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Abbreviated rules of punctuation are presented below. For complete guidelines, consult The Associated Press Stylebook , which has a comprehensive punctuation guide.


  • Use caution when keying an apostrophe. When using smart typography (marks that are curved or sloped), the correct orientation is left- or downward-facing: couldn’t, there’s, you’re

  • Use an apostrophe to indicate omitted letters and figures: ’95

  • An apostrophe is not needed when indicating eras or forming plurals of acronyms: 1990s

  • An apostrophe is not needed in Founders Day.


  • Use a colon before a listing if the introductory statement can stand alone as a sentence.

  • Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence. Do not capitalize the first word if it is part of a series of items or a phrase.

  • Place the colon outside quotation marks, unless the colon is part of the quote itself.


  • Use a comma if its omission slows a reader’s comprehension.

  • Use a comma between independent clauses of compound sentences connected by the following conjunctions: and, but, or, so, yet

  • Use commas to separate elements in a series, including before the final conjunction: The flag is red, white, and blue.

  • Use a comma to separate a series of adjectives equal in rank: a wet, slick road

  • Use commas to set off a person’s age in text, as well as hometown.

  • Use a comma in numbers greater than 999.

  • A comma is not needed after short introductory adverbial phrases: In May students will graduate.

  • A comma is not needed between the season and the year, or between the month and the year.

  • A comma is not needed before attribution if a quoted statement ends with a question mark or exclamation point: “Will you come with me?” she asked.


There are two types of dashes: the en dash and the em dash, sometimes referred to as short and long dashes, respectively. Illinois State does not use the en dash/short dash.

  • The em dash is most easily typed using a keyboard shortcut:
    • PC: alt+control+hyphen
    • Mac: option+shift+hyphen
  • The em dash is used to denote parenthetical thought: The race—postponed by rain—had few athletes.

  • Use em dashes for a phrase that would normally be set off by commas but contains a series that must be separated by commas.

  • Eliminate spaces on both sides of an em dash.


  • Use an ellipsis to indicate the deletion of one or more words in condensing quotes, text, or documents.

  • Use a single space on both sides of the ellipsis.

  • An ellipsis is not used to start or end a direct quote.

  • When an ellipsis is used following a complete sentence, end the sentence with a period. Insert a space before the start of the ellipsis.


  • Limit the use of hyphens.
  • Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity.
  • Use a hyphen to form a single idea from two or more words.
  • Only use a hyphen in a compound modifier if its omission will slow comprehension: first grade teacher, chocolate chip cookie, small-business owner

  • A hyphen is not needed with adverbs ending in “ly” that are used to modify a noun.

  • Do not use a hyphen to designate dual heritage: Italian American
  • Use a hyphen to avoid unnatural duplicated vowels and consonants: shell-like
  • Use a hyphen in compounds in which the second element is a proper noun or a numeral: mid-1995
  • Use a hyphen to join double prefixes: sub-subparagraph
  • Use a hyphen if the word changes meaning without it: recover, re-cover
  • Hyphenate Bloomington-Normal in all references.
  • Use a hyphen when expressing age as a phrase: John Doe is a 5-year-old boy.
  • Use a hyphen when giving dimensions as an adjective before a noun: A 5-foot,11-inch man was arrested.
  • Follow Webster’s New World College Dictionary when determining the use of a hyphen in words that have the prefix “co” or “non.”


  • Place a period inside quotation marks.
  • Place a period inside parentheses if the enclosed text is a complete sentence. If it is not, the period goes outside.
  • Use periods in abbreviations of most degrees: B.S., Ph.D. An exception is MBA.
  • Periods are not used in acronyms.


  • Add ’s for both singular and plural nouns not ending in s: horse’s food, women’s rights

  • Add ’s for singular common nouns ending in s: witness’s testimony

  • Add an apostrophe for plural nouns ending in s: boys’ books

  • Add an apostrophe for proper names ending in s: Agnes’ meal

  • An apostrophe is not needed in descriptive phrases: citizens band radio

Quotation marks

  • Use quotation marks for the titles of short works, such as magazine articles, speeches, papers, and unpublished manuscripts; short musical works; poems not published in book form; and conferences and meetings.

  • Quotation marks are not needed for titles of academic courses.
  • Quotation marks are not needed for an annual event: Bone Distinguished Lecture Series
  • Quotation marks are not needed for website tabs. These headings should be capitalized.


  • Use in listings of phrases that contain commas.
  • Use to join closely related independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction.