Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

Publications & Resources

Punctuation

Jump to a section

Apostrophes
Commas
Exclamation marks
Quotation marks
Semicolons
Dashes
Hyphens

Apostrophes

Apostrophes are frequently used to indicate possession. Singular and plural nouns not ending in "s" take an apostrophe and "s" to form the possessive case.

For example:

nurse'suniform, people's food, alumni's donations.

Plural nouns ending in "s" take an apostrophe alone. For example: the nurses' uniform, teachers' apples.

For abbreviations, acronyms or numbers as nouns, form the plural by adding an "s". For example: LHINs, BPGs, 1960s.

This rule also applies to RNAO's full name: The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario.

Commas

Put commas between the elements of a series but not before the final and, or or nor. For example: men, women, children and pets. However, use a comma before the final and, or or nor if it avoids confusion. For example: breakfast consisted of oatmeal, fried eggs, and bread and butter.

Use commas before clauses introduced by the conjunctions and, but, for, or, nor or yet if the subject changes. For example: We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. - Oscar Wilde

Note: the comma may be omitted when the clauses are short or the subject of both is the same. For example: The gun boomed and the race was on. The twins shouted and waved and finally managed to attract the driver's attention.

Use commas to set off an introductory clause or long phrase that precedes the main clause. For example: If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him. - Voltaire

Note: Even if the introductory clause or phrase is short, a comma may be used for emphasis: Even so, the vote was close. 

Put a comma after the main clause only if the clause that follows is parenthetical. For example: I'm selling you this gold brick because I like your face. The doctor bought a ticket, though she didn't expect to win. 

Exclamation marks

Do not overuse exclamation marks. Repeated use actually diminishes its effect. Use it to denote great surprise, a command, deep emotion or emphasis.

Quotation marks

Quotation marks always go outside other punctuation (except for semicolons and question marks).
For example: "I'm going to the store," she said, "and I won't be back until noon."

The exception: when using a question mark, place it inside the quotation marks when it relates to the sentence in quotations. When it does not relate directly with the sentence in quotations, place it outside.

For example: have you read the assigned short story, "Flowering Judas"? No, but I read last week's assignment, "Where Are They Now?"

In addition, when a quote by a single speaker extends more than one paragraph, put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph but at the end of only the last.

Semicolons

A semicolon is used to separate statements too closely related to stand as separate sentences. It can also be used to separate phrases that contain commas. If you are using quotation marks, the semicolon goes on the outside of quotation marks.

For example: some people write with a computer; others write with a pen or pencil.

There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessibleor by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.

Dashes

The dash is an effective tool but can easily be overused. Many times it can be avoided by breaking a long sentence into two shorter ones.

Use dashes to set off mid-sentence lists punctuated by commas. For example: the ministers will discuss common problems – trade, tourism, immigration and defence – before going to the summit talks.

Use dashes when commas (generally preferable) would create confusion. For example: The pies – meat and fruit – were cheap.

Hyphens

Compound words may be written solid (sweatshirt), open (oil rig) or hyphenated (white-haired) See RNAO glossary for examples.

Write words as compounds to ease reading, to avoid ambiguity and to join words that when used together form a separate concept.

In general, hyphenate compound modifiers preceding a noun, but not if the meaning is instantly clear because of common usage of the term. For example: the third-period goal, three-under-par 69, a 5-4 vote, multimillion-dollar projects, 40-cent coffee

Use a hyphen with fractions standing alone (two-thirds, three-quarters) and with the written numbers 21 to 99 (fifty-five, ninety-nine).

Use hyphens with a successive compound adjective. Example: 18th- and 19th-century.