Punctuation Primer

Ampersands (&)

Do not use ampersands to replace the word “and” wherever it strikes your fancy. Ampersands should be used only in place of the word “and” when it occurs in the names and titles of departments, colleges, programs, companies, centers, buildings and so on — and they should be used in every instance. Using ampersands like this allows your reader to distinguish easily between items that contain the word “and” and limits the confusion that can arise with frequent repetition of the word “and.”

Right: The Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design operates out of the Arts & Humanities Building.
Right: She is a professor with the Department of Applied Linguistics & English as a Second Language.
Right: Mathematics & Statistics, Physics & Astronomy
Right: Budget & Planning and Finance & Administration are part of the same division.
Wrong: Chemistry & Astronomy, Parking & Transporation
Wrong: Public Relations and Marketing Communications and Auxiliary and Support Services worked together on the project.
Wrong: Visit Student Health Promotion for health & wellness information.


Avoid this informal construction.

Right: Some university departments automatically withdraw any student who enrolls in a course without fi rst meeting its course prerequisites, grade point average requirements or both.
Wrong: Some university departments automatically withdraw any student who enrolls in a course without fi rst meeting its course prerequisites and/or grade point average requirements.

City, State

Place a comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence.

Right: They moved from Tucson, Ariz., to Athens, Ga.
Right: Washington, D.C., was the destination.
Wrong: Kansas City, Mo. is the site of the conference.

Colons and Semicolons

Use a colon at the end of a clause to introduce lists and after an introductory statement that uses the words “as follows” or “the following.” Do not use a colon between a verb or preposition and its direct object.

Right: They asked everyone: her sister, brother, cousin and mother.
Right: They asked others, such as her sister, brother, cousin and mother.
Right: They will talk about the following: (1) admissions criteria; (2) financial aid; and (3) student activities.
Right: The topics were leadership, motivation, enthusiasm and creativity
Wrong: The topics were: leadership; motivation; enthusiasm; creativity.

Use a semicolon to divide two closely related independent clauses when they are not connected by a conjunction.

Right: We already received your report; the follow-up mailing is not needed.

Semicolons commonly connect two independent clauses that use conjunctive adverbs such as “therefore” and “however.”

Right: We already received your report; therefore, the follow-up mailing is unnecessary.


Do not use the serial comma — that is, a comma that comes before a coordinating conjunction (such as “and” and “or”) at the end of a series of three or more components. Use a comma only if the last or penultimate item itself contains a coordinating conjunction.

Right: The flag of the United States is red, white and blue.
Right: The restaurant offered pancakes, french toast, and ham and eggs.

Do not use a comma before “Jr.” or “Sr.” after a person’s name.

Right: John Smith Jr.
Right: John Smith IV
Right: Thurston Howell III

Use a comma to introduce a complete, one-sentence quotation within a paragraph. A colon should be used to introduce longer quotations.

Right: She said, “I don’t want to go.”
Right: She said: “I don’t want to go. I’m tired. The cat’s sick, and I have no interest in postmodern art.”

Do not use a comma at the start of a partial or indirect quotation.

Right: She said the play “was the finest drama Williams wrote.”
Right: She said the play, “was the finest drama Williams wrote.”

Omit the comma before “of” in writing a person’s name and address.

Right: Robert Redford of Sundance, Utah
Wrong: Robert Redford, of Sundance, Utah

Watch for missing commas. If you’re using an interruptive clause or phrase with a comma at the end, make sure you’ve inserted the comma at the beginning.

Right: Dr. Becker, president of Georgia State University, spoke at the meeting.
Right: Executives, such as Mr. Brown and Ms. Smith, also attended.
Right: Executives such as Mr. Brown and Ms. Smith also attended.
Right: She drove from Tacoma, Wash., to Atlanta.
Right: The car, which was silver, raced down the road.
Wrong: Dr. Becker, president of Georgia State University spoke at the meeting.
Wrong: Executives such as Mr. Brown and Ms. Smith, also attended.
Wrong: She drove from Tacoma, Wash. to Atlanta.
Wrong: The car, which was silver raced down the road.
Wrong: The car which was silver raced down the road. (See That/Which.)

Company Names

Follow the organization’s lead, and reproduce formal titles without modification. Heed special punctuation (including ampersands), and use “Co.,” “Cos.,” “Inc.” and “Ltd.” if appropriate.

When you refer to a company without its formal title, use the term “company,” not “co.”

Always spell out the word “company” in theatrical organizations.

For possessives: Ford Motor Co.’s profits.

Never use a comma before “Inc.” or “Ltd.”

Dangling Modifiers

Avoid dangling or misplaced adverbs or adjectives.

Right: Walking across the lawn, I got mud on my shoes.
Wrong: Walking across the lawn, mud covered my shoes. (In this construction, mud is walking across the lawn.)

Em dashes (—)

Used to set off parenthetical statements with emphasis. There should be a space on either side of each em dash.

Right: Georgia State offers more than 250 degree programs in 100 fields of study through its nine colleges and schools at the Atlanta Campus — the widest variety in Georgia.
Right: Thanks to a $22.8 million gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation — the largest in the university’s history — Georgia State is renovating the former SunTrust Bank building at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Park Place.

Exclamation Points

Use them rarely.


Hyphenate prenominal compound adjectives — that is, two words that form a single unit that modifies a noun that follows it. In most cases, the same two words that constitute a hyphenated adjectival compound before a noun are written as two separate words when they follow the noun they modify (no matter how they’re used).

Right: a six-lane highway, a highway with six lanes; a middle-class neighborhood, the neighborhood is middle class; burned-out buildings, the buildings are burned out; gender-inclusive pronouns, be gender inclusive; a bike-friendly campus, the campus is bike friendly; high-quality standards, the standards are high quality Even if the words precede the noun they modify, do not hyphenate them if the first word is an adverb ending in “–ly.”
Right: newly renovated library
Wrong: commonly-held belief

To hyphenate in a series, follow this example:

Right: He wrote 10- and 20-page papers.

When describing the score or outcome of a sports match, follow this example:

Right: Running back Taz Bateman continually powered through the line during a 34-7 rout of in-state rival Georgia Southern last December.

Here’s a short guide to commonly used open (two separate words), closed (one word) and hyphenated (two words connected with a hyphen) compounds. Always consult an American Heritage Dictionary to be sure.


all-terrain, antebellum


bilingual, bisexual


coauthor, co-chair, co-sponsor, child care, cooperative (adjective), co-op (noun), course work (noun), class work (noun)


database, data center, decision-maker (noun), decision making (verb), decision-making (adjective)




follow-up (noun), follow up (verb), full-time employee (adjective), she works full time (adverb)

fundraiser, fundraising (one word in all cases): fundraising is difficult (noun, the activity), the fundraising campaign (adjective, relating to the activity), we are holding a fundraiser (noun, event), he is a fundraiser (noun, person)


grade point average (neither hyphenated nor capitalized)


interoffice, interrelated


K-9 (hyphenated for a K-9 unit), K–12 (en dash for the range of grades)


lifestyle, long-range (adjective: the long-range plans are astounding), long range (noun phrase: the ideas cover a long range), long-term (adjective: the long-term system will be in effect for many more years)

Note: Using “long term,” “long-term,” “short term” or “short-term” as a noun phrase (“we can’t do anything about it in the short-term) or adverb phrase (“the results will be long term”) is not standard.


mainframe, microcomputer, minivan, multimedia, multipurpose




on-campus movies (adjective), there are movies on campus each week (prepositional phrase)


part-time job (adjective), part time is the best option (noun), percent, playoffs, postdoctoral, postgraduate, pre-application, preschool


re-evaluate, reinforce

Note: In general, use a hyphen when the vowel “e” follows the prefix “re.” There are exceptions. Consult the American Heritage Dictionary to be sure.


semicolon, short-term plans (adjective)

Note: Using “long term,” “long-term,” “short term” or “short-term” as a noun phrase (“we can’t do anything about it in the short-term) or adverb phrase (“the results will be long term”) is not standard.


time-sharing (all computer-related uses)


vice president, vice chair


world-renowned school, the school is world renowned


a 3-year-old, a 3-year-old child, year-round availability (adjective)

Note: Using “year-round” as an adverb phrase (“the class is offered yearround”) is not standard.

Quotes and Quotations

Note: The use stipulated here prevails in the United States. The United Kingdom and Canada use different rules.

The period and the comma always go inside the quotation marks.

Right: She told us to “stay in school,” which was good advice.
Right: He said, “I’m going to the store.”
Wrong: He said, “I’m going to the store”.

The dash, the exclamation point and the question mark go inside the quotation marks when they apply to the quote. When they apply to the whole sentence, they go outside the marks.

Right: Sgt. Carter gave the following order: “Peel potatoes — then lights out!”
Right: Gomer Pyle said, “Golly, Sergeant!” when he heard the news.
Right: Francis Schaeffer’s book asks, “How Shall We Then Live?”
Right: What did Martin Luther King Jr. mean when he said, “I have a dream”?

The colon and semicolon should be placed outside quotation marks. When text ending with one of these punctuation marks is quoted, the colon or semicolon is dropped.

Right: The president said the plan needed “a few minor adjustments”; however, he did not reject it entirely.

In running quotations, each new paragraph begins with open quotation marks, but only the final paragraph contains closing quotation marks.

Right: The speech was as follows: “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. I have a few points to make today. The first is to thank you for this honor. My accomplishments are noteworthy only in so far as they help to advance this important field of human endeavor.

“The second is to ask you to continue thinking about this critical issue. Only through continued research and experimental programs such as the one you’ve recognized today will we advance our cause and improve our society.

“Finally, let me ask you to do more than turn your mental energies to this important effort. Give your total energies — in the form of financial support, volunteer time, active advocacy — for the sake of progress. Then we can all share in this special honor. Thank you.”

When including a quote or “highlighted” word inside another quotation, use single quotation marks (‘) instead of double (“).

Right: In his charge to the committee, the chair said, “I have often told you, ‘Don’t give up the ship.’ Thanks to your efforts, we’ve been able to reach our goal.”
Right: The chair said, “I have often told you, ‘Don’t give up the ship.’”

Spacing at End of Sentence

Use a single space at the end of a sentence and after a colon. Double spaces date back to the days of typewriters, when all characters were allotted the same amount of space. Computerized typesetting adjusts the spacing for a good fit. Extra spaces create gaps and appear unprofessional.