Punctuation Quick Reference

This is a quick reference for some common punctuation marks. 


Use an apostrophe and s to form possessives:

Singular nouns, not ending in s:

the University’s commitment to undergraduate education

the student’s transcripts; professor’s syllabus

BUT when words and names end in an unpronounced s: Father Jenkins’ presidency; Jesus’ teachings

Singular proper nouns, letters, numbers, add an apostrophe and s:

St. Louis’s arch; Illinois’s governor; 2011’s blizzard

Plural nouns, possessives:

dogs’ tails; Jones’s phone number

Use an apostrophe to indicate omitted numbers:

He is a product of the ’60s.

Use an apostrophe to form a contraction (omitted letters)

The University of Notre Dame is next to South Bend, Ind.—it’s one of the most beautiful campuses in the country.

For clarity, use an apostrophe to form special plurals:

Mind your p’s and q’s.

For additional support, see Chicago Manual of Style, 7.17­–7.30.


Use a colon to introduce a table or list:

The class will offer students:

  • Real-world experience

  • A small stipend

  • Job interview opportunities

Use a colon to introduce a long quote:

Father Hesburgh wrote the following statement in The Human Imperative:

“In prayer and meditation we can find the tranquility and the transforming power of the presence of God. Union with God is, ultimately, the only basis on which our community with others can rest.”

Use a colon for emphasis between two independent clauses:

The graduate student faced a difficult decision: Should she apply for another fellowship and teach another semester? Or should she interview for the open faculty position at another university?


Communications prefers serial commas for clarity.

Faculty, students, and staff attended the annual event.

You can park at the south edge of campus and walk to the stadium, park at Saint Mary’s and take a shuttle, or catch a ride from a friend who could drop you at the University’s entrance.

Use a comma to join two independent clauses (and, but, or, for, nor, so).

Final exams can be painful, but they are necessary.

The new dormitory has a large lobby, and the RA is sure the residents will enjoy it.

Use a comma after an introductory phrase, prepositional phrase, or dependent clause.

To receive high honors in the class, a student must complete all the course work and labs.

Because the professor had to present a paper out of town, class was canceled.

After the game, the visiting fans celebrated at local restaurants.

Use a comma between coordinate (those of equal weight) adjectives.

The excited, rowdy crowd waited impatiently for the pep rally to begin.

The diploma was mounted in a beautiful, expensive frame.

Use a comma with a transitional expression (however, therefore, nonetheless, also, otherwise, finally, instead, thus, of course, above all, for example, in other words, as a result, on the other hand, in conclusion, in addition)

For example, Notre Dame fans are considered some of the most loyal in all of sports.

If you want to be admitted to medical school, you must take four years of science and math classes, in addition to the general education classes.

Use a comma with direct quotes.

“If we are clear in our purpose, we will excel in our ideals. This will be my priority and my passion as President of Notre Dame,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., during his 2005 inaugural speech.

Use a comma in a personal title.

John Burish, Ph.D.

John Burish, provost, gave a detailed report to the faculty committee.

C.S.C., treatment of

Always separate the religious order’s abbreviation with commas.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., is Notre Dame’s 17th President.

We no longer place a comma before Sr., Jr., and III when included in names.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement.

Do not place a comma between an alum’s name and class year: Jim Bell ‘98

Nonrestrictive/nonessential elements

Set off words or phrases that are not essential to the meaning of the noun it/they modify:

The professor, who was in the department for two years, was considered an excellent lecturer.

The sentence is complete as: The professor was considered an excellent lecturer—simply not as specific.

Introductory elements

For clarity, set off introductory phrases that are four or more words in length:

To study without interruption, the student chose to write in the library.

Use a comma to separate independent clauses

The student dropped the math class, but he was still unable to register for the chemistry lab.

When including cities and states in running text:

Michelle is from Houston, Tex., and Kyle came from Charlotte, N.C.

Set off dates (date, year) in running text:

The graphic designer’s start date was June 8, 2005, and she was immediately assigned several Web projects.

But, do not use a comma when month and year alone are listed:

Despite much protest, in April 2007 the staff was assigned to three separate departments.

Set off direct addresses, salutations:

Dear Hiring Agent,

Mr. Chair, I move to end the discussion.

Numbers greater than 999:

The home is 2,350 square feet of luxury.


En dash (–)

For the meaning “up to and including” or “through” (such as in number and time spans)

The two football teams enjoyed a friendly annual rivalry from 1989–2000.

Em dash (—)

No spaces on either side.

Em dashes are the longer dash, used to indicate a break in a thought/sentence:

The results of the research—conducted by professors from three disciplines—proved that the previous scientific methods were flawed.


Use only for the omission of one or more words in a quote:

Original Quote: The losing player told the reporter, "It comes down to this. The other team played a smarter game, played the full 60 minutes, and played to win."

Omitted Material: The losing player told the reporter, "It comes down to this. They . . . played to win."

Place a space before and after ellipses in running text.

Exclamation Points

Used to express strong emotion, but rarely necessary in University publications or web content. Use sparingly, and never more than one at the end of a sentence!


Use hyphens with compound adjectives:

She took advantage of the 30-day trial offer

The campaign resulted in a better-than-average response.

The standard is to use hyphens with telephone numbers: (574) 631-5000.


Periods are used in the C.S.C. designation, the founding religious order of the University of Notre Dame.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., is the 17th President of the University of Notre Dame. (not CSC)

Use to end declarative imperative sentences.

Faculty, staff, and administrators are encouraged to attend the President’s annual town hall meeting.

Do not use in initials or abbreviations of three or more capital letters.


Periods are used in shortened forms of academic degrees with fewer than three capital letters: B.A., M.A., J.D., Ph.D.

Note, however, periods are not necessary in degrees shortened to three capital letters: MBA, MSA

No periods in acronyms of three or more letters: NASA, DOJ, OIT

Periods are used when indicating times of day: a.m., p.m.

Question Marks

Question marks are used in punctuating direct questions and rhetorical questions:

How many students apply for admission to the University each year?

How could you resist the chance to study in Rome for a semester?

Quotation Marks

Use quotation marks with direct quotes:

“Do you have a current resume to attach to your application?” the recruiter asked.

Use quotation marks to define words:

Some experts suggest the “correct” way to raise a child is through rules and rewards.

Reference to words, letters

The “pipa” is a four-stringed lute originating in China.     


The professor questioned the student’s work, believing it to be too “original”; he was later proven correct when he found the original source on the Internet.

Titles, other works

Articles and features in periodicals are placed in quotation marks. Titles of episodes of television series; titles of poems; titles of songs are all placed in quotation marks.

“The Doorway to Sainthood” is included in the winter 2010-11 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.

“The Puffy Shirt” is one of the most famous Seinfeld episodes.

Note: Periods and commas always go within the closing quote mark. Semicolons and colons go on the outside.


Use a semicolon to link two independent clauses with no connecting words.

I am going to the game; I plan to stay until halftime.

It poured during the first half of the game; we had a great timing cheering anyhow.

Use a semicolon to connect two independent clauses together with one of these adverbs: however, moreover, therefore, consequently, otherwise, nevertheless, thus, etc. For example:

I am going to the game; however, I plan to stay just until halftime.

It poured during the first half of the game; however, we still had a great time cheering on the team.