Punctuation

Apostrophes
Bullet points
Complete sentences
Colons and semicolons
Commas
Dashes (en dash)
Exclamation marks
Hyphens

 

Apostrophes

Apostrophes have two uses:

  1. They can show that some letters have been taken out of a word to shorten it (e.g. don’t, I’ll). Contractions such as these are not appropriate for formal materials.
  2. They can indicate ownership (e.g. The student’s results were excellent). When the plural form of a word ends in –s, do not add an extra s, but place the apostrophe after the –s, for example: The students’ results were excellent. (In this case, more than one student is being referred to).

Note: Do not use an apostrophe when referring to:

  • decades (e.g. the 1970s)
  • the plural form of acronyms (e.g. URLs)
  • individuals in terms of their year level (e.g. Year 5s, Year 12s)
  • School Assessed Coursework and Scholastic Assessment Test (e.g. SACs and SATs). 

Bullet points

Short bullet points or lists can make writing easier to read.Each series of points should be introduced by a lead-in sentence or sentence fragment. The lead-in ends with a colon to link it with the information in each list point. Each point must form a complete sentence with the lead-in clause.Lists

Do not use punctuation at the end of each list point (unless they are complete sentences – see below). Insert a full point at the end of the final point in the list. For example:

Our learning advisors can help you develop:

  • effective reading and study skills
  • time-management and organisation skills
  • critical-thinking skills. 

Complete sentences

If the points in the list are complete sentences, they should start with a capital letter and end with a full point. For example:

To apply to Brighton Grammar School, take the following steps:

  • Fill in the online application form.
  • Submit the accompanying fee ($200 per student).
  • Ensure your contact details are kept up to date during your time on the waiting list.

Note: Only use numbers if the points need to be followed in a particular order.

Colons and semicolons

Colons

A colon (:) is commonly used to introduce a series or list. If a colon introduces a complete sentence, more than one sentence, a formal statement, quotation, or speech in dialogue, capitalise the first word of the sentence. For example:

The question is: How can you put a price on education?

If the colon introduces a sentence fragment or list, don’t capitalise the first letter. For example:

We know the number one cause of stress for students: exams. 

Semicolons

Use a semicolon (;) to join clauses when a conjunction is omitted or when the connection is close. The clause after a semicolon should be able to form a complete sentence on its own. For example:

At the time, these study areas were revolutionary; today, they are more important than ever.

Semicolons can also separate items in long lists. This is particularly useful when the items in the list contain multiple words and punctuation. For example:

The 9/10 B2M program includes a number of components: world-class outdoor education journeys; service programs; Tomorrow Man workshops; and Connor’s Run.

The word ‘however’ is often preceded by a semicolon. For example:

On-time VTAC application forms are due by 30 September; however, you can apply after this date providing you pay a late fee.

Commas

In addition to the usual conventions for the use of commas, please note:

  • BGS style does not use commas after salutation or closure in letters or emails (see sample letters.)
  • A comma may be used before ‘and’ in a list (i.e. the Oxford or serial comma) if it provides clarity, but is not necessary in most circumstances. No comma is necessary before ‘and’ in this example: The four archetypes are the magician, the sage, the warrior and the carer.
  • Use a comma to separate groups of three digits in numbers greater than 9999 (see Numbers).
  • Do not use a comma:
    • between a position and an individual’s name (e.g. Director of Studies Jane Smith addressed the students)
    • when writing a date (e.g. 25 September 2019).

Dashes (en dash)

An en dash (–) can be typed using the keyboard shortcut ctrl + Num – (the minus key). 

Unspaced en dash
An unspaced en dash is used as a linking device, showing spans of:

  • figures (e.g. Years 7–12; pages 42–59)
  • time (e.g. March–July; 9am–2pm).

Note: Do not use an en dash as a substitute for and with the words ‘between’ or ‘from’. For example, write ‘the period between 2017 and 2019’, not ‘the period between 2017–2019’.

Spaced en dash

Use an en dash with a space on either side to:

  • signify an abrupt change (e.g. I didn’t realise you were born overseas – but I digress.)
  • introduce an explanation or to set apart parenthetic elements within a sentence (e.g. Einstein authored a number of scientific theories – the Theory of Relativity being the most famous – that changed our perceptions).

Exclamation marks

In general, avoid exclamation marks. They are rarely necessary and overuse can be distracting.

Hyphens

Hyphens are used to clarify meaning and avoid confusion.

Use hyphens:

  • with double-up vowels to make the meaning easier to understand (e.g. re-energise); however, ‘cooperate’ does not require a hyphen
  • when a word would be ambiguous without a hyphen or the same as an existing word (e.g. ‘re-sign’ has a different meaning to ‘resign’)
  • when spelling out numbers and fractions (e.g. twenty-nine, two-thirds)
  • with compass points (e.g. north-east)
  • with prefixes such as non-, former- and ex-
  • when a suffix applies to two or more items in a list (e.g. on- and off-campus).

To check the use of hyphens in specific terms, see Spelling and commonly used words/phrases.

Italics

Use italics for:

  • titles of books, publications (including newspapers and magazines), reports, movies, songs, TV shows, musical compositions etc.
  • when referring to foreign words not considered fully part of the English language (e.g. I just got the weirdest feeling of déjà vu.)
  • for names of vehicles such as ships, aeroplanes and missiles
  • for zoological names (e.g. Homo sapiens belong to the genus Homo.)

Quotation marks

Use single quotation marks to show direct speech and the work of other writers. For example: ‘But I didn’t do it!’

Use double quotation marks for a quote within a quote. For example: The Headmaster began with, ‘Even if you’ve never read a word of Shakespeare, I’m sure you’ve heard “To be or not to be” a thousand times.’

If a quote comprises a full sentence, insert the punctuation before the closing quotation mark. For example: ‘We hope this research will lead to a potential new drug therapy for lung cancer,’ said Dr Smith.

Spacing

Only one space should be used after full points, commas, colons and semicolons.

Subject/verb agreement

The verb should agree with its subject (e.g. ‘Jack’s work in spelling and grammar has improved.’ – Note that ‘has’ is used rather than ‘have’ because it must agree with the subject ‘work’). 

Parentheses 

Rule Example
Parentheses are used to enclose information that clarifies or is used as an aside. He finally answered (after taking five minutes to think) that he did not understand the question.
Punctuation goes inside parentheses only if an entire sentence is inside the parentheses.

Please read the analysis. (You’ll be amazed.)

Please read the analysis (you’ll be amazed).

Parentheses are not part of the subject. Joe (and his trusty dog) was always welcome.
Commas are more likely to follow parentheses than precede them. When he got home (it was already dark outside), he prepared dinner.