- Spell out "and."
- Do not use the ampersand except when it is part of a proper name: P&G, M&Ms.
- For singular common nouns not ending in s, add ’s: man’s shirt, school’s playground. For plural nouns ending in s, add only the apostrophe: animals’ food, girls’ dresses, VIPs’ entrance.
- For singular common nouns that end in s, add ’s unless the next word begins with an s: hostess’s invitation, but hostess’ seat; the witness’s answer, but the witness’ story.
- For plural nouns not ending in s, add ’s: the alumni’s contributions.
- For plural nouns that end in s, add only an apostrophe: the states’ rights, the VIPs’ entrance.
- A few irregular plural nouns take ’s to form the possessive: children’s room, women’s lounge, media’s reaction.
- For proper names that end in s, add only an apostrophe: Jones’ house.
- Attributive nouns (those acting as adjectives modifying a following noun) don’t require the ’s or s’: Parents Association, city council, writers guide.
- For nouns plural in form and singular in meaning, add only an apostrophe to form the possessive: mathematics’ rules, measles’ effect, General Motors’ revenues.
- For nouns that are the same in the singular and plural forms, treat them the same as plural: the two deer’s route, one corps’ location, moose’s antlers.
- With compound words, add ’s to the word closest to the object possessed: the major general’s decisions.
- If ownership is joint, use the possessive only after the last word: It is Michael and Sylvia’s book.
- It's is the contraction for "it is" and not the possessive form of it: It's a difficult course (contraction). The cat licked its paw (possessive).
- Avoid using contractions, such as it’s, I’ve and don’t, except in direct quotations.
- Use an apostrophe when referring to a class year: Class of ’87.
- Used to add explanations to quoted material: “The coach felt that they [the team] acted unprofessionally.”
- Use a colon to introduce lists. However, colons do not need to precede simple lists in running text: The streets in which students will march today are Mohamed Mahmoud, Sheikh Rihan and Falaki.
- Do not combine a dash and a colon.
- Colons go outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quotation itself.
- Capitalize the first word after a colon if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence: He promised this: The company will exceed its targets. There were three things she had to consider: time, quality and expenses.
- Use a colon for dialogue, in Q&As for example: Q: What are your plans for the coming year? A: To implement a hardline strategy.
- Use a colon to introduce long quotations within a paragraph and to end all paragraphs that introduce a paragraph of quoted material.
In a series
- In a series of three or more words, separate all parts of the series with commas except before the concluding conjunction: We went to the garden, the supermarket and the cinema.
- But put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases: Before making the decision, the director needs to find out whether he has a good academic background, whether he has sufficient professional experience, and whether he has a pleasant personality.
- Also, put a comma before the concluding conjunction if an integral part of the series requires a conjunction: I had orange juice, toast, and eggs and cheese for breakfast.
- Use semicolons to separate elements of a series when individual segments contain material that must be set off by commas: He has a cousin, Ahmed Sami living in Zamalek; two aunts, Rehab and Rania in Mohandiseen; and a brother, Waleed, in Heliopolis.
- If the parts in a series are simple and are joined by conjunctions, do not use commas: The menu listed a choice of soup or juice or appetizers.
- When etc. is used at the end of a series (it should be used sparingly), set it off by commas: The students sold used books, notebooks, handouts, etc., to collect money. Generally, avoid using etc.
With equal adjectives
- Use commas to separate a series of adjectives equal in rank. If the comma could be replaced by the word and without changing the meaning, the adjectives are equal: a thoughtful, diligent student; a cold, dark night
- Do not use a comma when the last adjective before a noun is an integral part of the noun phrase: a white fur coat (noun is fur coat).
With nonessential clauses
- Nonessential clauses which can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence have to be set off by commas: The man, who was a partner in the company, declared that he would not change his decision.
With introductory clauses
- A comma is used to separate the introductory clause from the main clause: Active in his own right, the student took part in a range of extracurricular activities.
- If the introductory clause is short and no ambiguity would result, the comma may be omitted: During the night he felt cold.
- When a conjunction (and, but, for) links two clauses that could stand alone as separate sentences, use a comma before the conjunction in most cases: She bought the books, and she wrote her report.
- The comma can be dropped if two clauses with expressly stated subjects are short: He ate and off he went.
Introducing direct quotations
- Use a comma to introduce a quotation: The professor said, “I disagree with the policies stated in the handbook.”
- Use a comma at the end of a quotation followed by attribution: “The year-abroad experience was transforming for me,” Adams said.
- Note that commas always go inside quotation marks.
With hometowns and ages
- Use a comma to set off a person’s hometown when it is placed after the name: Mark Anis, Ismailia, attended the event.
- A person’s age is also set off by commas: Fatma Gamal, 19, disagreed.
Use a comma to separate a city from the state or country it is located in: Cairo, Egypt.
With yes and no
Yes, I will come. No, I do not agree.
In direct address
Sir, I disagree with this idea.
In large figures
- Use commas for most figures greater than 999. Exceptions are street addresses, weather broadcast frequencies, room numbers, serial numbers and telephone numbers.
- When a phrase refers to the day, month and year, put a comma after the day and date: She was born on Tuesday, February 11, 1970.
- A dash is not a hyphen. Dashes should be set off with a space on either side.
- Use proper keystrokes to create a dash. Do not type two hyphens together to indicate a dash.
- There are two types of dashes:
- Em dash (—) used to connote a pause or an abrupt change in thought in a sentence. Leave a space on both sides of the em dash: The professor ended class early — albeit by five minutes only — at the students’ request.
- Also when a phrase that would otherwise be set off by commas contains a series of words that must be separated by commas, use an em dash to set the phrase: In today’s world — a world full of fear, crime and insecurity — people should be cautious when dealing with strangers.
- Em dashes are also used before the author’s name at the end of a quotation: “I think; therefore I am.” — Rene Descartes
- Em dashes may be used to give emphasis: She has one passion in life — teaching.
- En dash (–), which is longer than the hyphen but shorter than the em dash, is used to create the minus sign in letter grades and in mathematical equations: He got an A– on the test.
ellipses ( … )
- An ellipses is made up of three periods and a space on each side ( … ).
- When condensing quotes or texts, use an ellipses to indicate the deletion of words, but be careful of deletions that would change the meaning of the quotation.
- If the words that precede the ellipses make up a complete sentence, place a period at the end of the last word before the ellipses: I do not want to take part in this move. … I feel it is doomed to failure.
- If the sentence should end in a question mark, exclamation point or semicolon, the sequence is: last word in the sentence, followed by the punctuation mark, followed by the ellipses (three periods with a space on each side).
- When text is deleted at the end of one paragraph and at the beginning of a following one, put ellipses in both locations.
- Do not use ellipses at the beginning and at the end of direct quotations.
- Incorrect: “ … It is my feeling that this will be a successful project … ,” he said.
- Correct: “It is my feeling that this will be a successful project,” he said.
- Ellipses may also be used to indicate a pause or hesitation in speech, or a thought that the speaker does not complete.
exclamation point (!)
- Used to indicate surprise or strong emotion. Use sparingly.
- Place the exclamation mark inside quotation marks when it is part of the quoted material. “How wonderful!” she exclaimed. “No!” he shouted back.
- Do not use a comma or period after the quotation mark.
- Incorrect: “Stop!,” the policeman shouted.
- Correct: “Stop!” the policeman shouted.
- Hyphens (-) are used within words in the construction of compound modifiers: well-known singer; also when they are used after a form of "to be": the singer is well-known.
- Used with prefixes and suffixes to avoid duplicate vowels or consonants: pre-empt, shell-like and in age: 2-year-old boy.
question mark (?)
- A question mark is used at the end of a direct question and is commonly placed inside quotation marks. Do not use a comma or period after the question mark: “Who did not hand in the assignment?” the professor asked.
- It is also used with a question in the form of a declarative statement: You started the riot?
- A question mark may also be used to cause full stops and throw emphasis on each element: Didn’t she start the disruption in class? Hang stickers on the wall? Write on the blackboard?
- Use question marks in Q&As.
- Do not use question marks at the end of indirect questions: He asked who started the riot.
- With quotation marks, use curly quotes (“”), not straight quotes.
- Quotation marks are used in direct quotations, dialogues or conversations, composition titles (see composition) and with nicknames. Periods and commas are always placed inside quotation marks.
- Quotation marks may also be used to indicate irony: The “free discussion” turned into a brawl.
- Do not use quotation marks to report a few ordinary words a person has said:
- Incorrect: The mayor said he would “go home to California” if he lost the election.
- Correct: The mayor said he would go home to California if he lost the election.
- It is best to use full quotations, but when using partial quotations, do not put quotation marks around words the speaker could not have said.
- Suppose the individual said: I am horrified at your rude manners.
- Incorrect: She said she was “horrified at their rude manners.”
- Correct: She said she was horrified at their “rude manners.”
- When using quotations within quotations, use single quotes (') on the inside and double quotes (") on the outside.
- A semicolon is used to separate independent clauses that could stand alone as sentences, provided conjunctions such as "and" and "but" are not present: He ordered the package a week ago; it arrived only today.
- If a coordinating conjunction is present, use a semicolon only if extensive punctuation is required in one or more of the individual clauses: He took extensive notes in class, did all the assignments and participated in class discussions; but despite these precautions, he still got a C on the exam.
- A semicolon is also used to separate elements of a series when the individual parts contain material that must be set off by commas: He went out to shop for groceries, household appliances and gifts; to fix, paint and wash his car; and to visit his grandmother.
- Semicolons are placed outside quotation marks.
- Use the slash to indicate alternatives, not combined ideas: drop/add, pass/fail.
- Acceptable in phrases such as 24/7 or 9/11.