Use of Punctuation marks in IELTS Writing


Punctuation Marks:

Punctuation Marks -While learning any language, one must be cognizant of the different basic concepts that can help them to understand the true essence of the language. Like most languages, the basic concepts in English are very essential to be known by the speaker or the writer. Among several other concepts, Punctuation marks play a crucial role in defining the sentence and its meaning. Punctuation marks may be defined as symbols that indicate the start, progression and the end of a sentence. Based on the usage, punctuation marks are of various kinds. A single punctuation mark may have multiple uses. In this article, we shall understand some of the punctuation marks and their appropriate use in the IELTS test.


List of punctuation marks

Listed below are the punctuation marks.


  1. Comma ,
  2. Full stop .
  3. Exclamation point or exclamatory mark !
  4. Parenthesis  ( )
  5. Apostrophe ‘
  6. Question mark ?
  7. Quotation marks “  “
  8. Colon :
  9. Semi colon ;


A comma is generally used to indicate a pause when speaking. It is also used to demonstrate a continuity in a sentence or to indicate an incomplete, unfinished sentence. The use of a comma is very essential in both the IELTS writing and the IELTS speaking tests. It is included as a part of a band descriptor called ‘Grammatical Range and Accuracy’ (GRA), which constitutes 25 percent of your overall score in both the writing and the speaking tests.


When to include a comma?
  1. When two or more items are listed together.

While compiling a paragraph, many items (nouns) would be grouped together as a list sometimes. During this process, the individual entities can be separated from each other with a comma. Here, the purpose of a comma is to indicate that there are multiple categories which have something in common.

Example: Last year, I visited India, China, Japan, and the USA.


The concept of OXFORD COMMA and its significance:

An Oxford comma, which is also known commonly as the Series comma, is an optional comma that is used before the final item in a list. Though it is not mandatory, many students use this comma while writing a letter, a report or an essay for that matter. The names comes from a fact that this comma is used by publishers at the Oxford University press. It is sometimes called a Harvard comma.

Example: I am planning to buy a chair, a table, and a couch. Here, the comma used before ‘and’ is the Oxford comma.


    To indicate a dependent clause in a complex sentence:

There are four types of sentences in the English language – Simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, and compound-complex sentences. In a complex sentence, there are two parts. The first clause is known as a dependent clause that indicates that it is incomplete. The second clause is an independent clause that is complete by itself. When a complex sentence starts with a dependent clause, then it is mandatory to use a comma after it.

Example: When it rains, I wear a raincoat.

Here, the clause ‘when it rains’ is a dependent clause, while the second clause is an independent clause. In such a case, a comma is a must. However, there is no need to insert a comma if the clauses are interchanged.

Example: I wear a raincoat when it rains.

If you notice, there is no comma after the independent clause.

  1. To separate two independent clauses in a compound sentence:

A compound sentence is formed when two independent clauses are joined together with a coordinating conjunction. A comma should be added after the first independent clause in this case.

Example: I like pizzas, and my friend likes burgers.

  1. To separate the name of the city and the state. Additionally, the name of the month can be separated from the year with a comma.

Example: She lives in Orlando, Florida.

                 The test is on 3rd May, 2016.

  1. While writing letters and e-mails:

The way of addressing is very essential while drafting an email or a letter. A comma should be inserted after the salutation, both at the start as well as the end of the letter.

Examples: Dear Sir/Madam,

                 Dear Robert,

                 Dear Ms. Mary,


    When two adjectives are used in a sentence:

Example: It is a cute, adorable puppy.


II Period:

A period or a full stop is yet another important punctuation mark. It is used

  1. To indicate the end of a complete sentence:

Examples: The bird is flapping its wings.

                  My mom is baking cookies this evening.

  1. To indicate short forms. Example: Mr. Ms.


III Apostrophe:

Apostrophe is used to indicate that a given thing belongs to a person or to establish a relationship.


Examples: This is Sarah’s purse.

                    He is Peter’s brother.

                     Remember not to confuse plural forms with apostrophe. Example: Friends, Friend’s.


  IV Question mark:

This punctuation mark is often used when asking a direct question. Note that in an indirect question, no other punctuations except period is allowed.

Examples: When is your birthday?

                   Did you go out last night?


V  Quotation marks:

They are also referred to as inverted commas, and these are really helpful in direct, face to face conversations.

Example: My teacher said, “The Sun rises in the East.”

An important point to note is that, if any punctuations have to be written within the quotations.

Example: “Why are you disappointed?” my friend asked.


VI Parentheses:

Parentheses or brackets are used as an afterthought of a sentence. These are of three types.

  1. Circular brackets ( )
  2. Square brackets [ ]
  3. Curly brackets or flower brackets or braces { }

These are also used to represent the word form of numbers or the numerical form of a word.

Examples: Eighty-five (85)

                      A hundred and fifty dollars ($150)


VII Exclamation point:

This punctuation mark is indicated by the symbol ‘!’. It is often used in conversations while showing an emotion.

Example: Oh no!

                  Generally, these exclamations are also used while wishing somebody.

Examples: Good Morning!

                      Have a nice day!


VIII Semicolon:

Semicolons are used to relate two independent clauses which are closely related. Remember that these clauses should not be related by a comma. In other words, semicolons are used to join two independent clauses that share a very close relation with each other.

Example: Jason reads magazines; however, George reads novels.


IX Colon:

It is used to start a list.

Example: When I go on a vacation, I will carry: my bag, novels, toiletries, and my shoes.

Read more on Wikipedia. 



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