Punctuation: The “Traffic Signs” of English

Punctuation marks can be thought of as the “traffic signs” of the English language. Knowing the “sign” that each punctuation mark represents helps us use it correctly in writing, and when reading.


Comma = Speed Bump

In English, a comma is used to indicate a slight pause or a break in the sentences.  So it makes us slow down, just like a speed bump!  We use it when there is a slight change in mood, extra information, and between the items in a list within a sentence.

*like tomatoes, but I don’t like cabbage.

*Visiting Spain, except in the heat of summer, is a wonderful experience.

*Pigs, cows, sheep and goats are all farm animals.


Semicolon = Slight Diversion Ahead

In English, a semi colon is used to separate parts of a sentence where there are two similar, but unconnected, ideas.  We also use the semi-colon to introduce a list, often the list is of actions.  Remember, the semicolon is followed with a non-capital letter.  If a road changes from being a single lane to a double lane road, a ‘slight diversion ahead’ sign might be used.

*Truth ennobles man; learning adorns him.


Colon = Attention!

In English, a colon is used to introduce a contrasting idea or a summary of what went before.  It is often used to emphasise something that goes after it.  It is often used to introduce a ‘stand alone’ list.  An “Attention!” sign such as this means that notice must be taken of what is further up the road.

*I must tell you something: you’ve got my umbrella!


Full Stop = Red light

In English, a full stop is used to mark the end of a sentence. The words have to come to a “complete stop” – just as if we are facing a red traffic light.

*I saw the frown on his face, and knew I was in hot water.

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