The 12 Days of Christmas 14 types of punctuation

It’s hard to believe, but the holiday season is upon us once again. It’s a time of giving, sharing and caring. A time of cold nights and hot chocolate. A time of friends, family and grammar.

Fine, I made up that last one. But in the spirit of giving, and in true editor fashion, let’s play with The 12 Days of Christmas theme. Below I gift you the 14 punctuation marks of grammar (and when to use them).

The 14 punctuation marks of grammar

1. Period (.)

The most common form of punctuation, used at the end of declarative statements as well as after abbreviations and the like.

2. Question mark (?)

A powerful piece of punctuation in proposals (maybe we’ll do a blog on alliteration another day), used to indicate a question.

3. Exclamation point (!)

Used (too often) to express excitement. Use sparingly (in proposals, but also in general).

4. Comma (,)

The comma is used to show a pause or separation of ideas/elements within a sentence. It’s also used in numbers, dates and in letters after the salutation and closing.

5. Semicolon (;)

People struggle most with the semicolon, but once you learn they are used to connect two independent clauses (full sentences), they’re not so scary.

6. Colon (:)

A versatile piece of punctuation, the colon is most often used to introduce a quote, an explanation, an example, etc. It can also be used to show emphasis (such as, “I love one thing most of all: tacos.”), but less so nowadays in favor of another form of punctuation.

7. Dash (– and —)

This is the gift that keeps on giving, as there are two different types of dashes. The en dash (–) is two hyphens back to back, mostly used between numbers to indicate a range. The em dash (—) is even longer and is used most commonly in place of parentheses or a colon for readability or to create more emphasis.

The CCS editors bend the rules a little, using the en dash in place of the em dash to save valuable space in proposals. There are also other punctuation rules that change based on style (whether ours or AP Style), and we’ve talked about some of them before.

8. Hyphen (-)

A hyphen is used to join two or more words together to form a compound word, such as full-time or up-to-date.

9. Brackets ([])

Seen more in technical writing and even newspapers, brackets should be used for technical purposes or to clarify meaning (e.g., “She [Elizabeth Burr] loves tacos.”)

10. Braces ({})

Rarely seen outside of computer programming and mathematics, braces are used to keep together two or more items to show they are considered one.

11. Parentheses (())

In writing, parentheses are used most often to add a qualifying remark or additional information. In business writing, however, commas are more appropriate in most cases.

12. Apostrophe (‘)

This punctuation (which we’ve blogged about before) is for showing the possessive case as well as the omission of letters – either in contractions or phrases like rock ‘n’ roll.

13. Quotation marks (“)

These are used before and after a quote and, though usually unnecessary, to avoid confusion with special terms or non-words. Related to the first part, single quotation marks should be used only when the quoted word/phrase is already within quotation marks.

14. Ellipsis (…)

An ellipsis is used in writing to indicate an omission or a trailing off. They should be infrequent (if used at all) outside of quoted text when you’re eliminating some wording.

Thank you for reading our blog this year, and may your holidays be merry and bright—and grammatically correct.


Don’t be sad. We’ll be back on the first Monday next month with a new blog post. If you can’t wait that long—whether because you have a topic you’d love us to cover, a question or you simply want to throw your two cents into the pot—we love talkin’ shop, so drop us a line.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit

Recent Memos

you are what you listen to
Elizabeth Burr

Music to My Ears

If the words you are writing are likely the same words of your competitors, how can you set yourself apart? Easy. Sound different.

Read More »