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The Most Useful Punctuation and Capitalization Rules

We’ve all had a chuckle or two when students or others have misused punctuation.

Of course the famous “Let’s eat grandma” would rank close to the top. Others include “I always have enjoyed cooking my friends, neighbors, and most of all my family” or the neighborhood sign, “SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY.”

My favorite would have to be this one:

“A woman, without her man, is nothing.” Let’s revise as the following: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Wish I knew whom to credit for this one:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, and thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy. Will you let me be yours?


Now let’s see the difference just by moving around the punctuation:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, and thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?



Knowing how to properly punctuate and capitalize will help readers better understand what one intends. Additionally, readers judge misuse quite harshly. Following are punctuation with examples and capitalization with examples:



-Use commas before or after speaker tags.

She said, “Call me at home.”

-Use commas to set apart appositives.

That man, the one with the hat, left.

-Use commas after each item in lists (except the last).

John, Jane, and Jose left early.

-Use commas after introductory words or phrases.

First of all, you should listen to me.

-Use commas between number dates and years.

It all happened on May 3, 1999.

-Use commas between geographical places.

She lived in Tampa, Florida.

-Use commas after greetings/closings in personal letters.

Dear Ralph, … Sincerely, …

-Use commas after nouns of direct address.

Kristin, leave some for your sister.

-Use commas before conjunctions to join two independent clauses.

I liked her, and she liked me.

Exclamation Points    

-Use exclamation points for surprise or strong emotions.

The decision really shocked me!

Quotation Marks

-Use quotation marks before and after direct quotations.

Sue said, “I’m going to bed.”

-Use quotation marks before and after songs, poems, document titles, book chapters, magazine articles, and short story titles.

Whenever I hear “Clementine,” it reminds me of “Leaves of Grass” and “The Gettysburg Address.”


-Use colons after business letter greetings.

Dear Sirs:

-Use colons to introduce lists.

The following: shoes, pants, and…

-Use colons between numbers in relationship.

8:52 P.M.


-Use semicolons to join independent clauses without conjunctions.

Jamal went to school; Larry met him.


-Underline movie, television show, book, magazine, and work of art titles.

I saw the wonderful Fiddler on the Roof last night.


-Use apostrophes for contractions.

I can’t see what they’re doing.

-Use apostrophes for singular and plural possessives.

Tom’s and the girls’ coats were red.


-Use parentheses to explain or define.

The hombre (man) rode off alone.


-Capitalize proper nouns (a name that is given to special persons, places, or things).

Ryan visited Los Angeles to visit the Holocaust Museum.

-Capitalize holidays, dates, groups, organizations, and businesses.

Last Easter on March 24, 2002 the P.T.A. and McDonald’s helped out.

-Capitalize the first, last, and any important words in titles.

Prince Charles’s favorite book was Islands of Adventure.

-Capitalize the names of languages and peoples.

He spoke Spanish to the Indians.

-Capitalize special events and historical periods.

The New Year’s Day Parade celebrates the Year of the Dog.


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