Tags: #essay writing tips, #punctuation

Punctuation Rules: Using Commas, Apostrophes and Quotation Marks Correctly

Traditionally, we do not pay great heed to punctuation. However, only having seen a text without any punctuation marks, we acknowledge how significant they are for the correct understanding of our intentions and ideas. Therefore, if you want to write a really impressive essay, your essay punctuation is as essential as the content of your work. Make use of the following essay writing tips on punctuation and you will definitely get a good feedback on your work.

Punctuation Rules for an Essay

  • Apply a question mark exceptionally at the end of a direct question; for indirect questions use a period at the end.
  • Exclamation points are mostly used for two purposes: they may mark an emotionally colored sentence or may be used to emphasize some essential points. Note that putting too many exclamation points is undesirable as readers may think that you are shouting.
  • As a rule, hyphen links the parts of compound words but remember that not all compound words require a hyphen. In the nowadays American English, hyphen is not as significant as it used to be. Thus, check the word, the punctuation of which you are not sure about, in the dictionary.
  • Put the apostrophe for contractions and make sure you placed it correctly, as this punctuation mark is traditionally used instead of the omitted vowels.
  • Pay particular attention to using commas when writing essays. Remember that they join the clauses of a compound sentence, separate each item in a list when listing more than two items, highlight all forms of appositions, the words in a strange syntactic position and set off all the parenthetic words and phrases.
  • Apply commas in order to separate non-defining relative clauses which may be neglected without ruining the sentence.
  • Place comma with inverted commas to single out quoted text from the rest of the sentence.

The correct using of commas when writing essays

Definitely, commas are very helpful when we need to separate extensive sentences. However, according to essay punctuation rules, there are certain places in your paper where commas are not required. The most common mistake of this sort is using a comma before the word ‘and’. In fact, this rule is a little bit tricky, as some people believe that putting a coma before ‘and’ is absolutely wrong, whereas others welcome a comma in this case. Accordingly, to avoid misunderstandings, do not use it if it is possible.

For instance, a comma is required here:

“Daniel Defoe and Denis Diderot are the representatives of the Epoch of the Enlightenment, both of whom made a significant contribution to the development of literature in their regions”.

But NOT here because of the ‘and’:

“Daniel Defoe and Denis Diderot are the representatives of the Epoch of the Enlightenment and made a significant contribution to the development of literature in their regions”.

However, a comma is absolutely necessary before the word ‘which’. According to most editors, this is the place where people often omit this necessary punctuation mark. The word ‘which’ indicates the pause that is needed in the sentence (traditionally because the next part represents a different idea or thought), whereas ‘that’ is used when the meaning of the sentence goes straight on. Students constantly mix up these two cases as they believe that the word ‘which’ itself carries out this function and therefore they do not put a comma.

For instance, a comma is used here:

“Four volumes of Quietly Flows the Don make up an epopee, which is of utmost importance for the Russian literature of the 20th century”

But NOT here:

“The book Quietly Flows the Don is comprised of four volumes that make up an epopee”.

Certainly, this rule also has exceptions, not least when the word ‘which’ is being used in a different meaning, for instance:

“This is the place, in which he was born”

The word ‘which’ may be used without a comma in the restrictive sentence when it is referring to a particular object, as follows:

“The city which was destroyed during the war is now renovated”.

There is also an opinion that the word ‘that’ would be more suitable here. Thus, it is prudent to avoid it on the off chance.

Top tip: When reading the sentence you feel that there is a pause before the word ‘which’ or it presents a new part of the sentence, you definitely should put a comma.

When are quotation marks and apostrophes put?

Lots of people may get lower marks if they mix up using the single apostrophe (‘) with using double quotation marks (“). To provide impeccable English grammar, it is prudent to get hold of using quotation marks. The main rule is here: the double quotation mark is applied in dialogues or speeches, or any quoting from a text.

For instance:

“Hurry up,” said Mum, “we ran out of time.”


The world-renowned lines from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, “Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot”, depicts the importance of possessing confidence.

Single quotation marks are applied when presenting an arguable or false notion that was considered to be true but vastly doubted or disproved.

For instance:

The ‘ghost’ that the little boy claimed to have seen appeared to be just a scarecrow.

The Correct Punctuation After Speech Marks

Another widespread punctuation mistake that should be corrected is missing punctuation at the end of a person’s speech. Just keep in mind that even if you think that the sentence carries on, even if the person is likely to speak again in the sentence, according to the correct grammar, you must use a punctuation mark when you close speech marks.

For instance:

“John!” shouted Dad, “hurry up and go downstairs.” “Yes Mum,” called Thomas, “I will be in no time.”

TOP TIP: No way should you close a speech mark without applying punctuation.

Eventually, remember that excellent essay punctuation is part and parcel of successful paper writing. The presented above simple rules and top tips on essay punctuations will help you to avoid stupid mistakes and obtain a well-deserved excellent mark. Bear in mind that these mistakes can be easily made but still you can get rid of them if you will spare at least 5 minutes at the end of your essay writing to check it through, paying particular attention to your punctuation marks and keeping in mind the essay punctuation rules presented above.

Now you know everything about using punctuation when writing essays!