There are reportedly fourteen punctuation marks. Unfortunately, the lists I consulted do not completely agree. Some include “braces” while others list a “slash.” With consensus on the other thirteen, that makes a possible total of fifteen punctuation marks. Here are my thoughts on all fifteen:
Comma: I use them, more then I should, and always before “and” when three of more items are in a list.
Period: I used to be compelled to place two spaces after periods at the end of sentences, but not anymore; I retrained myself. When not ending a sentence, I tend to leave them out, as in PhD.
Question mark: I question if this sentence needs a question mark? (not really, but I do occasionally stumble over this)
Exclamation point: Except for here, I never use them in groups!!! I do, however, tend to overuse them, especially in emails!
Quote: Except for colons and semi-colons, all punctuation goes inside quotes—usually.
Colon: The use of colons is more art than science. I pop them in when it feels right and my proofreader fixes them.
Semi-colon: I am in love with semi-colons; I tend to overuse them; it sometimes borders on the ridiculous.
Apostrophe: Many novice writers use them when they aren’t warranted or omit them when they are. It’s and its are common stumbling blocks.
Hyphen: My tendency is to insert them where a space is needed or to remove them (without adding a space) where they are required. I think I am just ahead of my time.
Dash: I may use dashes too much—but I always use the en-dash, while dismissing the em-dash.
Ellipsis: This is a great tool when writing dialogue or making sense of a wordy quote, but other uses strike me as sloppy writing.
Parentheses: I tend to add parenthetical sentences (and thoughts) way too often.
Brackets: This is a great device to insert editorial comments. [Other than that, I know of no other use.]
Braces: Braces are lovely in appearance and elegant in design, yet I can recall no time when I have ever used them.
Slash: I’m not sure if there is a proper place to use a slash, but I often see it (and occasionally use it) when connecting two thoughts or words by inserting “and/or” between them.
Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.