How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 2)

In the first part, we looked at two of the most widely used punctuation marks: full stops and commas.


This week’s post  explores some less common ones, starting with the exclamation mark (!)



Originally known as the note of admiration, an exclamation mark (also known as an exclamation point) is used to show strong forms of emotion: excitement, surprise, pleasure, anger, etc. It can also accompany words that represent sounds, or appear at the end of short commands.


Used Example
at the end of a short word or phrase that expresses an emotion Look out!

Ow! That really hurt!

after a word that represents a sound Bang!
at the end of a command Stop!


Question mark

As the name suggests, question marks go at the end of direct questions. Another use is in question tags, where a short question phrase is added at the end of a sentence to check if it is correct. Question marks are also sometimes added within brackets to signal that the writer is doubtful about what has just been said.


Used Example
at the end of direct questions Where were you born?
at the end of a question tag You eat red meat, don’t you?
to express doubt They say operating the new machine is quite easy (?).


Remember, you should not add a question mark after an indirect question. For example:

He asked me where I was going. ✔ (He asked me where I was going?)



The most important function of the hyphen is to link words or parts of words. Though its use has become less common over time, a hyphen is almost unavoidable when there are certain types of compounds (having two or more parts) in use.


Used Example
in compound adjectives a custom-made car
when two nouns (e.g. court martial) are turned into a compound verb to court-martial someone
when a phrasal verb (e.g. to break up)  is turned into a noun The break-up left him shattered.


Despite being one of the most important features of written English, punctuation is often taken lightly by most people; but skilled use of punctuation can help take your written English to the next level.

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