Punctuation: Dots of all Sorts

Punctuation, those tiny marks that help make our writing so much clearer, can easily trip us up! I thought we'd have a look at dots today.

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The first dot is the full stop (or period) — it looks like this: .

A full stop is used at the end of a sentence. (See, there it is!) When using a full stop, follow it by one space, and then start your next sentence with a capital letter. Like this.

But where else is this handy tiny dot used? Well, mainly in abbreviations, as the decimal point in numbers and currency, in expressions of time, and between elements in an email address. Some examples for you:

Mr. (Mister)

etc. (et cetera)

fig.  (figure)


3.30 pm


Handy little thing, isn't it?

Let's go mad and type three dots in a row! English is exciting, huh? You know ...

This series of 3 dots in a row actually has a proper name (doesn't everything ... ). It's called an ellipsis. It is used to indicate an omission of a word or words from speech or writing that are unnecessary or can be understood from the context. Personally, I think "dotties" would be a better name ;)

A variation of the full stop is the comma — ,

A comma inserts a small break within a sentence, and can be thought of as a "breathing point", where you would naturally pause to take a breath while speaking. It separates clauses, phrases, and other subsections of sentences. It also separates items in a list, like so:

The duck army was very large, noisy, and well-organised.

The use of the final comma in lists is a matter of some contention (would you believe it?). Look at these last three words in these examples:

1) Wendy was looking forward to seeing the ducks, Denise and Troy.

There's no comma before the final item in the list ("and Troy"). In some circumstances, this may cause confusion (are the ducks called Denise and Troy or is Wendy looking forward to seeing the ducks and Denise and Troy?).

2) Wendy was looking forward to seeing the ducks, Denise, and Troy.

In this example, there is a comma before the final item (this is often called a serial comma, or Oxford comma). It makes the intent of the information very clear: obviously, Denise and Troy are not the names of the ducks.

The main way to decide whether to add that extra comma before the final item in your list is whether your meaning will be very clear without it or not. Personally, I am a big fan of the Oxford comma, and almost always use it.

Now, let's get very tricky indeed, and balance one dot on top of another, like so —  :

This device is called a colon (no, not the intestines, although they are homographs!). It goes before lists of things, or an explanation of something. So, to give you a list of chores, I could do it like so: wash the dishes, weed the vegie garden, wash the dog, and sweep the floor. 

It can also be used to introduce a block quotation, introduce a direct question, and to introduce the subtitles of books. 

Finally, we're going to swap one of the dots in a colon for a comma, and come up with this little beauty — ;

This punctuation mark is a semicolon. It provides a "stronger" break within the sentence than a comma does, but is "weaker" than a full stop. It is used to link two clauses that could be written as two sentences, but have a closer relationship logically than making them two sentences would imply. An example:

We hope to meet with the squirrels soon; this mayhem needs to stop.

It is also used to separate a series of clauses that also contain commas. 

Hip surgery is no picnic; however, it is totally worth it.

An elegant mark that is worth learning to use!

... Have you finished those chores yet? 

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Last modified on Sunday, 29 November 2015 00:54
English Language Skills (Denise)

English Language Skills (Denise)

I'm a syndicated puzzle writer, with 8 puzzle books to my name, including Word Searches for Dummies and Cracking Codes and Cryptograms for Dummies (with Mark Koltko-Rivera). I have a background in science and graphic design, and am a trained indexer. My favourite puzzles are cryptic crosswords. and my favourite books are murder mysteries and cookbooks. I am also a very keen knitter.

I write a blog all about puzzles, called Puzzling.

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