Punctuation Guide


  • Use with an "s" to make a singular proper name possessive; e.g., Bobby's
  • Place the apostrophe after the "s" when possessive is plural
  • To express the shortened form of years of college classes; e.g.: Class of '76
  • Before s when using the spelled-out form of degrees; e.g.: bachelor's degree or master's degree

Do not use:

  • primes (apostrophe and quotes) to designate inches and feet and navigational/degree notation; e.g.: 12 inches not 12"; 67 degrees not 67°
  • when making the plural; e.g., 1980s

Commas, Semicolons, Colons

  • Place a comma after digits signifying thousands, except when reference is made to temperature or to SAT scores

Correct: 1,150 students, but 1100 degrees and an SAT score of 1143

  • Use a colon to introduce a list of items.

Correct: The following books are required: Emma, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Lady Susan and Persuasion.

  • When listing city names with states, use the state abbreviation followed by a period and comma unless at the end of a sentence; with the exception of eight states which should be spelled out: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah; e.g.:

Correct: Robert Green is a San Antonio, Texas, native.
Correct: Clara Temple comes from Kansas City, Mo.

State Abbreviations


  • When writing a date, place a comma before and after the year and after days when used with a date; e.g.: July 4, 1980, was a special day. Tuesday, July 6, had cloudy skies.
  • Do not place a comma between the month and year when the day is not mentioned; e.g.: June 1980
  • Do not use a comma before the words and or in a series; e.g.: The Cardinals, the cheerleaders, the pep squad and the booster club will meet the day before the tournament. However, place a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction; e.g.: The departments of English, history, modern languages, and government and international affairs participated in the conference.


  • If a phrase is within parentheses at the end of a sentence, place the period after the closing parenthesis.
  • If a complete sentence is in parentheses, the period should be inside the closing parenthesis.


Use an em (--) dash:

  • To set apart a phrase for emphasis, with space before and after; e.g.;
  • He brought several items – tape, pens, paper and staples – in case they were needed.

Use an en (-) dash:

  • To indicate span of time; e.g.: May 16 - June 10; or 1 - 3 p.m.
  • When hyphenating words; e.g.: all-student party


An ellipsis is a string of three periods with a space before and after to denote continuation on an idea;

Correct: The audience applauded, then there was silence ... and suddenly music started playing.


  • Do not hyphenate the words vice president and words beginning with non or ultra, except those containing a proper noun; e.g., non-German; nontechnical.
  • Do not place a hyphen between the prefixes pre, post, semi, anti, multi, re, un, sub, etc., and their nouns or adjectives, except before proper nouns or when two vowels with no hyphen separating them would be unclear; e.g.:
    • predentistry
    • electro-optical but preindustrial pro-American

Exception is pre when used before law or med, as in pre-law or pre-med. Also, use a hyphen when coining a phrase; e.g.: pro-peace.

  • Avoid hyphenating words unless their meaning is unclear without a hyphen; e.g.:
    • postgraduate not post-graduate
    • strong-willed not strongwilled
  • Use a hyphen to connect compound modifiers used to describe things; e.g.:
    • right-handed person
    • part-time job
  • No hyphen is needed when using compound words that have become commonplace as one word; e.g.: website, healthcare, troubleshoot
  • Numbers below 100 should be hyphenated when they consist of two words and are used at the beginning of a sentence; e.g.: Thirty-nine


Apply italics to:

  • Foreign words or phrases not commonly understood or used in American English; unless part of a proper noun or formal name such as a location name, composition title, for instance. Well known foreign words take no italics.
    • Correct: “Thank you,” I said. “Selv tak,” she replied.
    • Correct: kimchee, pho and merci
  • Latin names
  • Scientific names; e.g.: canis familiaris
  • To emphasize words and phrases; e.g.: The time to start planning is now.
  • Titles of books, plays, movies, radio and television programs, musical compositions, operas, pamphlets, periodicals, etc.
  • Translated words in copy

Correct: The project was named Recomencar, or restart in English.

Do not italicize the Bible or title of books that are primarily catalogs of reference material

Quotation Marks

Apply quotation marks to essays, lectures, and parts of volumes, chapters, titles of papers, etc.

  • Use single quotation marks for quotations printed within other quotations.
  • If several paragraphs are to be quoted, use open-quote marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but use close-quote marks only at the end of the final paragraph.
  • Set quotation marks after periods and commas and before colons and semicolons.
  • Use editor's brackets, not parentheses, to set off editorial remarks within direct quotations; e.g.: "Jacobs saw it [the movie] and was moved by the story."
  • Do not place quotation marks around the Bible or books that are primarily catalogs of reference material.