The 15 Punctuation Marks in Order of Difficulty

Ever wonder why you can’t figure out when and where to stick a comma? It’s probably because commas, by far, have more rules and applications than any other punctuation mark. But why do so many people use the semicolon incorrectly? Comparatively, it should be one of the easiest punctuation marks to master. And why doesn’t anybody seem to use the en dash?

For more specific rules and examples on how to use these punctuation marks, visit the punctuation portal.

For examples of how to use each of these 15 punctuation marks, please visit the chart Bacon Punctuation.

You may also be interested in one of the following:

The Periodic Table of Punctuation

How Many Punctuation Marks Can You Accurately Place in a Row?

To purchase a 30×20 poster printed and shipped to you, please visit the online store.




63 thoughts on “The 15 Punctuation Marks in Order of Difficulty

  • June 11, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    I would have thought that a visual communication specialist would know better than to reverse out a small typeface in white against a black background!

    • June 11, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Great observation, Paul! You’re right, reverse type can be problematic with a small font and perhaps it wasn’t my best choice. If viewed at full size, the type is larger and I used a sans serif in boldface–two font rules you want to follow when doing reverse type (heavy face weight and simple font). Thanks for the feedback!

      • June 18, 2014 at 2:43 am

        Next time, please take time to consider that not everyone has a monitor as great as yours. My eyes hurt after reading the infographic.

        • June 18, 2014 at 8:31 pm

          Why wouldn’t you just bump up the size on your monitors, people? Use control-scroll on a Windows-based PC or control-+ on a Mac.

          • June 19, 2014 at 6:09 am

            Because it’s easier (and likely more ego-fulfilling) for them to complain and find meaning in getting feedback for their “insight” from someone who’s actually doing something useful.

          • June 19, 2014 at 9:58 am

            That doesn’t solve the poor quality, unfortunately – just the zoom.

      • August 24, 2014 at 10:44 pm

        I love this and plan to use it in my ELL classes. Thank you.

    • June 21, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Completely agree. Even wearing progressives, I gave up because it hurt my eyes to try to read this. And I have a great monitor.

  • June 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Also, it would have been nice to have some examples provided, particularly for the less commonly used forms or in less commonly instances. Not everyone will understand the references you made as written, or may not be able to associate those to times they’ve used it.

  • June 12, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    By the way, that was a suggestion, not a critique. Also, thank you for actually posting about punctuation, because though I may not be a master at using it, most people don’t use it correctly or at all) and it’s a pet peeve of mine.

    • June 17, 2014 at 5:49 am

      Apparently yes, Nicholas. You forgot the open/left parenthesis. 🙂

      • June 29, 2014 at 2:01 am

        I’m not sure a typo qualifies either is an incorrect punctuation usage OR a failure to use punctuation at all. I think it’s just a typo.

  • June 18, 2014 at 7:19 am

    As a writer and editor, I love this clear poster. Sadly, though, my aging eyes find it difficult to read the small print. Any chance this is available in poster size (16 x 20) for purchase?

  • June 18, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Great poster, I guess, but I don’t really know since I can’t read the small type and don’t know how to print poster-size. Is there a version that prints on several pages of regular 8-1/2 x 11 paper, using a larger font?

  • June 18, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Great graphic. Thanks for sharing!

  • June 18, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    I think this is fantastic! I am a researcher using visual literacy to improve reading comprehension for kids with special needs by applying multimodal theory to literacy interventions. It is despicable that most of your comments people have left are negative. They criticize, but do not create themselves. Thank you for sharing this. I will definitely put this ip in my classroom and share with my students.

  • June 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    This is going up in my classroom as soon as I print it. Thanks for a great resource!

  • June 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Love the content, but can I art-direct for a second? I’d lose the drop shadow on the title treatment, it’s unnecessary and muddies the clarity. Then, I’d reverse all the colors; I’d make the title treatment white, the background black, and the smaller body text black over white (again for clarity issues), etc. I’m just knit-picking really, I honestly do appreciate the time you put into this.

  • June 18, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Doesn’t a comma also end a quotation if that quotation isn’t the end of the sentence and would normally end with a period?

    “I’m going to the store,” the man said.

    Maybe a better way of stating that last point would be, “Separates a quotation from its attribution.” Or whatever that other part is called. 🙂

  • June 18, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Actually, the en dash is often used, albeit incorrectly. All you have to do is type a double-hyphen in MS Word and it automatically gets changed to an en dash. An em dash is the correct substitution, assuming the original double-hyphen was used properly, as the double-hyphen is from the old typewriter days when many typesetting characters were not available. Sadly, that’s far from the only example of Microsoft getting the rules of grammar wrong.

    I love this graphic! I also appreciate that you’ve made it available at no cost; I was fully prepared to pay for a poster.

  • June 19, 2014 at 2:44 am

    What I struggle with in the em- and en-dash department is knowing how to type them easily. Do you have any keyboard shortcuts or tricks? A person just can’t depend on everything having Word’s nifty automatic-formatting for those.

    • June 19, 2014 at 3:16 am

      As a matter of fact, MS Word makes it nice if you realize what it is doing. A hyphen, of course, just requires the hyphen key (type a word, press the hyphen, then type a word, like this: word>hyphen>word). If you use the en dash, you’ll do this: word>space bar>hyphen>space bar>word>space bar. MS Word will then turn the hyphen into the en dash. If you want an emdash, you’ll do this: word>hyphen>hyphen>word>space bar. MS Word will then make the two hyphens turn into an em dash.

      I hope that helps!

      • June 19, 2014 at 2:44 pm

        Oops, sorry, I meant that I know how to do it in Word, just not online, in other applications, etc. 🙂

        • June 20, 2014 at 10:24 am

          I didn’t know how to do it in Word, so thank you!
          Your work is awesome and greatly appreciated. Ignore the haters.

          • June 30, 2014 at 7:39 pm

            Ditto. I didn’t know how to create en and em in Word either. Thanks!

      • June 25, 2014 at 5:44 am

        Actually, as someone pointed out a couple of comments earlier, Microsoft Word substitutes with the EN dash (not EM dash), unless that has been corrected in the last version. Microsoft messed up regarding which is the intended substitution of from the old typewriter days, and they’ve never bothered to correct it.

        You can see this demonstrated by opening up your character viewer or character map, and adding each of these different types of dashes to a document. Then try your shortcut method, and you’ll see that you get the slightly smaller EN dash.

        So, for the EN dash (not EM), you’d use the trick.

        For the EM dash, I created a keyboard shortcut by placing an EM dash into a document (again using the character viewer), and then I selected the EM dash within the document and assigned a keyboard shortcut to it.

      • June 25, 2014 at 5:51 am

        Ugh! It stripped out my references to double hyphens, because I used angle brackets (causing them to be confused as html tags), so I’m reposting:

        Actually, as someone pointed out a couple of comments earlier, Microsoft Word substitutes a double hyphen with the EN dash (not EM dash), unless that has been corrected in the last version. Microsoft messed up regarding which is the intended substitution of double hyphen from the old typewriter days, and they’ve never bothered to correct it.

        You can see this demonstrated by opening up your character viewer or character map, and adding each of these different types of dashes to a document. Then try your double hyphen shortcut method, and you’ll see that you get the slightly smaller EN dash.

        So, for the EN dash (not EM), you’d use the double hyphen trick.

        For the EM dash, however, I created a keyboard shortcut by placing an EM dash into a document (again using the character viewer), and then I selected the EM dash within the document and assigned a keyboard shortcut to it.

        I use both OSX and Windows on my Mac; and while there are already shortcuts in Mac (Opt + hyphen = en; Opt + Shift + hyphen = em dash), I can never remember them. So I just made shortcuts that work consistently for me in both operating systems. 🙂

    • June 22, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      On a Mac this is easy.

      Option+hyphen = en dash
      Option+Shift+hyphen = em dash

  • June 19, 2014 at 4:38 am

    What a great infographic. I will share this on my website [angmohdan]. As I’m Singapore based (uses British English) may I confirm a few differences:

    Titles: Mr., Mrs., all take periods in American English, but not in British English.

    Time: 10:30 American uses a colon, British uses a period.

    Quotes: American style uses double quotes (“) for initial quotations, then single quotes (‘) for quotations within the initial quotation.

    British style uses single quotes (‘) for initial quotations, then double quotes (“) for quotations within the initial quotation.

    American style places commas and periods inside the quotation marks, even if they are not in the original material. British style places unquoted periods and commas outside the quotation marks.

    Many thanks

  • June 19, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Does not the period have an additional job: abbreviations?

    • June 20, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      It’s even used in this function in the infographic (e.g.)!

  • June 19, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you so much for this!

  • June 19, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    Period should do abbreviations and start decimals too (90.00% of the time unless we’re talking about the French/Italian system where they use commas instead)

  • June 20, 2014 at 2:49 am

    I think the symbol for the apostrophe is wrong — rather than an open single quote, it ought to be a close one(and look no different from a comma).

  • June 20, 2014 at 5:19 am

    I enjoyed this. And, after reading the comments I’m reminded that a truly anal retentive, (or is it anal-retentive?) person knows whether the phrase requires a hyphen…or not. Thanks for the fun piece.

  • June 20, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Yada yada; whine, whine. From here[en-dash]eternity. This is just great as it stands. Thanks for the infographic. I have no issues with any of it.

  • June 20, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    This post is ridiculously small and unreadable on a cell phone. In future posts of this type there should be two versions, first, one for Cell phone viewing, second, for larger screens.

    • June 23, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      I read it on a cell phone. Download the graphic and read it full size.

      • June 26, 2014 at 12:25 pm

        I think he was being sarcastic in response to the people complaining about the reverse type.

  • June 21, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Thanks for posting this terrific resource. I think it will be reassuring to my junior high students that they aren’t the only ones who think commas are challenging. I appreciate the work you put into this.

  • June 21, 2014 at 11:51 am

    You forgot the creation of contractions under the apostrophe.

    • June 26, 2014 at 12:27 pm

      No he didn’t. Note that he said it replaces letters. That is its function in contractions.

  • June 21, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Great information. I am guessing that the applications for counting grains at the salt factory should be full by now. None the less, thank you. Really.

  • June 21, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    I found several errors in your graphic: you are using the word gusto incorrectly, you are missing a comma in your semi-colon rule, you hyphenate incorrectly in your comma rule, and you did not include this hyphen usage in your hyphen rule.

    Gusto has a positive connotation, which is why Princess Leia does not speak the following line with gusto: “Put that thing away, you’re gonna get us all killed!” Knowledge of Latin, Italian, and Spanish would help with correct word usage of “gusto.”

    There should be a comma between the two coordinating adjectives “related” and “complete.”

    The word “clauses” should be split in between syllables. It should be “clau-ses” not “claus-es.” We follow the Latin rule for syllables by starting a new syllable with a consonant in most cases. Online dictionaries don’t usually show the plural syllabification, but you can see the first syllable is an open vowel in the word “clausal” as “klô’zəl.”

    Despite using hyphens this way, you do not include it in the hyphen rule.

    There are other errors.

    The American Mensa society re-posted this graphic on its Facebook page, but it ironically didn’t catch any of these errors.

    • January 10, 2015 at 6:57 pm

      I’m surprised you could see those errors from up there on your high horse. I’d call you out for trolling, but most trolls don’t have such a stranglehold on the rules of English grammar. You must be a joy a parties.

      By the way, your use of the pronoun ‘it’ is vague in “Despite using hyphens this way, you do not include it in the hyphen rule.” Please revise for clarity.

      Don’t feel too bad, though; my sixth grade students struggle with that standard, too.

  • June 21, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    I like this, thanks. I mainly use periods, capitals, n commas when typing.

  • June 21, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    A friend just shared this on Facebook. I’m so happy to discover your site.

  • June 22, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    What is the rule for changing a comma in a compound sentence to a semi-colon when there are commas in a clause?

  • June 22, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    It would be nice to be able to print this for later reference. Can’t do, even on my big RICOH w/11×17 paper. Only prints partially. Interesting content, though. Is it availably anywhere in text format?

  • June 22, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    PS – the pdf doesn’t download on my pc

  • June 23, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I like this and am sharing with my network. Would you consider another version of this infographic that organizes the information vertically? Might allow for larger font. Just an idea.

  • June 23, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    On a Mac option hyphen should give an en dash, though it doesn’t seem to here in the comments.
    Then shift option hyphen types an em dash — which does work here.

  • June 24, 2014 at 5:38 am

    No good deed goes unpunished eh? Thanks for sharing and making it a free resource for us to use. It’s obvious that you can’t cover every single punctuation concern in a poster. I think this is great and gives students something to think about. If they have additional questions, it’s our job as educators to fill in the blanks that a fun poster couldn’t possibly account for. Thanks again.

  • June 26, 2014 at 2:05 am

    I love this. I want a poster of this for my room and make a few more to give to my grandchildren.

  • June 26, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Your definition of curved bracket for parenthesis is incorrect, parenthesis is the insertion of a thought, akin to but separate from the thought contained in the sentence and can also be denoted by the insertion of a comma at the beginning and the end of the inserted thought.

  • June 27, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Nice image. I’m sharing it with my writing geek friends.

    I’d rank the semicolon higher, actually, as I think it’s considerably more difficult than periods etc. I see it being subbed for a colon a lot, and misuse of commas to “splice” two independent clauses together really stems from the person being unsure or unaware of the proper use of a semicolon.

    For me, the hardest thing is ranking the (American) rule about terminal periods always having to be inside quotes but outside parentheses. what if the last word inside parentheses is quoted? Which rule takes precedence then?

  • June 29, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    I had to view it in full size and further zoom in. But the information is very useful. So thank you!

  • July 13, 2014 at 1:47 am

    My understanding of a question mark was that it was grammatically correct to use it mid sentence, however this is certainly not commonly done. Is this not correct? Must it end a sentence as you say?

    • July 14, 2014 at 11:35 pm

      Great question, Michelle! Yes, technically you can use a question mark mid-sentence, as in this sentence:

      I just got a call from Jim–can you believe that guy?–telling me that he just photo-bombed another wedding.

      Of course, it isn’t really all that common to insert question marks in a sentence like that. The poster, actually, doesn’t include EVERYTHING that punctuation does. There are rules that can be broken. You can, for example, use a period to end a fragment as well (as in the title of the poster) for emphasis. But I didn’t include that in the list because it doesn’t seem like traditional use to most people.

  • October 19, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    This is great! really helpful, lot of information in little space & yet comprehensive format. plus, it is prinatable. Thanks!

  • March 9, 2015 at 4:33 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this! For all of your critics–I can’t WAIT to see their revised and improved infographic (seriously people?)! All the best, thanks again!

  • May 18, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Hooray! You don’t even seem to consider the slash as having any validity as a punctuation mark. It is by far the most over-used, and misused, thing in print. In fact it has no value whatever. It is absolutely opaque, in that it could connect two things that are close in meaning; opposite in meaning; or are two different words for the same thing. Please continue to not allow this piece of typological kudzu the dignity of being a genuine punctuation mark.

Comments are closed.