken-hearted
  • Blue-eyed

Two-part adjectives which contain the sense of ‘between’ are also hyphenated.

  • the India-Pakistan match (= the match between India and Pakistan)
  • the Anglo-French agreement

A longer phrase used as an adjective before a noun is also hyphenated.


  • An out-of-work singer
  • He is out of work. (NOT He is out-of-work.)


The prefixes co-, non- and ex- are sometimes separated from the following words by hyphens.

  • Ex-lover
  • Non-cooperation
  • Co-production

Hyphens are also used to separate the parts of a long word at the end of a written or printed line. To see where to divide words look in a good dictionary.

Are hyphens disappearing?

The rules about the usage of hyphens are very complicated. Needless to say, people seem to be using hyphens less. Many short compound words are now written with no separation between the two parts. Examples are: weekend, takeover etc.

Many longer compound words are now written as completely separate words. Examples are: bus driver, living room etc.

It is also not unusual to find the same word written in three different ways. Example: living-room, living room, livingroom

If you do not know whether to use a hyphen or not,  the best thing to do is to write the words without a hyphen.


The punctuation mark (‘) is called apostrophe. It has the following functions.

In writing a contraction

The apostrophe is used in writing a contraction. It shows the place of the omitted letters. Examples are: it’s (for it is or it has), hasn’t (for has not) and doesn’t (for does not).

The apostrophe is also used in writing certain words which were formerly contractions. Example: o’clock

In writing most possessives

The apostrophe is used in writing most possessives.

  • Jane’s mother
  • Peter’s car
  • Children’s books
  • two weeks’ vacation

Note that the apostrophe is not used in writing the possessive forms of most pronouns.

  • The cat closed its eyes. (NOT The cat closed it’s eyes.)
  • Whose bag is this? (NOT Who’se bag is this?)
  • These toys are hers. (NOT These toys are her’s.)

In writing the plurals of letters

Although the apostrophe is not used in writing plurals, it is used in writing the plurals of letters and other forms which would be difficult to read without the apostrophe.

  • Dot the i’s and cross the t’s
  • Mind your p’s and q’s


The punctuation mark comma (,) has the following uses.

To connect the items in a list

Commas are used to connect the items in a list, except for the last two which are usually connected by a coordinating conjunction like and or or.

  • My favorite writers are Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte and Jane Austen.
  • The Three Musketeers were Arthos, Porthos and Aramis.

To join two complete sentences into a single sentence

A comma is used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence. It is usually followed by a connecting word like and, but, or, while or yet.

  • She had very little to live on, but she would never take what was not hers.


Short clauses connected by and, but or or are not usually separated by commas.

  • She is poor but she is honest. (NOT She is poor, but she is honest.)

To show that certain words have been omitted

A comma can be used to show that certain words have been omitted.

  • Alice decided to order to steak pie and Peter, the chicken pathia. (The omitted words are ‘decided to order’.)

Subordinate clauses

When subordinate clauses begin sentences, they are often separated by commas.

  • When the rain stopped, we went out. OR We went out when the rain stopped.

Commas are also used to set off words or expressions that interrupt the natural progression of a sentence

  • My friends, however, did not come.
  • John had, surprisingly, did everything.

To separate adjectives used in the predicative position

Adjectives used in the predicative position are always separated by commas.

  • He is tall, dark and handsome.
  • That was a lovely, long, cool drink.

Sometimes commas are not used between the last two adjectives which are usually separated by a conjunction like and or or.

Commas are sometimes dropped between short adjectives.

In direct speech

A comma is generally used between a reporting verb and a piece of direct speech.

  • Looking at the painting, she said, ‘I like this one.’

If the reporting verb follows a piece of direct speech, we usually use a comma instead of a full stop before the closing quotation mark.

  • ‘I don’t like this,‘ said Jane.


Large numbers are often divided into groups of three figures by using commas.

Examples are:

  • 5,768 (NOT 5.768)
  • 6, 567, 873

Commas are sometimes not used in four figure numbers.

  • 5,378 or 5378

Commas are never used in dates.

  • The Year 1953 (NOT The Year 1,953)

Cases where commas are not used

Commas are not used before that, what, where etc in indirect speech structures.

  • Nobody realized that the child was missing. (NOT Nobody realized, that the child …)
  • She didn’t know what to do. (NOT She didn’t know, what to do.)

Commas are not used between two grammatically independent sentences. Instead we use a full stop or a semicolon.

  • The blue dress was cheap. On the other hand, the pink dress was better. OR The blue dress was cheap; on the other hand, the pink dress was better. (NOT The blue dress was cheap, on the other hand, …)

Punctuation: Colon

The colon (:) marks a bigger pause than that is expressed by the semicolon. It is sometimes used with a dash after it.

  • We cancelled our decision to go on a holiday: we had too little money.
  • Jane had to be hospitalized: she had heart trouble.

Direct speech

A colon is used when famous sayings are quoted.

  • Bacon says: ‘Reading makes a full man, writing an exact man, speaking a ready man.’

A colon is also used when direct speech is introduced by a name.

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.

In other cases, direct speech is usually introduced by a comma.

  • Peter looked at the photo and said, ‘Who is this beautiful girl?’


A colon can introduce a list.

  • The three tenses are: the present tense, the past tense and the future tense.
  • We need three kinds of support: financial, political and moral.

In a title or heading, a colon is often used to introduce a subdivision of a subject.

  • Tenses: the present tense
  • Punctuation: colon

Capital letters

In British English, we do not normally use a capital letter after a colon. In American English, colons are more often followed by capital letters.

  • Verbs: transitive verbs (GB)
  • Verbs: Transitive verbs (US)


In letters Americans usually put a colon after the opening salutation.

Dear Mr. Mathews:
I am writing to…

British people prefer a comma in this case. Sometimes they do not use any punctuation mark at all.

Dear Mr Mathews,
I am writing to…

Punctuation Exercise

Use appropriate punctuation marks in the following sentences.

1. We had a great time in France  the kids really enjoyed it
2. Some people work best in the mornings others do better in the evenings
3. What are you doing next weekend
4. Mother had to go into hospital she had heart problems
5. Did you understand why I was upset
6. It is a fine idea let us hope that it is going to work
7. We will be arriving on Monday morning  at least I think so
8. A textbook can be a wall between teacher and class
9. The girls father sat in a corner
10. In the words of Murphys Law Anything that can go wrong will go wrong


1. We had a great time in France – the kids really enjoyed it.
2. Some people work best in the mornings; others do better in the evenings.
3. What are you doing next weekend?
4. Mother had to go into hospital: she had heart problems.
5. Did you understand why I was upset?
6. It is a fine idea; let us hope that it is going to work.
7. We will be arriving on Monday morning – at least, I think so.
8. A textbook can be a ‘wall’ between teacher and class.
9. The girl’s father sat in a corner.
10. In the words of Murphy’s Law: ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.’

Using Colon

Colons are used before explanations.

  • We decided to cancel the match: it was raining.

A colon is used when direct speech is introduced by a name or short phrase.

It is also used when famous sayings are quoted.

  • Bacon says: ‘Reading makes a full man, writing an exact man, speaking a ready man.’
  • Polonius: ‘What do you read, my lord?’
  • Hamlet: ‘Words, words, words.’

A colon can introduce a list.

The principal forms of a verb in English are: the present tense, the past tense and the past participle.

The non-finite verbs are: participles, infinitives and gerunds.


In British English, it is unusual for a capital letter to follow a colon. In American English, colons are more often followed by capital letters.


Americans usually put a colon after the opening salutation in a business letter.

Dear Mr James:

I am writing to …

British usage prefers a comma or no punctuation mark at all in this case.

Uses of comma in a simple sentence

The comma is the shortest pause between words.

The comma has the following uses in a simple sentence.

To mark off nouns, pronouns or phrases in apposition

  •  James, my neighbor, is a doctor.
  • Wordsworth, the famous English poet, was a lover of nature.

To mark off each one of a series of words belonging to the same part of speech

  • He spoke easily, clearly and eloquently.
  • The children laughed, danced, jumped and cried for joy.

A comma is generally not placed before a word preceded by and.

  • The farmer owned sheep, cattle and poultry.

To mark off a nominative of address

  • Doctor, the patient is ill.
  • Gentleman, I bring good news.

After a nominative absolute

  • God willing, we shall meet again.

To mark off a direct quotation from the rest of the sentence

  • ‘I am not tired,’ said James, ‘but I am very hungry.’

To separate each pair of words connected by ‘and’

  • Young and old, high and low, rich and poor, all praised the little boy’s clever tricks.

Before and after words, phrases and clauses let into the body of a sentence.

  • His conduct, to say the least, was disgusting.
  • He did not, however, agree.

The following words and expressions are also separated from the rest of the sentence by means of a comma: at least, indeed, well, all the same, however, of course, on the whole, in short, in particular etc.

Using the apostrophe

An apostrophe (’) is used to create possessive forms, contractions and some plural forms. It indicates where the letter has been omitted.

I am = I’m

He’s = he is

They’re = they are

Do not = don’t

I’d = I would or I had

She would have failed. = She would’ve failed.

Contracted forms are not considered appropriate in formal writing. However, it is basically a matter of personal choice.

Before writing contractions in a paper that is going to be graded, you should ask your tutor whether it is appropriate to include them in your writing.

Apostrophes are used in writing possessives.

While writing possessives, the position of the apostrophe depends on whether the noun is singular or plural.

If the noun is singular, the apostrophe goes before the –s. Example: the girl’s parents

If the noun is plural, the apostrophe usually goes after the –s. Example: the girls’ parents

If the plural form of the noun does not end in –s, the apostrophe goes before the –s. Example: the men’s hostel

You can also create possessive forms with of. In this case, no apostrophes are used.

  • A friend of mine works abroad.

Common mistakes

The words its and it’s are often confused.

Its is a possessive word.

  • The dog wagged its tail.

It’s means it is or it has.

  • It’s your book. (= It is your book.)
  • It’s stopped raining. (= It has stopped raining.)

They’re and their

These two expressions are also confused.

They’re means they areTheir is a possessive word.

They took their children along.

  • They’re waiting for us. (= They are waiting for us.)

‘There are’ does not have an appropriate contracted form.

An apostrophe is also used to form the plurals of letters and digits. This is particularly common when the letters are written in the small case.

  • Mind your p’s and q’s.
  • She got 4 a’s this term.

Apostrophes are no longer used to form plurals of years.

  • Example: 1990s (more natural than 1990’s)

Using the quotation marks

Quotation marks (“ ”) are used to set off text that denotes quoted or spoken language.

Quotation marks are also used to set off titles of stories, novels and poems.

In American English, it is not uncommon for periods and commas to go inside quotation marks.

For example, an American may write:

  • My favorite novel is “Gulliver’s Travels.”

This use of punctuation marks within the quotation marks is not considered appropriate in British English.

So if you follow the rules of British English, you are more likely to write:

  • My favorite novel is ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.

Note that if the text inside the quotation marks is a sentence, then a full stop can be used at the end.

  • He always said, “Be careful what you wish for.”
  • He always said, “Be careful what you wish for”.

We use quotation marks when we quote direct speech. Single quotation marks (‘ ’) are more common in British English and double quotation marks (“ ”) in American English.

  • Albert said, “Get that woman out of here.”

A long passage of direct speech inside the quotation marks may be introduced by a colon.

  • Announcing the quarterly earnings, the Chairman said: “A number of factors have contributed to the stellar performance of the company.”

A colon is also used when direct speech is introduced by a name.

  • Lord Polonius: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

In reporting words that are said internally, but not spoken out loudly, the writer may or may not use quotation marks.

  • “What a lovely morning!” Maria said to herself.
  • What a lovely morning, Maria said to herself.

Uses of the comma

The comma is used to indicate a pause between parts of a sentence.

Uses of the comma

Before and after words used in apposition to a noun

  • Winston Churchill, the statesman, was also an eminent writer.
    Janaki, my sister, is an eminent cardiologist.

To separate two or more nouns, adjectives, or adverbs that come together

  • England, Russia and France formed an alliance.

To separate a participial phrase

  • Feeling tired, I went to bed.
  • Being fat, she couldn’t run fast.

To mark off a noun

  • James, can we bank on him?
  • Mary, have your meals.
  • John, come here.

After an introductory phrase or clause

  • To be honest, I have little interest in politics.
  • For God’s sake, leave me alone.
  • In the name of justice, be fair to that poor man.

To indicate the omission of a verb in cases where repetition should be avoided

  • My brother bought a watch and my sister, a camera. (= My brother bought a watch and my sister bought a camera.)

Before and after words or phrases let into the body of a sentence

  • She had, surprisingly, paid for everything.
  • The boy had, in spite of all the hardships he faced, managed to succeed.

To separate a subordinate clause from the main clause

  • After he had finished his job, he went out.
  • When I opened the door, the cat jumped in.

The comma can be omitted when the subordinate clause goes after the main clause.

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