You may be good at speaking English, but how are your writing skills? You’re trying to deal with the grammar, getting to grips with the tenses, are almost on top of the spelling, and are fairly confident that you’ve pretty much nailed it. Except for the punctuation…that seems to have gone a bit pear-shaped.

You’ll notice when you’re reading a book that quotation marks (often referred to as speech marks) can be single quotation marks (‘+’) or double quotation marks (“+”). There is no hard and fast rule as to when either type should be used. However, children’s books tend to use the double quotation marks purely because they are clearer. Adult books in America usually use double quotation marks while British adult books tend to sway towards single quotation marks. If the latter is used, then a double quotation mark will be used if a quote within that section of speech is needed.

The quotation marks are also positioned differently with relation to the full stop depending on how the sentence is written. If the quoted speech is a complete sentence, the full stop is enclosed within the quotation marks: “These quotation marks are confusing.” However, if the quoted speech is part of a sentence then the full stop is placed after the closing quotation mark: He said, “I think I’m getting the hand of these quotation marks now”. Quotation marks have other uses too, but you get the idea!

The most common stumbling block for people regarding punctuation is the apostrophe. How many times have you looked at signs in shops that have been written incorrectly or been unsure how to write something? Apostrophes are often added in where they shouldn’t be. For example, it’s common to see years written incorrectly: 1980’s when it should be 1980s. Apostrophes are also missed out where they should be included: a days work should be written as a day’s work.

Apostrophes for the possessive forms of words usually stick to the rule that you add an apostrophe and an ‘s’ after the word: the student’s desk. Words ending in ‘s’ and plurals can cause confusion though. The same rule usually applies to words ending in ‘s’ unless it’s a plural: the boss’s office.

For plurals, if the word already ends in an ‘s’ then only an apostrophe is added to the end, with no additional ‘s’: the cats’ baskets. For words that don’t end in ‘s’, the original rule of adding an apostrophe and an ‘s’ at the end of the word applies: the children’s toys.

For the possessive forms of names ending in ‘s’, the words are written exactly as they are pronounced: the Jones’s house or the Davies’ car. As with quotation marks, there are many variations of the ways apostrophes can be used, but that’s enough for now!

You’ve still got to get to grips with colons, semi-colons, brackets, parentheses and hyphens. And that’s not where it ends! When you’ve got your head around all of the ‘normal’ punctuation, you’re then faced with the specific punctuation pertaining to the language you are learning, such as accents and umlauts.

Do you get irritated when you see things written incorrectly? Where was the last place you noticed incorrect punctuation? Do you find any particular type of punctuation trips you up when you are writing?