Punctuation Skip Navigation

Editorial Style and Usage Guide

This guide is the established editorial style for e-mail announcements, the Colgate Scene, colgate.edu pages and stories, brochures, newsletters, letters, and more.

Have a suggestion for the style guide? Contact Rebecca Costello at rcostello@colgate.edu

For answers to common questions, see our Quick Tips

NOTE: All entries, in bold type, indicate lower case or capitalization as appropriate

   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
             Punctuation - Helpful references - Proofreading tips



Consult the Chicago Manual of Style for punctuation rules not outlined below.

ampersand. Do not substitute for and in body copy [WRONG: He is professor of philosophy & religion. RIGHT: He is professor of philosophy and religion.]. If an ampersand is used instead of the word, such as in the name of a firm, omit the serial comma [She worked for Hardy, Smyth & Jones LLC].

apostrophe. No apostrophe in uppercase abbreviations [POWs, GEs, MAs, As and Bs. Use ’70s, not 70’s]. To avoid confusion, use an apostrophe with abbreviations that combine uppercase and lowercase letters [We offer MAs and PhD’s.]. Note direction of apostrophe when it precedes numerals such as a year or decade; to achieve ’ before
numerals, on a Mac, type shift/option/apostrophe, and on a PC, type control/shift/apostrophe.
          PLURALS AND POSSESSIVES. If a noun is plural and ends in s, add only the apostrophe [Both writers’ novels were accepted for publication.]. The plural of a word referred to as a word without regard to its meaning is indicated with an apostrophe and an s [You have given me too many but’s already.].
          In general, the possessive of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe and an s, and the possessive of most plural nouns by adding an apostrophe only.
          The general rule applies to proper nouns (including names ending in s, x, or z) in both singular or plural form, as well as letters and numbers [Marx’s comedy, Dickens’s novels, Gutierrez’s house, 2004’s rainfall record].
          Exceptions to the general rule include nouns that are plural in form but singular in meaning, including place or organization names that are in plural form ending in s whose entity is singular [politics’ ultimate impact, the United States’ economy after World War II]; words ending in an eez sound, and words and names ending in an unpronounced s [Euripides’ tragedies, Descartes’ philosophy]; and for . . . sake expressions when the noun ends in an s or an s sound [for goodness’ sake, for righteousness’ sake].
          To indicate joint possession or closely linked proper names treated as a unit, use an apostrophe with the last noun only [Joe and Mary’s house]. To show individual possession, make each noun possessive [Joe’s and Mary’s clothes were hung on the clothesline.]. Apostrophes also imply of in the genitive case [an hour’s delay, in three days’ time]. Consult the Chicago Manual of Style for other exceptions and guidelines.
          Avoid common misuses of apostrophes such as using an apostrophe with a noun that is not possessive [WRONG: Do not drive through the barrier’s. RIGHT: Do not drive through the barriers.].

brackets. Corrections, explanations, or comments within quoted material, or editor’s notes, should be bracketed [“People [here in Iraq] have the right to express themselves. That’s why I’m here.”]. Brackets are also used as parentheses within parentheses [Writing intensive courses (both in the humanities [four] and social sciences [three]) will be held next year.].

bullets. Bulleted items that conclude an introductory sentence should be lowercased and punctuated with a comma or semicolon at the end of each item except for the last. Use the word and before the last bulleted item, and end the sentence with a period.
On “extended studies” of three to four weeks, students and faculty members have:
• studied the interaction of family, work, and public policy in Denmark;
• examined the material culture of Rome and Pompeii; and
• immersed themselves in New York City theater.

Bulleted items that are not part of an introductory sentence may be upper- or lowercase and may end with either periods or no punctuation. Format should be consistent within given context and within the publication.
Colgate offers six cultural studies minors:
• African studies
• African American studies
• Caribbean studies
• Jewish studies
• Middle Eastern studies and Islamic civilization
• Southeast Asian studies

Usually there is a space between the bullet and the first word of each item.

colon. Introduces elements or a series of elements illustrating or amplifying what precedes the colon [Colgate has four divisions: humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, and university studies.]. The first word after a colon is lowercased, unless it is a proper name, the colon introduces two or more sentences, or when it introduces a quotation [The program offers three things: training, counseling, and financial support. We hope to accomplish two goals: We need to get the word out about our program. We also have to raise enough money to cover two years’ worth of events. Joe had this to say: “He has had enough.”].

comma. Always use the serial comma; it prevents ambiguity. [We ate peas, ham, and macaroni and cheese].
          Use a comma to separate independent clauses that are joined by and, but, for, or, nor, because, or so [The taxi never showed up, so we took a bus.].
          A dependent clause that precedes a main clause should be separated by a comma [If you don’t let go, I’m going to scream.].
          Nonrestrictive words, abbreviations, phrases, or clauses in apposition to nouns (i.e., omittable, supplementary rather than essential) are set off by commas; if restrictive (i.e., essential to the noun), no commas should appear [He met his second wife, Mary, and her son John in Albuquerque (she has two sons). They performed Neil Simon’s play Brighton Beach Memoirs last semester (Simon wrote several plays).].
          Used in introductory words and phrases such as adverbial or participial phrases, especially if a slight pause is intended; a single word or very short phrase may not require a comma unless to avoid misreading [In June they established the new center. Before eating, the cat circled the dish. On the other hand, I didn’t care for that film. After the semester was over, they went home for a break. To Professor Hughes, teaching was the most enjoyable pastime.].
          A comma follows exclamatory words or phases [Ah, what a nice day! Hi, there! Hey, everyone! Welcome, Colgate families! Happy birthday, Kate!].
          A comma introduces brief quoted material (colons introduce long quotations) [He said, “Oh, my gosh, it’s great to see you!”].

dash. There are two types of dashes. Neither is to be substituted with hyphens.
          em dash. Used either singly or in pairs, to set off an amplifying or explanatory element [Colgate’s four divisions — humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, and university studies — work together to offer many interdisciplinary courses.]. Surround em dashes with single spaces [He said — or so I thought — that he was hungry]. Type option-shift-hyphen or use the Symbol table under Insert in Microsoft Word.

          en dash. Used in place of to, indicating continuing or inclusive numbers, such as dates, times, or reference numbers [1944–52, June–January, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Jane Doe (1980–)]. Type option-hyphen or use the Symbol table under Insert in Microsoft Word.
          If the word from precedes the first element, use the word to instead of the en dash; similarly, if between precedes the first element, use and instead of the en dash. No spaces around en dashes.
          Also used to link a city to a university with more than one campus or if one-half of a hyphenated term is a compound [University of California–Los Angeles; the small-animal–hospital emergency room; New York–area restaurants].

ellipses. Use three periods, surrounded by spaces [His voice trailed off. . . until he regained his composure.]. If a sentence is broken across two pages, the ellipses accompanies the first portion; do not add a second ellipsis. See Chicago Manual of Style for other guidelines.
          If an ellipsis precedes a period or other punctuation, attach the mark without leaving a space [He yelled, and then his voice trailed off . . ..].

exclamation point. Should be used sparingly in order to be effective. Resist the temptation to use double or triple exclamation points for emphasis; rewrite sentence to reflect emphasis. Using an exclamation point added in parentheses or brackets to indicate editorial protest is discouraged, since it appears contemptuous; the Latin expression sic (thus) is preferred. Exclamation points are placed inside quotation marks only when they are part of
the quoted matter [“Put that down!” but She literally said with no emotion at all, “I hate you”!].

hyphen, hyphenated words. The trend is away from hyphenation in current usage. Although hyphens can often be omitted in commonly used words, they should be used to prevent ambiguity [He recovered from illness. She re-covered the upholstered chair. He served as a translator for non-English–speaking residents.]. See Chicago for more examples.

          Compound nouns. Many compound nouns are hyphenated [sister-in-law, follow-up, one-half, well-being, 3- year-old, student-athlete].
          Some noun compounds are NOT hyphenated [day care, health care, problem solving, vice president].
          Some noun compounds are written as one word [antitrust, campuswide, coeducation, coursework, database, fundraising, horseback, kickoff, lifelong, nationwide, nonprofit, online, reelect, semifinals, semiformal, subcommittee].

          Compound numbers: hyphenate the written form from twenty-one to ninety-nine, as well as fractions [One- half of my contribution went to the Annual Fund. Six hundred and thirty-three people attended the event.].

          Compound adjectives. Some compound adjectives are hyphenated [10-foot pole, 5-foot-3 inch–tall person, 18th-century poets, 250-pound foot locker, all-inclusive measures, blue-green water, cost-effective spending, low-level toxic waste, long-lived ancestors, matter-of-fact comment, problem-solving skills, five-eighths seam allowance, well-known property].
          Some compound adjectives are not hyphenated [eastern European countries, food service industry, health
care plan].
          Some compound adjectives are written as one word [fivefold decrease, nonprofit agency, statewide budget cuts].

          Adverb-verb compounds. Hyphenated, but not when the adverb ends in ly [an ill-fated attempt, a thinly veiled disguise, a well-marked road].

          Prefixes. Words with prefixes carry a hyphen when the prefix stands alone [over- and understated, macro- and microeconomics]. Words formed with co- are also usually spelled without a hyphen, but note the exceptions [co- chairman, co-editor, co-host, cooperate, co-op, co-opt, co-president, coworker, co-wrote].
          Use a hyphen between a prefix and a proper name [mid-Atlantic, pre-Colgate, pro-Kmart].

          Capitalization. When hyphenated words appear in titles, capitalize both words [Fifteenth-Century Dynasty, High-Level Meetings]

parentheses. Use parentheses to include useful information for the reader [James began his run up High Street (he liked to warm up with a steep incline) and headed out toward the boardwalk.]; however, note that the need for parentheses often indicates that a sentence is becoming awkward. If possible, rewrite the sentence, or use commas or em dashes to set off incidental material.
          Use parentheses to enclose numbers or letters that denote items in a list [The agenda will include (1) brainstorming, (2) ice-breaker exercises, and (3) lunch.].

          Punctuation: Place the period outside the closing parenthesis if the material inside is not a complete sentence [Instead of taking lunch at a normal time (such as noon), he waited until 2 p.m.].
          In parenthetical material that is a complete sentence but is dependent on the surrounding material, lowercase the first word, and do not end with a period [We ate lunch in the sunroom (it was too cold to be outside) and then watched a movie.].
          A complete sentence within parentheses that does not stand within another sentence has the end punctuation before the closing parenthesis [And then he ate. (He was very hungry.)].

period. Single space, not double space, after periods (likewise with colons and semicolons).
          When a URL or an e-mail address ends the sentence, use a period [For more information, visit www.colgate.edu.].

question marks. Avoid using double question marks to express surprise or humor. [RIGHT: Are you as excited as I am? WRONG: Are you kidding me??].

quotation marks. Quotation marks are used to enclose a direct quotation and titles of short works such as articles, songs, poems, and lectures (see titles (of original works or similar) for more).
          Whether single or double, closing quotation marks follow a period or comma, and precede a colon or semicolon [“Let’s go,” he said. She sang “America”; he applauded.].
          A dash, question mark, or exclamation point falls within the quotation marks when they refer only to the quoted matter; they fall outside when they refer to the whole sentence [“You’ve got to be kidding!” he exclaimed. How many times are you going to say “I don’t know”?].
          Use single quotes within double quotes [The man said, “I heard her say, ‘Don’t do it!’ and then I left.”] See Chicago for other guidelines.
          Quotation marks are used to show that the speaker or writer is using a word in an ironic or unconventional sense [This “diamond” ring is worth about 50 bucks.].
          When a quotation is longer than one paragraph, use quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph but only at the end of the last paragraph.
          When preparing a manuscript in Microsoft Word, take care to note that the “smart quotes” function is turned on in order to enable “curly quotes.”

semicolon. Use a semicolon when you wish to tie together two main clauses rather than keeping them as two sentences [It was really hot today; we ate ice cream.].
         Use when elements in a series involve internal punctuation or when each element is long or complex [Always consult a doctor when you have a fever, blisters, or severe headache; have a history of high blood pressure in your family; or if the pain persists for more than two days.].
          Use a semicolon to link independent clauses connected by consequently, however, moreover, neverthelessotherwise, and therefore [I would like to leave at 3 p.m. today; therefore, I plan to work through my lunch hour to make up the time. He planned to go to the concert; however, he had a flat tire and missed it entirely.].

special formatting/typographic matters. Use one space, not two, following any mark of punctuation that ends a sentence, whether a period, question mark, exclamation point, or closing quotation marks.
          All punctuation marks should appear in the same font (roman or italic) as the main or surrounding text, except for punctuation that belongs to a title or an exclamation in a different font [The book is titled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but everyone knows it as just Huckleberry Finn. Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! was a favorite in my class.].
          To differentiate text, never use underlining; always use italics, boldface, different type size, or if appropriate, quotation marks. See Chicago Chapter 6 for other typographic and aesthetic considerations.