Introduction to punctuation
at word level
This section explores four aspects of word-level punctuation.
At word level, punctuation is part of the
conventional writing system which pupils need to be able to use with confidence.
At KS3, even competent writers are still
making punctuation errors, and pupils will need to be reminded of the
principles and their various exceptions.
There are two major uses for the apostrophe:
Very occasionally 's is possible for plurals, for example in expressions
such as "mind your p's and q's", but at KS3 it is probably best
to ignore these exceptions to avoid confusion.
Apostrophes of omission
Apostrophes are used to show where letters have been
omitted from a word or sequence of words, forming a contraction.
I donít think heís very happy. This morning
there was a miserable expression on his face and he wouldnít
even tell us whatís been going on.
- Contractions in spelling show contractions in pronunciation.
For example, he is is different in pronunciation as well as in
spelling from he's.
- In both speaking and writing, contracted forms
are casual; in more formal speaking and writing, the full forms are
- The common contractions are:
- n't for not, added to the verb's usual form, e.g.
- irregular forms: won't, shan't, can't
- some auxiliary verbs, e.g. 's for is
- let's for let us.
- In every case, the apostrophe is written in the place where the full
form has a vowel letter - e.g. 're for are.
- One minor exception which is important at KS3 is the word o'clock,
whose apostrophe is a historical relic, rather than an abbreviation.
These apostrophes help to distinguish the possessive
from the plural.
- possessive: Fred's mother is here.
- plural: There are three Freds in the class.
There are just two simple rules to remember, one for
the apostrophe, and the other for the s:
Rule1. The apostrophe immediately follows the word or phrase
which indicates the possessor. To find the possessor, use of
instead of an apostrophe; the possessor follows of, e.g.
- Fred's mother = the mother of Fred
- possessor = Fred
- with apostrophe = Fred's
- all the boys' mothers = the mothers of all the boys
- possessor = all the boys
- with apostrophe = all the boys'
- the flock of sheep's owner = the owner of the flock of sheep
- possessor = the flock of sheep
- with apostrophe = the flock of sheep's
Notice how the apostrophe always stands immediately after the
possessor, even if this already ends in s (e.g. all the boys').
Rule 2. An extra s is written if an extra /s/ or
/z/ sound is said.
- To see whether an /s/ or /z/ sound is 'extra', compare it with the
- the men's team = the team of the men
- somebody else's mistake = the mistake of somebody else
- Chris's boat = the boat of Chris
- Always write the extra "s" after the apostrophe,
as in all these three examples.
These very simple principles explain some uses of
the apostrophe which otherwise are mysterious:
The hyphen is the short horizontal bar (-) found on
It is not the same as the dash, which is
a longer bar which you can often produce by writing two hyphens:
A hyphen always indicates that the
words on either side of it are closely connected.
My mother-in-law came to Janeís twenty-first
wearing a T-shirt that said "Re-elect Fotherington-Thomas"!
There are four main ways of using hyphens:
Full stops in abbreviations
An abbreviation is a short way of writing a word or
a phrase that could also be written out in full; for example,
E. Sussex for East Sussex
The general rule is that abbreviations where the first
letter or letters are written and the rest of the word
is omitted have a full stop at the end.
Prof. for Professor
E. Sussex for East Sussex
B.C. or B.C.E. for Before
Christ or before the common era
On the other hand, abbreviations that include the
last letter as well as the first do not take a full stop;
Dr for Doctor
Mr for Mister
We also write Mrs and Ms without a full
stop, although these are not strictly abbreviations, as there is no other,
longer way of writing them.
Some common abbreviations deserve extra
Many words must be written with an initial capital
letter. The simplest rule, of course, is that we give an initial capital
letter to a name:
Susie, Bill Clinton, Doctor Smith; London, Mars; the Thames, the
However it is not always clear what counts as a name; for example, the
noun moon is not a name in itself, but it is a name when it belongs
to 'our' moon; and similarly for queen:
Several of the planets have moons.
The Moon rises in the East.
A queen is a woman who rules a country.
The Queen lives in Windsor Castle.
Rather inconsistently, we do use capital letters in Wednesday
and March, but not in spring; in French but not in
maths; and in Walkman but not in xerox.
We also use capital letters on adjectives that are closely linked to
names, but not when the link to the name is lost; for example,
- French people, but french windows
- the Danish landscape, but danish pastries
Consequently, we donít use a capital letter
for these highlighted words:
One Friday in summer I was watching a television
programme about the Greek gods with my mother when I
saw the moon through the french windows and it reminded
me that I hadnít done my physics homework.
In short, there is a surprising amount of detail for KS3 pupils to learn
in this area.
The following auxiliary verbs have contracted alternatives:
- are => 're
- am => 'm
- is or has => 's
- she is or she has => she's
- who is or who has => who's
- will or shall => 'll
- we will or we shall => we'll
- had or would => 'd
- we had or we would => we'd
- have => 've
Some examples of the apostrophe rules
all the boys' mothers: Why ...s'?
- Because the possessor is all the boys, so we write the apostrophe
straight after it: all the boys';
- but there's no extra /z/ in boys - the only /z/ marks the plural
- so we don't write an extra s to give all
Chris's boat: Why ...s's?
- Because the possessor is Chris, so we write Chris';
- but there is an extra /z/, so we also write an extra s: Chris's
Its or It's?
- It's is a perfectly regular apostrophe of omission =
It is, e.g.
- Its is a possessive pronoun just like his, so no apostrophe
is needed, e.g.
- His head was lower than its knee.
- Like it's, who's is a perfectly regular apostrophe of
omission = Who is
- Who's coming? = Who is coming?
- Like its, whose is a possessive pronoun, like his
(but with an odd spelling), so it needs no apostrophe, e.g.
- He stood by the creature whose knee was higher than his
Apple's or apples?
- 's should only be used for possession, and never for
the plural; but it is often seen in public notices signalling the plural,
The four uses of hyphens
These are all compound words:
Some compound words have hyphens, some never do and
for some, the hyphen is optional.
These types of compound words are usually written
with a hyphen:
- letter + word
- head-noun + modifier
- Court-martial, mother-in-law, secretary-general
- word + preposition
- Passer-by, runner-up, summing-up, dressing-down
- modifier + word with ing/ed/en as ending
- Hard-working, quick-drying, long-standing;
long-legged, blue-eyed, weather-beaten
Hyphens may also be used between two words to show
that the first modifies the second, in contrast with similar words which
both modify some other word:
- An old-book depository is a place for storing
- An old book depository is an old building
where books are stored.
- The first-class journey means the
excellent or high-price-ticket journey.
- The first class journey means the
first journey the class took together.
The hyphen shows that the first two words belong together
(the first modifies the second). In the examples without hyphens, the
first and second words both modify the third. The hyphens aid understanding,
by telling the reader how words are to be grouped, which helps to avoid
a last-minute reprieve - not:
a last minute reprieve
a state-of-the-art design - not
a state of the art design
two-syllable words - not
two syllable words
Numbers and fractions
Numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine
But larger numbers donít:
one hundred and thirty-six
one hundred and twenty-ninth.
All fractions have hyphens:
one-half, two-thirds, five-eighths.
Hyphens with prefixes
is normally written as one word with what follows it.
subsection, antitoxin, rewrite, prehistoric, unhappy
But sometimes a hyphen is needed:
- before a capital letter or a numeral:
non-British, anti-American, pre-Roman, pre-1914
- to help pronunciation:
co-operate, co-ordinate (though you will
sometimes find cooperate and coordination),
- to avoid ambiguity:
She re-covered the sofa. [She put
a new cover on the sofa.]
She recovered the sofa. [She got the
- with the prefixes ex, half, quasi and self
ex-wife, half-awake, quasi-judicial, self-aware
Abbreviations of Latin words
Here are some of the most common, together with their
that is, in other words
before noon, in the morning
I.e. or e.g.?
I.e. and e.g. are not interchangeable; their meanings are
very different. They both have the function of linking two ideas, but
they link the ideas in different ways. Suppose the two ideas are X and
Units of measurement
These are an exception to the usual rules of abbreviation.
In scientific writing, units of measurement are almost always abbreviated,
but the abbreviations take neither a full stop nor a plural s.
200 kg for 200 kilograms
5 l for 5
5000 Hz for 5000
7.5 g/cm≥ for 7.5
grams per cubic centimetre
3 x 105 m/sec for 3
x 105 metres per second
Even in everyday writing, it is common and acceptable
to use these abbreviations.
The car was doing 90 mph so it was breaking
the speed limit.
Weighing in at 3 kg, the baby was small