School in a Book: Punctuation and Grammar

Some of the rules of grammar and punctuation don’t need to be taught; instead, they’re inbued, like social skills. However, as with social skills, a little direct coaching goes a very long way. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how much more educated you’ll seem when you don’t make simple writing mistakes.


The sixteen punctuation marks: Period, question mark, exclamation point, comma, colon, semicolon, apostrophe, quotations marks, slash, hyphen, en dash, em dash, parentheses, brackets, braces and ellipsis. Other symbols are used in mathematical notations and for words from other languages.

Comma (,): The symbol used to separate ideas within a sentence in order to improve readability. Sometimes there’s no clear right or wrong way to use a comma. Do use commas to set off parenthetic expressions, to separate items in a list and to separate independent clauses.

Serial comma: The symbol that is sometimes used at the end of a list, right before the or or and. An example is found in the sentence “The cat likes to play with yarn, cat toys, and clothing.”

Colon (:): The symbol sometimes used to introduce a quotation, explanation, example, or series. It is also sometimes used between sentences instead of a period to show that the second explains or adds directly to the first. Finally, colons can be used for emphasis. An example is: “I have four pairs of boots: one for rain, one for snow and two for fashion.” Another example is: “My sister is beautiful: she has dark hair and a great smile.” A third example is: “Yes, I have a best friend: my sister.”

Semicolon (;): A symbol that is sometimes used between two independent clauses in place of a period, especially when the second clause is closely related to the first, and to separate words and phrases in long lists that already have commas or other internal punctuation in them. An example of the first use is “I was sad; she hurt me on purpose.” An example of the second use is “I own: three black and yellow hats; one long, dark skirt; and one pair of shoes.”

Apostrophe (‘): The symbol used to form contractions or show possession. It is also used as a single quotation mark around a quote that lies within another quote. Some examples are I’ve and Sara’s.

Quotation marks (“): The symbols used around quotations

Slash (/): The symbol used to separate numbers in dates, in website addresses, in fractional numbers, to separate lines in a poem, in the phrase and/or and more

Hyphen (-): The symbol used to join words together to create a compound word, such as “self-esteem”

En dash (–): The symbol used to indicate a range of numbers or dates

Em dash (—): The symbol that is longer than an en dash and used to indicate a break in thought or to emphasize a phrase. An example is “My dogwho I loveis sweet as heck.”

Parentheses (()): The symbols used to contain additional information that isn’t otherwise grammatically connected to the sentence. An example is “My dog (who I love) is sweet as heck.”

Brackets ([]): The symbols used to add needed information into a quote that does not include it, to enclose editorial comments or corrections, to indicate an ellipsis in a quote, and for other reasons. An example is “He said, ‘She [Ms. Smith] is the new director.'”

Braces ({}): The symbols used to contain two or more lines of text or listed items to show that they are considered as a unit. Used mostly in mathematics and computer programming. Example: 2{1+[23-3]}=x.

Ellipsis (…): The symbol used to indicate omitted words or a trailing off of thought


The eight parts of speech: Noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection

Noun: A person, place, thing or idea. Proper nouns, the given name of someone or something in particular, are capitalized. Common (generic) nouns are not capitalized (except when beginning a sentence).

Pronoun: A small word used in place of a noun, including she, her, he, him, they, them, we, it, I and you

Verb: An action or state of being word, like have or walk

Adjective: A word that describes a noun or pronoun, like pretty or smart

Adverb: A word that describes a verb, an adjective or another adverb, like slowly or carefully

Article: The words a, an, and the

Preposition: A word placed before a noun to form a phrase that, taken as a whole, modifies another word in the sentence. The most common are in, with, by, for, at, in, on, out, to, under, within and without. An example is: “With my dog as company, I can do anything.” Contrary to popular understanding, it’s okay to end a sentence in a preposition; however, choose the wording that is the most clear.

Prepositional phrase: A phrase that is made up of at least one preposition and one noun (the phrase’s object) and that modifies another word in a sentence. An example is the phrase “on the shelf” in the sentence “The book on the shelf is mine.”

Conjunction: A word that joins words, phrases or clauses but are not part of a clause or prepositional phrase. The most common are and, but, therefore, however, so, for, or, nor, yet, since, while, and because. Coordinating conjunctions connect grammatically equal elements, while subordinating conjunctions connect clauses that are not equal (because, although, while, since, etc.). There are other types of conjunctions as well.Interjection: A word used to express emotion: oh, wow, ah, etc.

Sentence: A unit of writing consisting of a single main subject (someone or something that is doing something) and a single main action. (Caveat: If two complete sentences convey the same idea, a semicolon can be used to separate them and make up a single sentence.) Sentences may also include adverbs, adjectives, articles and clauses. The number of the subject of the sentence (whether it’s singular or plural) determines the number of the verb in the sentence. A dependent clause should be placed directly after the independent clause to which it refers. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

Run-on sentence: A grammatically incorrect sentence that contains two or more independent clauses without proper punctuation (such as a period or semicolon) to separate them

Loose sentence: A sentence that starts with an independent clause and also includes one or more dependent clauses. These can give a paragraph breathability and flow, but too many in a row are tiresome. An example is: “My friend Bill is a farmer and often reminds me of the importance of nature, and I often remind him that I am a city kid, to which he replies that no one is truly a city kid.”

Sentence fragment: A group of words that is missing some element needed to make a complete sentences, such as the subject or the verb. Examples are “Because I need it” and “Good question.”

Topic sentence: The sentence at the beginning of a paragraph that includes the main idea of the paragraph

Verb tense: The form of the verb that denotes the time of the action. When writing, is important to be consistent in the chosen verb tense. There are twelve verb tenses: three subcategories (past, present and future) in four main categories (simple, progressive, perfect and perfect progressive).

Simple verb tense: The verb tense used in the phrases “I eat”, “I ate” and “I will eat.”

Progressive verb tense: The verb tense used in the phrases “I am eating”, “I was eating” and “I will be eating”, where action is ongoing

Perfect verb tense: The verb tense used in the phrases “I have eaten”, “I had eaten” and “I will have eaten”, where action was or will be completed before a specific time

Perfect progressive verb tense: The verb tense used in the phrases “I have been eating”, “I had been eating” and “I will have been eating”, where action started in the past, continued up to a specific point in time, and may continue in the future

Clause: A group of words that contains both a subject and a verb

Independent clause: A clause that can stand alone (and might or might not do so). An example is “I baked some bread” in the sentence “Because I like bread, I baked some bread.”

Dependent clause: A clause that cannot stand alone. An example is “because I like bread” in the sentence “Because I like bread, I baked some bread.”

Helping verb: A verb that helps some main verbs express the action. There are 23 in all: be, am, is, are, was, were, been, being, have, has, had, could, should, must, may, might, must, can, will, would, do, did, and does.

Suffix: A word ending that changes the word’s tense or meaning. An example is -able in the word “readable.”

Prefix: A word beginning that changes the word’s meaning. An example is -un in the word “unhappy.”

Synonyms: Words with the same or approximately the same meaning. Examples are “happy” and “joyful.”

Antonyms: Words with opposite meanings. Examples are “happy” and “sad.”

Homographs: Words which are spelled alike but have different meanings and/or pronunciations

Homonyms: Words that are spelled and pronounced alike but have different meanings. Examples include “bear” and “bare.”

Homophone: One of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning, origin, or spelling. Examples are “flour” and “flower.”

Dipthong: A combination of two vowels to make a single blended sound. Examples are au and ou.

Digraph: A combination of two letters to make a single sound. Examples are th and ph.

Palindrome: A word or phrase that is spelled the same when read in either direction. An example is “eve.”

Acronym: An abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word. An example is ASAP, which stands for “as soon as possible.”


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