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Understanding English Punctuation: Commonly used Punctuation Marks

Ensure your writing skills are of a professional standard by enhancing your knowledge of commonly used punctuation marks.

Two women working on their English sentence structure, punctuation, and written communication at a computer

Improve your written communication and perfect your use of English punctuation

Correct punctuation is essential when it comes to ensuring your writing is meaningful and accurate.

On this two-week course, you’ll use quizzes, interactive activities, and downloadable resources to take an in-depth look at punctuation, learning how to use it correctly in any written scenario.

Explore the language conventions for the main punctuation marks

Punctuation is the one of the main ways a writer can add clarity, intonation, and precision to their work.

You’ll learn how to write clearly and skillfully, examining commas, semicolons, colons, and more, giving you an overview of the most common punctuation marks found in writing, whether creative, academic, or instructional.

With this knowledge, you’ll be able to ensure your written communication is accessible and fit for purpose, whilst helping to eliminate confusion and miscommunication.

Learn when to use a colon or semicolon, as well as hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes

Many writers lack the confidence to use semicolons, hyphens, and dashes correctly in their work.

On this course, you’ll take a deep dive into their usage and to avoid common errors. You’ll learn when to use an em dash, an en dash, or a hyphen, and why these details matter, particularly when writing in a professional capacity.

By the end of this course, you’ll have a good knowledge of a broad range of punctuation, including some less commonly used in informal writing.

With this understanding, you’ll be able to impress with your eye for detail and in-depth understanding of English language conventions.


  • Week 1

    Punctuation Part I

    • Introduction and welcome

      Welcome to this short course on the main problem areas with English punctuation. Join me as I explain how the course is structured here, and then introduce yourself to your fellow learners.

    • Punctuation

      A general overview of the purpose of punctuation and the differences between some punctuation marks.

    • Commas

      The comma is a widely misunderstood and misused punctuation mark. Learn how to use it correctly in this activity.

    • Semicolons

      A semicolon indicates a pause. How does this differ to a comma or a period? Find out in this activity.

    • Colons

      A colon represents a decided pause. What makes this different to a semicolon? Find out about how to use colons correctly in this activity.

    • Recap of week 1

      Join me for a recap of how to use the key punctuation marks covered this week: the comma, semicolon, and colon. Then we look ahead to next week.

  • Week 2

    Punctuation Part II

    • Welcome to week 2

      Join me as I outline the punctuation marks we'll be exploring this week which include the tricky apostrophe, along with hyphens and en and em dashes.

    • Apostrophes

      The apostrophe, like the comma, is a widely misunderstood and misused punctuation mark. Become an expert on the apostrophe in this activity.

    • Hyphens

      Hyphens are primarily used to join words together to create new words. Find out how to use hyphens correctly in this activity.

    • En and em dashes

      The en dash is longer than a hyphen, and the em dash is even longer again. But when do you use these? Find out in this activity.

    • Course conclusion and what's next

      Join me for a final practical punctuation activity and to recap the key punctuation marks covered in this short course on the main problems in English punctuation. We'll look at what you can do to further your learning too.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe and know how to use all types of punctuation.
  • Apply conventional use of the comma, semi-colon and colon, in particular.
  • Identify conventional use of hyphens and the particular typographic uses of en and em dashes.
  • Apply correct use of apostrophes - without exception!

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone who uses English, whether as a first or additional language. It is suitable for anyone who wants to improve their understanding of English sentence structure and punctuation, whether in a personal or professional context.

Who will you learn with?

Kia ora! Ko Theresa tōku ingoa.
I teach Publishing at Whitireia and Weltec in New Zealand, and I'm passionate about editing and plain language.
I'm looking forward to working with you.

Who developed the course?

Whitireia New Zealand

Established in 1986, Whitireia is a wholly-owned Crown entity subsidiary company of Te Pūkenga, known for its high student success rates and culturally diverse student body.

What's included?

This is a premium course. These courses are designed for professionals from specific industries looking to learn with a smaller group of like-minded individuals.

  • Unlimited access to this course
  • Includes any articles, videos, peer reviews and quizzes
  • Certificate of Achievement to prove your success when you're eligible
  • Download and print your Certificate of Achievement anytime

Still want to know more? Check out our FAQs

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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