Many people are confident and proficient writers but when it comes to punctuating their prose their self-assuredness starts to crumble. There really isn’t any reason to get all wimpy about it because punctuation isn’t that difficult. Seriously. Don’t let the “Rules of Punctuation” stifle your flow. Here you can develop a feel for how punctuation works.

The Period

Without question, the period is the most commonly used punctuation mark. That’s because every sentence needs one and knowing where to place it is rather straightforward; they go at the end of a complete sentence that is a statement.

Example: I sat beside her on the couch and she told me about her vacation plans.

You also use a period after an indirect question.

Example: Paul asked where his running shoes were.

And finally, if the last word in the sentence ends in a period, don’t add another period.

Examples: Matthew just received his Ph.D. He is my nephew.

The Colon

If you haven’t been using colons in your writing you may want to reconsider. The colon is one of the most helpful and easy to understand of all the punctuation marks. You just have to remember one thing: it introduces. Colons can introduce just about anything: a word, a phrase, a sentence, a list, or a quotation. Did you notice that in the two preceding sentences colons were used to introduce first a sentence and then a list? It’s that easy.

Here are some other examples:

Max has only one thing on his mind: food.

Max has only one thing on his mind: his next meal.

Max has only one thing on his mind: he wants to eat.

Max has three things on his mind: cheeseburgers, fries, and milk shakes.

In the above sentences a colon was used to introduce various things: a word, a phrase, a sentence, and a list. Try incorporating colons in your writing because they provide emphasis. When a reader sees a colon they have stop, and so they pay more attention to what comes next.

The Semicolon

The semicolon is another important tool to have in your writing arsenal. This punctuation mark is primarily used to connect two sentences. But keep in mind the sentences must have similar content. Good writers always string together complex thoughts and show how they relate. A semicolon is the perfect way to join two sentences, or ideas, so your reader understands the relationship. For example:

Patricia is a great singer; she hits every note.

Notice that the second part of the sentence comments on the first. Obviously, the example could have been written as two separate sentences but the relationship wouldn’t be as emphatic that way. That’s because with a semicolon the reader doesn’t have to come to a full stop so, therefore, the relationship seems much closer.

Don’t use a semicolon if your second sentence begins with a conjunction. In this case the conjunction and comma replaces the semicolon.

The Comma

The comma signals the reader to pause, just as flashing traffics light tell drivers to slow down. There are four ways to use commas.

Use commas to separate items in series. All you have to do is place a comma between each item of the list.

Example: I went to supermarket to buy eggs, bread, milk, and chocolate.

Easy enough, right? The sticky part is whether to include the comma between the last two items. Actually, you have the option of putting it in or leaving it out. Modern writers believe the conjunction takes the place of the comma but it’s still acceptable to use one.

You can also use commas between two sentences. Usually a semicolon is used for that purpose but you can use a comma and conjunction to link the two together.

Example: James will be traveling to Japan with us, and he has agreed to pack lightly.

Frequently, we use commas to attach more information to the front or back of a sentence. The preceding sentence is a good example of what this means. A comma was placed after the conjunctive adverb frequently.

Example: Although she is tone death, Mary had no fear during open mike night.

The Apostrophe

Apostrophes let the reader know that a word is either a contraction or a possessive.

To form a contraction such as can’t, you’re, or don’t, simply collapse the two words that make it into one and use an apostrophe in place of the missing letter.

Do not – don’t.

In most cases you make a possessive by simply adding an apostrophe s to the end of the noun. The confusing part is what to do when a noun is plural and possessive. In that case, you place the apostrophe after the s rather than before.

Bakers – bakers’

What do you do if you need to make a possessive of a singular noun that ends in s? Just add an apostrophe s or just an apostrophe. Either is acceptable.

Charles – Charles’s or Charles’

This has been an overview of the most useful punctuation marks you will use as a writer. Though you should now have a good feel for how to use them, you may want to keep a good grammar book on your desk for when you run up on a particularly perplexing problem. And remember, punctuation isn’t hard so don’t let it nibble away at your writing confidence. You can punctuate with the best of them!