Punctuation Marks - Definitions, Functions, Uses with Examples

Punctuation Marks: Definitions, Functions and Uses with Examples

Punctuation: Eat, Shoots and Leaves

Hello, I am sure you have heard about Punctuation Marks since your elementary or primary school days. So, the concept of punctuation marks is not new to you. But I have come to realise that this aspect of language gives a lot of us headache when it comes to appropriate identification and use. That is why I have prepared this robust post on Punctuation Marks: Definitions, Functions and Uses with Examples.

Lynne Truss shared the story of a panda in his fun-filled grammar book: Eat, Shoots and Leaves

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. “Why?’ asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit.

The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.” The waiter turns to the relevant entry

and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Punctuation Marks: Definitions, Functions and Uses with Examples

Punctuation marks vary from language to language and preferences for specific marks vary from writer to writer. However, what is important is that, within any given text, writers should maintain consistency. Generally, the present-day tendency is to use minimum of punctuation with the main reason for use being clarity. A good way to begin this discussion is to first look at the definition of punctuation marks. In other words, let us look at the description of the concept of punctuation marks.

Definition of Punctuation Marks

Punctuation marks are series of marks or special characters that we use in the English language to accent, accentuate, emphasise, mark or stress our written speech; that is, our writings. Punctuation marks, among other things, indicate where our expressions begin and where they stop. They are those marks that give room for clarity and understanding in our writings; that is, they make sentences clearer and more understandable to the reader. Punctuation marks also aid correct reading. In a nutshell, we can say punctuation marks are:

  • Standard marks that help to clarify meaning.
  • Used to help convey the emphases and breathing pauses natural to speech.
  • Used to indicate sentence structure.
  • Employed to enhance readability.
  • Needed to help readers comprehend what we mean.
  • Helpful in telling readers how words are grouped together and how they are separated.
  • Primarily determined by sentence structure.
  • Helpful in making readers understand what writers are trying to say.
  • Useful in organising writing.
  • Marks we use in dividing writing.

Importance of Punctuation Marks with Examples

Arising from the last point of comprehension, let us demonstrate the importance of punctuation marks with these sentences. Read them first and attempt processing what they mean (if you did not decipher their meanings until you have seen my interpretation, go back to school or simply ask your school for a refund of all your tuition fees):

  1. He did not go to town because his father was absent.
  2. He did not go to town, because his father was absent.
  3. Let’s eat grandpa.
  4. Let’s eat, grandpa.
  5. Watch out – man eating apes!
  6. Watch out – man-eating apes!

Sentence 1: This means that he actually WENT to town and it was not because of his father’s absence that he went to town.

Sentence 2:This simply means that he DID NOT go to town; the reason being that his father was absent.

Sentence 3: This is a conspiracy to eat grandpa for lunch or dinner. (kindly help call the police…)

Sentence 4: This is junior calling out to grandpa to come to the table for lunch or dinner.

Sentence 5: Shh! You are about to see a man (possibly from Jurassic) eating apes; he must be close to becoming a cannibal!

Sentence 6. You need to be very careful here because apes that are cannibalistic are on the prowl.

List of Punctuation Marks and Symbols

Having attempted a description of punctuation marks, let us proceed to examine each of the marks severally with examples. However, many have asked this question: ‘How many punctuation marks are there in English?” From general English literature and writing convention, there are generally about fifteen (15) punctuation marks in English depending on how we categorise them. We will consider 15 punctuation marks in this post and they include the following:

  1. Apostrophe (‘)
  2. Caret
  3. Colon (:)
  4. Comma (,)
  5. Ellipsis (…)
  6. Em dash ()
  7. En dash ()
  8. Exclamation mark (!)
  9. Full Stop or Period (.)
  10. Hyphen (-)
  11. Inverted Commas or Quotation marks (“)
  12. Parentheses, Braces or Square Brackets () {} []
  13. Question mark (?)
  14. Semicolon (;)
  15.  Slash (/)

Punctuation Marks and their Uses with Examples

So, let us dig in and examine each of these punctuation marks closely and severally

I have taken time to write on each of these punctuation marks in a comprehensive and detailed manner as much as possible. Do well to look up each of them and be informed on their definitions, types, uses/functions with copious examples.

  1. Apostrophe (‘)

  2. Caret (^)

  3. Colon (:)

  4. Comma (,)

  5. Ellipsis (…)

  6. Dash – Em dash (—), En dash (–)

  7. Exclamation mark (!)

  8. Full Stop or Period (.)

  9. Hyphen (-)

  10. Inverted Commas or Quotation marks (“)

  11. Parentheses, Braces or Square Brackets () {} []

  12. Question mark (?)

  13. Semicolon (;)

  14.  Slash (/)


It would be a welcome development to share these useful items of information with other language users around you; especially students learning the English language and anyone you think these posts on different punctuation marks would be of help to. You can also connect with us on the Social Media platform. Look out for the buttons on top of this page.


Corder, J. W.  (1978) Handbook of Current English (5th Edition). Essex: Longman Group Ltd.

Olajuyigbe, O. A. & Ojo, J. O. (2009) The Mechanics of Writing in English: An Examination of Punctuation Marks in Ojo, J. O. & Ogunsiji, Y. (Eds.) Use of English for Undergraduates. Ibadan: Alafas Nigeria Company.

Longman (1995) Dictionary of Contemporary English, (3rd edition), Essex: Longman Group Ltd.

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