Punctuation marks: what are they and how to use

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  • Period (.): long pause that indicates the end of the period and is used in abbreviations.
  • Exclamation mark (!): indicates amazement, admiration, surprise.
  • Question mark (?): indicates doubt, question.
  • Semicolon (;): Moderate pause in reading.
  • Colon (:): introduces dialogue, example, explanation.
  • Ellipsis (...): promote an interruption in the sentence and indicate hesitation, doubt, etc.
  • Dash (–): indicates dialogue or highlights some element of the sentence.
  • Parentheses ( ): isolate phrases, words, dates and ancillary information.
  • Quotation marks (“ ”): indicate speech, quotation and isolate certain words and expressions.
  • Comma (,): light pause in reading, comma separates terms within the same period.

What are punctuation marks for?

Point (.)

The dot is a sign that indicates the end of the period. It's a long-lasting break. After the period (also called the period) we use a capital letter. The period is also used in abbreviations.


  • The train arrived at the station a few minutes late.
  • I don't agree with what you said.
  • The Hon. Mr. Dr. Jaime da Silva goes to court every day.
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Exclamation mark (!)

The exclamation point can indicate amazement, surprise, wonder. It is often used in imperative-mode sentences or accompanying interjections (words that translate sensations and emotions, such as "Ah!", "Wow!", "Wow!", "Oops!").


  • How beautiful the moon is today!
  • What a fright!
  • Eat, Arthur!
  • Ufa! What a relief!

see the Meaning of Interjection

Question Mark (?)

The question mark is used in questions and inquiries. Indicates doubt.


  • Does this team have a way?
  • What time is it?
  • Are you sure this is the best thing to do?

Semicolon (;)

The semicolon indicates a moderate pause (between the semicolon). While pausing, it is closer to the point. From a syntactical point of view, it is closer to the comma, as it does not start another period. Therefore, after the semicolon, a lowercase letter is used. It serves, among other things, to separate coordinated clauses that already have a comma into extended periods.


On Mondays, he dedicates himself fully to his work; on Tuesdays he goes to the market, cleans the house and works; on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, the routine changes little; however, when Saturday comes, he can't wait to go out for a walk.

Two points (:)

The colon introduces dialogue, enumeration, explanation, comment, clarification, illustration, consequence, etc.


  • The most common punctuation marks are: period, comma, question mark and exclamation mark.
  • Tired of waiting, Marcos asked:
  • – What time does he arrive?
    After so much hesitation, the result could only be this: he was left without either.

Ellipsis (...)

The ellipses (the famous three dots) bring the sentence to a halt. They may indicate hesitation, doubt, interruption of speech, prolongation of an idea, etc. Associated with parentheses, they indicate suppression of the transcribed excerpt (in the case of citations).


  • I wanted to tell you that... Better wait.
  • I do not know... Maybe I'll go...
  • "On the way home, I enter a bar in Gávea to have a coffee at the counter. (...) I would like to be inspired, to successfully crown another year in this quest for the picturesque or the whimsy in each one's daily life." (Fernando Sabino)

Indent (–)

The dash has some functions. One of them is to indicate dialogue. When replacing the comma or parentheses, it highlights the element. You can also substitute the colon. There are cases where two dashes must be used.


  • Brazil's biggest problem has a name – inequality.
  • In São Paulo – the city of crowds – many people feel isolated.
  • A poem is made up of words, verses – and, of course, a lot of rhythm.

Parentheses ( )

Parentheses are used to isolate phrases, words and dates. Can be used in place of commas or dashes. They are widely used to isolate ancillary information (notes, addenda, meanings etc.).


  • The 2010 Census was carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).
  • Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) was the greatest writer of Portuguese modernism.
  • There are people (and this is my case) who love going to the movies.
  • Great writers (such as Machado de Assis and Guimarães Rosa) must be read in all schools in Brazil.

Quotation marks (" ")

Quotation marks have several functions. They can be used to isolate words: foreign words (words from another language) not incorporated, neologisms (new words), popular expressions or terms unrelated to the cultured norm. They also indicate speech or quotation from someone else's text.


  • The so-called “cancellation” is in fashion in Brazil.
  • "We will investigate tirelessly," said the delegate.
  • "In the middle of the way there was a stone
    there was a stone in the middle of the way"
    (Carlos Drummond de Andrade)

Comma (,)

The comma is a slight pause in the reading that indicates that the separate terms, despite belonging to the same period, do not form syntactic unity. There are many situations where the comma should be used. In others, its use is prohibited. There are cases where its use is optional.

Some situations in which comma should be used

1. To separate elements from an enumeration


  • Inside my case, I have pencils in several colors: blue, red, black, green and yellow.
  • I need to buy bread, butter, fruits, vegetables and greens.
  • A number of writers inspire me, including Machado, Guimarães, Clarice, Drummond...

2. To separate the vocative (vocative is a calling)


  • Lucas, can you go buy some bread?
  • I don't know how that happened, Maria.
  • Good morning people.

3. To separate the affix (apost is a term of the sentence that characterizes or determines a name or an expression)


  • The Monument to the Flags, designed by Victor Brecheret, is opposite Ibirapuera Park.
  • I visited Corcovado, a postcard from Rio de Janeiro.
  • Sociology, the science that studies social facts, emerged in the nineteenth century.

3. Separate the anticipated or intercalated adverbial adjunct (adverbial adverbial is a clause term that joins the verb to specify or intensify its meaning)


  • Despite the rain, we enjoyed the trip a lot.
  • Undoubtedly, something must be done.
  • My friends, for the most part, don't let me down.

4. Separating adversative or conclusive syndetic coordinated clauses (syndetic coordinated clauses are independent clauses introduced by conjunction)


  • She studied a lot this week but didn't do well on the exam.
  • We are training a lot, so we will have a good performance.
  • Sometimes I go on foot, sometimes I go by bicycle.

Note.: if the coordinated clauses are introduced by the conjunctions “and”, “neither” or “or”, there is no need to use the comma. Ex.: I like to eat fruit in the morning and I love to eat salad for lunch. Exception: if the subjects of the sentences are different, the use of a comma is recommended. Ex.: I like to eat fruit, and Manuela likes to eat chocolate.

5. Separate asyndetic coordinate clauses (asyndetic coordinate clauses are independent clauses not introduced by conjunction)


Maria went to the cinema, João stayed at home.

see the meaning of conjunction.

6. Separate the adverbs "yes" and "no"


Yes, he was the one who came to us.

see the Adverb meaning.

7. Separating the predicative from the subject in reverse order (predicative from the subject is a term in the clause that fulfills the function of attributing quality to the subject)


She was anxiously waiting for the order to arrive.

8. Separate adverbial subordinate clauses (adverbial subordinate clauses are those that are dependent on the main clause and fulfill the function of an adverb)


  • When I got to school, class had already started.
  • If I had done it calmly, the problem would have been avoided.
  • Although we acted correctly, the result was not what we expected.

9. Separating explanatory adjective subordinate clauses (explanatory adjective subordinate clauses are clauses that add quality to the previous element)


The Brazilians, who are football fans, watched the match very carefully.

10. Indicate omission of a term (zeugma)


I like fruits; he with stuffed biscuits.

11. Separate interspersed conjunctions


It must be said, however, that TV did not die after the advent of the internet.

Some cases where the comma should not be used

1. the comma she can not separate subject from predicate


Maria, has a habit of running in the park (wrong).
Maria has a habit of running in the park (correct).

2. the comma she can not separate the verb from its complements


He said that he likes to write (wrong).
He said he likes to write (correct).

Some cases where the use of comma is optional (optional)

1. the comma he can separate syndetic coordinated clauses (in the case of adversative and conclusive clauses, their use is mandatory)


I decided not to go to the party because I had the flu (correct).
I decided not to go to the party, because I had the flu (correct).

2. the comma he can separate conjunction at beginning of period


Therefore, the best option was to adopt plan B (correct).
Therefore, the best option was to adopt plan B (correct).

Punctuation marks

See too:

Meaning of Grammar Class


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