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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book


Another aspect of the English language and writing (as well as another aspect that you will be tested on) is punctuation. In order to be fully prepared for the writing component of the PRAXIS I exam, you need to be familiar with the different types of punctuation, such as periods and commas, and when each is appropriate.


A comma is a form of punctuation that separates different parts of a sentence into more manageable segments. For example, you can use a comma to separate an introductory clause from the main clause of a sentence. Commas should be used to separate two independent clauses within a sentence.

As with most other components of standard English, there are certain rules to follow in deciding when to use a comma and where to place one. These topics will be discussed in the following section.

When to Use Commas

Because many, if not all, of the multiple-choice questions will require you to identify errors within a sentence, you need to know when and how to use commas within a sentence. You can use the points in the following list as a guideline for using commas:

  • A comma should be placed between two independent clauses that are separated by any of the following words: but, or, nor, and, for, and yet. If two independent clauses are separated by the word so, in which the meaning of so is as a result, a comma should be used.


    The words in the preceding list are known as coordinating conjunctions. When it comes to comma placement, the comma will usually go before the coordinating conjunction. Rarely will the comma appear after. Keep this in mind if you encounter any exam questions that require you to correctly place a comma in a sentence.

  • If a sentence contains an unessential adjective clause, include commas, as shown in the following example:

  • Felicia Buckingham, the former principal of the local high school, was head of the school board.

  • If a sentence includes two or more coordinate adjectives in a row, separate them with a comma, as shown in the following example:

  • This young man has become an articulate, confident, inquisitive student.

    If the adjectives are cumulative, don't separate them.

    He bought a small red car.

  • If a sentence includes a direct quote, place a comma before the quotation marks, as shown in the following example:

  • Their mother said, "It's time to go to bed."

  • When a sentence includes a list of three or more items in a row, separate them using a comma. For example:

  • We went grocery shopping and bought apples, oranges, and bananas.

  • If a dependent clause precedes an independent clause in a sentence, a comma should be used to separate them. However, the same is not true if an independent clause is followed by a dependent clause. In the following example, only the first sentence requires a comma because the dependent clause precedes the independent clause.

  • Unless you pay, I am not going to the movies with you.

    I am not going to the movies with you unless you pay.

  • Place a comma after any transition words such as therefore and however. For example:

  • We went to the beach for the day. However, it rained all morning.

  • Commas are also required between a city and state, the date and the year, as well as between a name and a title.

Colons and Semicolons

Colons and semicolons—they sound similar and look similar, but they each serve a different purpose. The following section will describe each of these punctuation marks. Be sure you know the difference between a colon and a semicolon and when each is appropriate.


There are several rules as to when colons should be used in a sentence. The most common use for colons is at the end of sentences that introduce a list, such as a list of steps, as shown in the following example:

Use the following steps to open a new Microsoft Word document:

  1. Click Start.

  2. Point to All Programs.

  3. Point to Microsoft Office.

  4. Click Microsoft Word.


Semicolons are often referred to as "super commas." Semicolons are used to join together two independent clauses that are not joined together using a coordinating conjunction (such as but or yet). Another situation in which a semicolon should be used is in place of the word and plus a comma. Finally, semicolons are also used between two independent clauses that are joined using a transitional expression.

The following sentences provide examples of how semicolons should be used:

  1. Our dog always gets off her leash; therefore, we had to fence the back yard.

  2. The semester was finally finished; we were glad it was spring break.


Many people get confused as to when an apostrophe is required. However, there are only two rules you need to remember when using apostrophes: Apostrophes are used to show possession and omission. Let’s take a look at two examples of how apostrophes are used. The first sentence demonstrates how an apostrophe is used to show possession. The second sentence demonstrates how the apostrophe is used for letter omission.

  • My mothers house is full of antique furniture.

  • He doesnt know whether he’ll be able to make it to the meeting this afternoon.

Other Forms of Punctuation

There are many other forms of punctuation aside from the ones already described. Again, you will need to be able to identify sentences that have incorrect punctuation. Therefore, along with apostrophes, colons, and semicolons, be aware of the following punctuation marks and when to use them:

  • Periods—Periods are the most common form of punctuation. They are used in several different situations. Periods are used to end a sentence, for abbreviations, and for lists beginning with letters or numbers. (For example, a period would precede each number in a numbered list.) A period is also placed before closing quotation marks, as shown in the following example:

  • The mother said to the boy, "You may not have more ice cream."

  • Question marks—Question marks are used to end a sentence that asks a direct question. However, they are not used for those sentences asking indirect questions, as shown in the following examples:

  • How many more days are left until spring break?

    The woman asked if she could switch seats with the gentleman beside her.

  • Quotation marks—The most common use of quotation marks is to offset text within a sentence, such as dialogue.

  • The police officer asked, "Can I please see your license and registration?"

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