This page is intended as a point of reference. If you are unsure of something about your writing, this is a good place to start. Below is a list of contents to enable you to find what you are looking for more easily. Alternatively, you could read the whole page ...

Full Stops and Capital Letters
Commas
Apostrophes - Contraction
Apostrophes - Possession


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Full Stops and Capital Letters

Let's start with the basics. Capital letters are used ...

  • ... at the beginning of sentences.

  • ... for proper nouns (like your name, the name of the school, the name of the street where you live etc.) As a general rule, if there is only one of something it should have a capital letter.

  • ... when writing acronyms (the letters used to stand for the name of something) e.g. BBC, NATO, ITV, AOL, RSPCA.

A sentence always begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. A full stop should be followed by a capital letter, even when in speech marks.

    "You're ugly all right, and no mistake!" said the wild ducks. "But that's all the same to us, as long as you don't marry into the family!"

The beginning of what someone says should always start with a capital letter, even if a comma comes before it.

    Even his brothers and sisters were unkind to him, and kept on saying, "If only the cat would get you, you ugly thing!"

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Commas

You may have been told that you should use a comma when a breath is needed, but you should attempt to be more precise than this: not everyone's lungs are the same size!

Commas are used...

  • ... to divide up the items in a list of more than two items e.g.

    For school you will require a pen, a pencil, a ruler, a rubber, a pencil sharpener, and a pencil case to hold everything.

    Notice that the last comma is followed by 'and', although you can leave out this last comma, just make sure you do so every time.

  • ... at the beginning and end of a parenthetical word or phrase (words that sound like they should be inside brackets) e.g.
  • Fred, who is bald, complained of the cold.

    I am sure, however, that he was not telling the truth.

  • ... after words introducing direct speech e.g.

    She liked the look of Thumbelina, and so she said, "You're welcome to stay with me for the winter, but you must keep my room nice and clean, and tell me stories, for I am very fond of stories."

  • ... to separate the different parts of a sentence. Look again at the example above. When the field mouse speaks to Thumbelina, her sentence is divided into several parts using commas:

    1. "You're welcome to stay with me for the winter,
    2. but you must my room nice and clean,
    3. and tell me stories,
    4. for I am very fond of stories."


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Apostrophes - Contraction

You will probably use apostrophes of this type correctly most of the time. The purpose of this section is to provide you with clearer understanding, which will mean that you make fewer mistakes in the future.

  • The title of this section is 'Apostrophes - Contraction'. If something 'contracts', it becomes shorter. So, this type of apostrophe is used to make words (or groups of words) shorter.

    To make this clearer, here are some examples of how this works:

    I am becomes I'm
    We have becomes We've
    You will becomes You'll

    The apostrophe should go in place of the missing letters. This means that you can check if your apostrophe is in the correct place.

  • Apostrophes are also useful when making negative phrases:

    Have not becomes Haven't
    Could not becomes Couldn't
    Has not becomes Hasn't

    Note: When two words are combined as above the space between the words is ignored; the two words become one.

  • There are some exceptions, most notably:
    • won't which comes from will not. (If you're {you + are} interested, the reason for this goes back about 600-700 years!)
    • can't which comes from cannot - one word rather than two.

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Apostrophes - Possession

As well as enabling words to be contracted, apostrophes are also used to show possession. This is a difficult part of punctuation and grammar, but once you know a few rules it does become easier - honestly!

  • We'll start with a few examples to demonstrate how apostrophes should be used to mark possession:

    The boy's good.This means (as you learnt above): 'The boy is good'.
    The boy's good work.This means: 'The good work belongs to the boy'.

    As you can see, the meaning of an apostrophe often depends on the rest of the sentence.

  • When the number of objects possessed is greater than one, the method of showing this is the same:

    The boy's arm.This means: 'The arm that belongs to the boy'.
    The boy's arms.This means: 'The arms that belong to the boy'.

  • Notice that the apostrophe stays in the same place: you should move the apostrophe if more than one person possesses something (or some things):

    The boys' arm.This means: 'The arm that belongs to the boys'. (Perhaps they share an action man's arm?)
    The boys' arms.This means: 'The arms that belong to the boys'.

  • "Okay," you'rethinking, "but what about if the word is made plural without an 's'?" Are you thinking of words like men, women, children? Well, as they are already plural, they act like single objects:

    The women's arm.This means: 'The arm that belongs to the women'. (Perhaps they share an action man's arm too?)
    The women's arms.This means: 'The arms that belong to the women'.

  • Also, if a word ends in 's' but is singular, as in the name 'James', the apostrophe comes after the name:

    James' arm.This means: 'The arm that belongs to James'.
    James' arms.This means: 'The arms that belong to James'.


That's quite enough for now. Much of this will start to mean more as you look out for the things you've learned in what you read. Come back to this in a few months and you'll be amazed at how much more you understand.