Punctuation Marks – What are they, what are they, when are they used

We explain what punctuation marks are, their function, and how the period, comma, quotation marks, parentheses, hyphen and more are used.

punctuation marks
Punctuation marks organize and rank the ideas in a text.

What are punctuation marks?

Punctuation marks they are certain type of orthographic signs, that is, of marks that accompany the written language (other than numbers and letters). This particular class of signs serve to delimit sentences, paragraphs and text units that make up its structure, in order to organize the ideas it expresses and correctly rank the main and secondary ones.

The punctuation marks, like this, they fulfill a logical and syntactic role in the written language, because in the spoken language that role is fulfilled by silences and pauses.

Its main task is to avoid ambiguities that may cloud the understanding of the speech, but also to point out its special characteristics, such as paragraphs, quotes, character voices, and so on. In addition, they allow modulating what is written, that is, controlling the intonation with which it should be read, in order to recompose the subtleties of language from the text.

The oldest document in which punctuation marks are used is the Stela of Mesha, a Moabite king from the 9th century BC. Today they are present in almost all languages, except those whose tradition replaces them with empty spaces, such as the Chinese or Mayan writing. This is because its spelling concentrates an entire meaning in a single character, so there is no need to actually mark the end of a word or phrase.

In addition, the use of punctuation marks responds to certain fixed rules, strict, necessary to guarantee the complete understanding of the text, and to certain style differences at the time of writing, that is, to the particular way of doing it of each one.

For example, a person may prefer long sentences with many points marked by commas, or on the contrary, short sentences separated with semicolons, but in no case can they resist using commas and semicolons with the fixed meaning they have on the tongue.

The punctuation marks in Spanish are the period «.», The comma «,», the semicolon «;», the colon «:», the ellipsis «…», the quotation marks «“ ”», the parentheses “()” And square brackets “[ ]”, The exclamation marks”! ” and the question mark “?”, the dashes “-” and the dashes “─”. We will study them separately below.


The period is a fundamental sign when writing, since it serves to introduce a more or less long pause, depending on the case. It is usually placed at the end of sentences (sentences, phrases), immediately after the last character written, without spaces in between. There are three different types of point, which are:

  • Point and followed. Used to separate the phrases and sentences of the same paragraph, after entering it it is necessary to give a space and start with a capital letter. It is usually understood as a medium pause. For instance:

“My father traveled to Greenland. There is nothing there ”.

  • New paragraph. Used to end a paragraph, so that after entering it it is necessary to start with capital letters and on a different line, according to the indentation rules of the text that is being used. For instance:

“… And those were our last days in Greenland.

The next day, we woke up in Paris. The weather was dark and a humid breeze was blowing… ”

  • Final point. Used to mark the absolute end of a text. Logically, nothing comes after him.

In addition to these cases, it is common to use the period after an abbreviation, but in these cases you continue to write normally after the space, without using capital letters or interrupting the line.


punctuation marks comma
The comma can separate parts of the sentence, as long as they are not subject and predicate.

The comma is probably the most difficult punctuation mark to use, as it largely depends on the writing style, but is generally understood as a very short pause.

Like the point, is entered without leaving spaces of separation with respect to the previous text, but leaving a space afterwards with respect to the next word, and in general it is used to give respite in the middle of very long clauses, as long as they do not unnecessarily separate the subject of the sentence from the main verb of the same.

Otherwise, the comma is used to:

  • Separate the terms of an enum, except those preceded by conjunctions (y, e, o, u). For example: “I bought tomatoes, onions, potatoes and lettuce.
  • Enter clauses or subsections in the middle of a sentence, always using an initial and a final comma to mark the subsection. For example: “Simón Bolívar, Liberator of South America, he was born in Caracas in 1783 ”.
  • Separate certain conjunctive or adverbial phrases, such as “in effect”, “however”, “anyway”, etc., from the text that follows. For example: “Therefore, our hopes were disappointed ”.
  • Separate the vocative from the rest of the sentence, in phrases like “Hello, Manuel “or” Call me later, my friend”.


The semicolon is a rare sign, which serves to join two sentences in a single phrase, introducing an intermediate pause. It is useful in cases where you do not want to repeat the sentence subject, for example:

“The boys were late” + “The boys were not given cake” = “The boys were late; they did not give them cake ”.

In these cases, the semicolon can also be replaced by a conjunction (“and”) or by connectors such as “because” or “why”.

On the other hand, the semicolon can be used to separate the terms of an enum, when they include elements separated by commas. For example: “I miss traveling by train, boat or plane.; go to other countries; meet new people…”.

The two points

This punctuation mark introduces a pause greater than the comma, but less than the period, and is used to stop the flow of text and speech, and draw the attention of the reader or the interlocutor to something that comes next, and that it will always be closely related to what has been said. It is very common its use to enter verbatim citations.

For example: “They stole everything from us: the shoes, the money, the keys ”.

Suspensives points

Always composed of three and only three dots in a row and no spaces between them (…), This sign introduces a long pause that has the purpose of creating suspense, doubt, intrigue or to indicate that there is part of the text that is omitted.

They are used at the end of a sentence, replacing what was not said, marking the moment when silence occurred. Furthermore, enclosed in parentheses “(…)” indicate an intentional omission in the middle of a textual quotation.

For example: “The truth is that I don’t know what to say ”or“ If you say so”.

The quotation marks

The quotation marks always come in pairs and are used to highlight a word or phrase from the rest of the text, indicating that it is something taken from another source (as in verbatim quotes), or that it is a familiar, vulgar, popular or unusual use, and even sometimes that it is an ironic twist of the author.

English quotation marks (“”) are commonly used, but there are also angles (“”), and they can sometimes be combined, for example, when there is a quote within a quote. Another possibility, when using the English quotation marks, is to distinguish between the single (”) and the double (“”) to mark the levels of the quotation.

Some examples below:

  • In my house they tell me Mutt, but my name is Jesus.
  • The spokesperson expressed that they will not be held responsible of what happens tomorrow.
  • As stated in his book Juan Gutiérrez: To be wise we must follow Voltaire’s maxim of cultivate our garden constantly.

Parentheses and brackets

These punctuation marks also always come in pairs, and They are used to create paragraphs or clauses within the text, separating what is between them from the rest so that it can be read separately, often as a clarification, an annotation or an optional data, that is, it can either be read or it can be omitted.

As with quotation marks, the use of parentheses “()” and square brackets “is often alternated.[ ]»When there are clarifications within the clarifications, a common thing in many textual citations. Also, square brackets are often used to indicate the addition of a text, generally to facilitate reading, within a verbatim quote.

Some examples are:

  • Yesterday we bought two sets (tabletop, not video) to entertain the children.
  • Mario levrero (Montevideo, 1940-2004) he was an important writer for his time.
  • The new species discovered (whose scientific name was given by Dr. Goliatnizk [véase la Fig. 1] and obeys mysterious reasons) it is in the possession of the proper scientists.

Exclamation and question marks

punctuation marks question mark
Question marks indicate the beginning and end of a question.

These punctuation marks They are intended to mark the intonation of the text, so that we can distinguish between a question or an exclamation, such as a scream.

They are particularly useful when reproducing orality, as in dialogues, and always come in pairs: the open sign and the close sign. The latter is mandatory in Spanish, unlike other languages ​​that use only the closing, since the syntax of the language does not always allow to easily perceive where the desired intonation begins.

Thus, question marks serve to make questions explicit, as in: “Where did you go yesterday?” or “With what sauce do you want your pasta?”; while exclamation marks are used to introduce interjections, shouts, imperative phrases or any type of emphatic exclamation or said in a high tone of voice. For example: “Too bad!”, “Stop or shoot!” Oh my God!”.

The dash and the line

These punctuation marks are distinguished from each other in their length, since they both consist of a line at the middle of the written text. The short line (-) is the hyphen, used to separate the words when the space in a line ends, or to separate certain specialized or combined terms, such as “artistic-literary” or “physical-chemical”, for example.

Instead, the long line or stripe) is used to insert subsectionsinstead of commas or parentheses, or to introduce dialogue into a narrative. For instance:

  • -Who is there? Said Pedro.
  • The important thing in an interview – that is, the most important thing – is not the appearance, but what is said.