Punctuation Primer

City, State

Place a comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence.

Right: They moved from Tucson, Ariz., to Athens, Ga.
Right: Kansas City, Mo., is the site of the conference.
Right: Washington, D.C., was the destination.
Wrong: Kansas City, Mo. is the site of the conference.

Colons, Semicolons

Use a colon at the end of a sentence to introduce lists and after an introductory statement that uses the words “as follows” or “the following.” Do not use a colon between a verb or preposition and its direct object.

Right: They asked everyone: her sister, brother, cousin and mother.
Right: They asked others, such as her sister, brother, cousin and mother.
Right: They will talk about the following: (1) admissions criteria; (2) financial aid; and (3) student activities.
Right: The topics were leadership, motivation, enthusiasm and creativity.
Wrong: The topics were: leadership; motivation; enthusiasm; creativity.

Use a semicolon to divide the two parts of a compound sentence (two independent clauses) when the clauses are not connected by a conjunction.

Right: We already received your report; the follow-up mailing is not needed.

A semicolon also connects two independent clauses that use a connecting word like “therefore” or “however.”

Right: We already received your report; therefore, the follow-up mailing is unnecessary.


Do not use a comma before “and” in a simple listing. Use a comma only if the last item is a compound idea that requires “and” as part of the item.

Right: The flag of the United States is red, white and blue.
Right: The restaurant offered pancakes, french toast, and ham and eggs.

Do not use a comma before “Jr.” or “Sr.” after a person’s name.

Right: John Smith Jr.
Right: John Smith IV
Right: Thurston Howell III

Use a comma to introduce a complete, one-sentence quotation within a paragraph. A colon should be used to introduce longer quotations.

Right: She said, “I don’t want to go.”
Right: She said: “I don’t want to go. I’m tired. The cat’s sick, and I have no interest in post-modern art.”

Do not use a comma at the start of a partial or indirect quotation.

Right: She said the play “was the finest drama Williams wrote.”
Wrong: She said the play, “was the finest drama Williams wrote.”

Omit the comma before “of” in writing a person’s name and address.

Right: Robert Redford of Sundance, Utah
Wrong: Robert Redford, of Sundance, Utah

Watch for missing commas. If you’re using an interruptive clause with a comma at the end, you’d better check and insert the comma at the beginning.

Right: Dr. Becker, president of Georgia State University, spoke at the meeting.
Right: Executives, such as Mr. Brown and Ms. Smith, also attended.
Right: Executives such as Mr. Brown and Ms. Smith also attended.
Right: She drove from Tacoma, Wash., to Atlanta.
Right: The car, which was silver, raced down the road.
Wrong: Dr. Becker, president of Georgia State University spoke at the meeting.
Wrong: Executives such as Mr. Brown and Ms. Smith, also attended.
Wrong: She drove from Tacoma, Wash. to Austin.
Wrong: The car, which was silver raced down the road.
Wrong: The car which was silver raced down the road. (See That/Which entry on page 34)

Company Names

Use Co. or Cos. when a business uses either word at the end of its proper name. If “company” or “companies” appears alone in the second reference, spell the word out.

For possessives: Ford Motor Co.’s profits.

Spell out the names of theatrical organizations.

Never use a comma before Inc. or Ltd.

Dangling Modifiers

Avoid dangling or misplaced adverbs or adjectives.

Right: Walking across the lawn, I got mud on my shoes.
Wrong: Walking across the lawn, mud covered my shoes. (In this construction, mud is walking across the lawn.)


Omit comma between month and year if no date is included.

Right: Dec. 12, 2000
Right: December 2000

Em dash (—)

Used to set off parenthetical statements with emphasis. There should be a space on either side of the em dash.

Right: That is — by far — the worst accident I’ve seen.

Exclamation Points

Use them rarely.


In general, many two-word phrases are two separate words when used as a noun, verb or adverb but take a hyphen when used as an adjective. Double check the way the word(s) is (are) being used in your sentence. As a rule, phrases after the verb are not hyphenated.

Adverbs ending in –ly are usually not hyphenated.

Right: newly renovated
Wrong: commonly-held belief

To hyphenate in a series, follow this example:

Right: He wrote 10- and 20-page papers.
Right: Georgia State University beat Old Dominion University, 21-14.

Clarifying common confusions:






co-chair, co-sponsor, coed, child care, cooperative (adjective), co-op (noun), course work (noun), class work (noun)


data base or database (choose one and use it consistently), decision-maker (noun), decision making (verb), decision-making (adjective)




follow-up, full-time employee (adjective), she works full time (adverb), fund raising is difficult (noun), the fund-raising campaign (adjective), We are holding a fund-raiser (event), He is a fund raiser (person)


interoffice, inter-related


lifestyle, long-range (adjective: The long-range plans are astounding), long range (adverb: The ideas cover a long range), long-term (adjective: The longterm system will be in effect for many more years), long term (adverb: The results will be firm and long term)


mainframe, microcomputer, multimedia, multipurpose




on-campus movies (adjective), There are movies on campus each week (preposition and noun)


part-time job (adjective), Part time is the best option (noun), percent, playoffs, postdoctoral, postgraduate, pre-application, preschool (For the use of hyphenation with the prefixes “post” and “pre,” please consult your dictionary.)


re-evaluate, reinforce (In general, use a hyphen when the vowel “e” follows the prefix “re.” There are exceptions and additions. Consult your dictionary to be sure.)




time-sharing (all computer-related uses)


vice president, vice chair


world-renowned school (adjective), The school is world renowned.

Introductory Phrases

Introductory phrases such as “Last year” and “In 2001” do not require commas.

Right: Last year the board approved a tuition increase.
Right: In 2009 Mark Becker became the university’s seventh president.
Wrong: In 2009, Mark Becker became the university’s seventh president.

Quotes and Quotations

Follow these rules when using quotes and quotation marks:

The period and the comma always go inside the quotation marks.

Right: She told us “stay in school,” which was good advice.
Right: He said, “I’m going to the store.”
Wrong: He said, “I’m going to the store”.

The dash, the exclamation point and the question mark go inside the quotation marks when they apply to the quote only. When they apply to the whole sentence, they go outside the marks.

Right: Sgt. Carter gave the following order: “Peel potatoes — then lights out!”
Right: Gomer Pyle said, “Golly, Sergeant!” when he heard the news.
Right: Francis Schaeffer’s book asks, “How Shall We Then Live?”
Right: What did Martin Luther King Jr. mean when he said, “I have a dream”?

Note: This usage prevails in the United States. United Kingdom and Canada apply different rules. The colon and semicolon should be placed outside quotation marks. When text ending with one of these punctuation marks is quoted, the colon or semicolon is dropped.

Right: The president said the plan needed “a few minor adjustments”; however, he did not reject it entirely.

In running quotations, each new paragraph should begin with open quotation marks (no closing marks). Only the final paragraph should contain the closing quotation mark.

Right: The speech was as follows: “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. I have a few points to make today. The first is to thank you for this honor. My accomplishments are noteworthy only in so far as they help to advance this important field of human endeavor.

“The second is to ask you to continue thinking about this critical issue. Only through continued research and experimental programs such as the one you’ve recognized today will we advance our cause and improve our society.

“Finally, let me ask you to do more than turn your mental energies to this important effort. Give your total energies — in the form of financial support, volunteer time, active advocacy — for the sake of progress. Then we can all share in this special honor. Thank you.”

When including a quote or “highlighted” word inside another quotation, use single quotes (‘) instead of double (“).

Right: In his charge to the committee, the chair said, “I have often told you, ‘don’t give up the ship.’ Thanks to your efforts, we’ve been able to reach our goal.”
Right: The chair said, “I have often told you, ‘don’t give up the ship.’”

Spacing at End of Sentence

Use a single space at the end of a sentence and after a colon. Double spaces date back to the days of typewriters, when all characters were allotted the same amount of space. Computerized typesetting adjusts the spacing for a good fit. Extra spaces create gaps and look unprofessional.