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Grammar: Capitalisation & Punctuations

by IELTS

Univeristy student walking around campus

Language makes it possible for us to communicate effectively but poor grammar can completely lose everything you are trying to say. Capitalisation and marks of punctuation are one of the most important aspects of written English, but it’s often taken lightly. This feature of writing not only gives meaning to the written words, it indicates pauses and changes in tones of the voice when speaking. A mistake in punctuation can express a completely different meaning to the one that is intended.
The most common punctuation marks in English: capital letters and full stops, questions marks, commas, colons and semicolons, exclamation marks and quotation marks.

Punctuation: Capital letters (A, B, C) and full stops (.)
Capitalise the first word of every sentence and use full stops to mark the end of a sentence:

She is reading in her room.

Please close the door on your way out.

Capitalise names and proper nouns. Proper nouns include personal names, nationalities, languages, days of the week and months of the year, public holidays, cities, religions, companies, titles of books, magazines, newspapers, plays and songs:

Duncan visited your mum today.

My favourite singer is Adele.

The Shape of Water was the most-nominated film at the Oscars on Sunday night, and it won in four categories: Production Design, Original Score, Director, and Best Picture.

I want a summer wedding!

I hate Mondays but love Fridays.

I hope you didn’t forget that today is Valentine’s Day.

Capitalise words like mum and dad when they are used as a form of address:

I can’t wait for Dad to return home.

I will write my mum today.

Don’t capitalise after a colon unless the word following the colon is a proper noun:

Life is like a box of chocolates: you will never know what will be in it.

My favourite city on Earth: Melbourne.

Capitalise the first word of a quote when the quote is a complete sentence:

Miguel asked, “Why are you so mean to Daisy?”

Mariah replied, “I don’t know, I just don’t like her.”

Full stops are also used for abbreviations:

Dr. (Doctor)

Prof. (Professor)

Etc. (etcetera)

Punctuation: question marks (?) and exclamation marks (!)

Use question marks to indicate that what is said is a question. When we use a question mark, we don’t use a full stop:

How was your day?

Did you receive my parcel today?

Use exclamation marks to express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or any other strong emotion. In informal writing, many people use more than one exclamation mark to emphasise their excitement. Some also choose to include exclamation points with question marks to express shock, protest or dismay:

No way! This behaviour is not acceptable at all.

“Get out of my house!” Steven yelled

How did you forget the concert tickets?!?!

Punctuation: commas (,)

Use commas to separate a list of similar words or phrases:

We adore Emma because she is kind, loving and responsible.

Daisy was more open, more willing to share her feelings with us this time.

A comma isn’t commonly used before “and” at the end of a list of single words:

We visited Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore this month.

A comma is commonly used in list before “and” in American English:

We brought bread, butter, and jam for everyone.

Commas are used to separate words or phrases that indicate where the one would pause slightly:

James, the math teacher, got married this morning.

They are, in reality, very inconsiderate people.

If the clauses have the same subject, a comma isn’t commonly used when main clauses are separated by and, or, but. However, commas are normally used if the clauses have different subjects:

Danny is teaching English and learning Chinese in China. (same subject)

Doctors make a healthy living but health care reform and efforts to control medical costs are affecting the way they do business. (same subject)

Lydia wants to live in Sydney, but she decided work prospects are better in Melbourne. (different subjects)

When a subordinate clause comes before the main clause, it’s common to use a comma to separate the clauses. However, it’s not always done in short sentences:

If you want to update the company website, please feel free to email or phone me.

If you want the website updated just call us.

Use subordinate or non-finite comment clauses to give further details or more information, it is common to use commas to separate the clauses:

In my honest opinion, their performance was extremely good.

You do need more exercise, if I may say so.

Commas and relative clauses

Commas are used to mark non-defining clauses. Such clauses normally add extra, non-essential information about the noun or noun phrase:

Her aunt, who arrived one hour late, was the first person to get on the dance floor.

Bathurst, the city where I lived throughout my childhood, is home to many of my friends.

Commas are not used to mark defining clauses:

Blackburn is the eastern suburb that has been selected for the Eastern District Junior Basketball tournament.

Commas and speech forms

Normally tags and yes-no responses are separated with commas:

You are attending Joanne’s wedding, aren’t you?

Yes, please. I would love another slice of the cheese cake.

Commas are used to show that direct speech is following or has just occurred:

He declared to everyone, “I am getting married.”

When the direct speech is first, use a comma before the closing of the quotation marks:

“Please make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said sternly.

Punctuation: colons (:) and semi-colons (;)

Use colons to introduce lists:

He wanted to see three cities in Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh.

Use colons to indicate a subtitle or to indicate a subdivision of a topic:

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

Colons are normally used to introduce direct speech:

She kept repeating: “I really want that car!”

A colon is normally used between sentences when the second sentence explains or justifies the first sentence:

The town reminded me of my childhood vacations: both were on the beach.

Semi-colons are used instead of full stops to separate two main clauses. In such cases, the clauses are related in meaning but are separated grammatically:

I had a huge meal; however, I am already hungry again.

Semi-colons are not commonly used in contemporary English. Full stops and commas are more common.

Punctuation: quotation marks (‘…’ or “…”)

Quotation marks in English are ‘…’ or “…”. In direct speech, what is said is enclosed within a pair of single or double quotation marks, although single quotation marks are becoming more common. Direct speech begins with a capital letter and can be preceded by a comma or a colon:

The king shouted, “Let the games begin!”

The reporting clause can be placed in three different positions. Note the position of commas and full stops here:

My mother always said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” (quotation mark after comma introducing speech and after full stop)

“I hope you will be here,” he said. (comma before closing quotation mark)

“What would you do,” I asked, “if money didn’t matter?” (commas separating the reporting clause)

Question marks are commonly used inside the quotation marks unless the question is part of the reporting clause:

“Do you know where the toilet is?” she asked.

Did the manager just announce “Tomorrow is a company holiday”?

A single quotation mark is used to draw attention to a word. Quotation marks can be used in this way when we want to question the exact meaning of the word:

I am not happy with his ‘explanation’. It doesn’t make sense.

Articles or chapters within books, or titles of short stories, are normally punctuated by single quotation marks:

The most popular song voted by her fans is called ‘Love Galore’.

Punctuation: dashes (– ) and other punctuation marks

Dashes are more common in informal writing. They can be used in similar ways to commas or semi-colons. Both single and multiple dashes may be used:

All of my work—articles, videos, photos, blogs—got wiped away when my computer crashed.

My mum – who often gets upset when I bring my boyfriend home – wasn’t concerned at all. I could not believe it!

Source: Cambridge Dictionary & Grammarly

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