Punctuation for IELTS writing

In the IELTS writing task, students are also marked on how well or appropriately they use the Punctuation marks. Learn to use Punctuation in English language.Join City Coaching centre for easy learning of English Grammar for IELTS.

How Important is Punctuation for IELTS Writing Section?

In the IELTS writing task, students are also marked on how well or appropriately they use the Punctuation marks. Here, The sentence’s meaning changes entirely if a Punctuation mark is not used properly. Many students make the mistake of using a full stop to substitute a comma or vice-versa.

For example: Norway has applied for EC membership, Sweden is expected to do the same.

Can you see what’s wrong with this?

Yes, there are two complete statements. Yet, instead of a full stop there is a comma, which does not end the sentence but give it a pause. This needs to be changed. The simplest way of fixing the example is to change the comma to a full stop.

Correct sentence: Norway has applied for EC membership. Sweden is expected to do the same.

Now, each statement has its own full stop.

Also, You might consider it clumsy to use two short sentences in a row. You can write the sentence as: Norway has applied for EC membership, and Sweden is expected to do the same.

Now, Let us understand the use of Punctuation

Detailed Explanation on Hyphens


A hyphen joins two or more words together while a dash separates words into parenthetical statements. The two are sometimes confused because they look so similar, but their usage is different. Hyphens are not separated by spaces, while a dash has a space on either side.


Generally, hyphens are used to join two words or parts of words together while avoiding confusion or ambiguity. Consult your dictionary if you are not sure if a hyphen is required in a compound word, but remember that current usage may have shifted since your dictionary was published.


  • run-down
  • up-to-date

There are some cases where hyphens preserve written clarity such as where there are letter collisions, where a prefix is added, or in family relations. Many words that have been hyphenated in the past have since dropped the hyphen and become a single word (email, nowadays).


  • co-operate
  • bell-like
  • anti-nuclear
  • post-colonial
  • great-grandmother
  • son-in-law

In some cases though, a hyphen does change the meaning of a sentence.


  • I am thinking of re-covering my sofa (= to put a new cover on it)
  • I would like to recover my sofa. (= from someone who has borrowed or stolen it)


Use a hyphen with compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.


  • fifty-one
  • eighty-nine
  • thirty-two
  • sixty-five

In written fractions place a hyphen between the numerator and denominator except if there is already a hyphen in either the numerator or the denominator.


  • two-fifths
  • one-third
  • three-tenths
  • nine-hundredths
  • sixty-nine eighty-ninths

Use a hyphen when a number forms part of an adjectival compound


  • France has a 35-hour working week.
  • He won the 100-metre sprint.
  • Charles Dickens was a great nineteenth-century novelist.


Dashes can be used to add parenthetical statements or comments in much the same way as you would use brackets. In formal writing you should use the bracket rather than the dash as a dash is considered less formal. Dashes can be used to create emphasis in a sentence.


  • You may think she is a liar – she isn’t.
  • She might come to the party – you never know.


The semicolon is somewhere between a full stop and a comma. Semicolons can be used in English to join phrases and sentences that are thematically linked without having to use a conjunction (example 1 below). Semicolons can also be used instead of commas to separate the items in a list when the items themselves already contain commas (example 2 below).


I like your brother; he’s a good friend.

Many great leaders, Churchill, leader of Britain during the Second World War; Alexander, the great Emperor and general; and Napolean, the brilliant French general, had strong characters, which were useful when their countries were at war but which did not serve them well in times of peace.


The colon expands on the sentence that precedes it, often introducing a list that demonstrates or elaborates whatever was previously stated.


  • There are many reasons for poor written communication: lack of planning, poor grammar, misuse of punctuation marks, and insufficient vocabulary.
  • He collected a strange assortment of items: bird’s eggs, stamps, bottle tops, string, and buttons.
  • Peter had an eclectic taste in music: latin, jazz, country and western, pop, blues, and classical.
  • He had just one fault: an enormous ego.

The colon is also used to divide the hour from the minutes in writing a time in English.


  • 4:15 = “four fifteen”
  • 6:45 = “six forty-five”

Quotation marks

Use quotation marks to cite something someone said exactly. When rephrasing what someone told you, no quotation marks are needed.


  • “I’m going to the store now,” she said.
  • Harry told me, “Don’t forget your soccer jersey.”
  • Harry told me not to forget my soccer jersey.

If quoting others within a quote, both single and double quotation marks are used to set the two separate quotations off from each other.


  • ‘I haven’t spoken to Peter for months,’ Dianne said.’The last time I spoke to him he said, “I’m going to Bahrain and won’t be back for about three years”, I’ve heard nothing since then’.

You may see single or double quotation marks used to mark out idiomatic or unfamiliar expressions


  • I’ve always thought that he was very annoying, a bit of a ‘pain in the neck.’
  • I’m not sure what you mean by “custodial care”, but I’m sure you will explain it to me.

Quotation marks both single and double are also used for specific purposes in bibliographic references or when citing sources in academic writing. There are a number of ways of organising bibliographies which set out standard formats. Most organisations and academic institutions will prefer one of these or have their own format published in a ‘style guide’.


  • “The Migration Flight of the Lesser Tweazle”, by Jeremey Adams, The Bird Spotter Magazine, July 2009.


The apostrophe probably causes more grief than all of the other punctuation marks put together! The problem nearly always seems to stem from not understanding that the apostrophe has two very different (and very important) uses in English: possession and contractions.


The most common use of apostrophes in English is for contractions, where a noun or pronoun and a verb combine. Remember that the apostrophe is often replacing a letter that has been dropped. It is placed where the missing letter would be in that case.

TypeWithout contractionsContractions
Using “not”is not, has not, had not, did not, would not, can notisn’t, hasn’t, hadn’t, didn’t, wouldn’t, can’t
Using “is”she is, there is, he is, it is, Mary is, Jim is, Germany is, who isshe’s, there’s, he’s, it’s, Mary’s, Jim’s, Germany’s, who’s
Using “am”I amI’m
Using “will”I will, you will, she will, we will, they willI’ll, you’ll, she’ll, we’ll, they’ll
Using “would”I would, you would, he would, we would, they wouldI’d, you’d, he’d, we’d, they’d
Using “have”I have, you have, we have, they haveI’ve, you’ve, we’ve, they’ve
Using “are”you are, they are, we areyou’re, they’re, we’re

People, even native English speakers, often mistake its and it’s, you’re and your, who’s and whose, and they’re, their and there. See below for the difference.


  • It’s a nice day outside. (contraction)
  • The cat is dirty. Its fur is matted. (possession)
  • You’re not supposed to be here. (contraction)
  • This is your book. (possession)
  • Who’s at the door? (contraction)
  • Whose shoes are these? (possession)
  • They’re not here yet. (contraction)
  • Their car is red. (possession)
  • His car is over there. (location)


In most cases you simply need to add ‘s to a noun to show possession


  • a ship’s captain
  • a doctor’s patient
  • a car’s engine
  • Ibrahim’s coat
  • Mirianna’s book

Plural nouns that do not end in s also follow this rule:


  • the children’s room
  • the men’s work
  • the women’s club

Ordinary (or common) nouns that end in s, both singular and plural, show possession simply by adding an apostrophe after the s.


  • the bus’ wheel
  • the babies’ crying
  • the ladies’ tennis club
  • the teachers’ journal

Proper nouns (names of people, cities, countries) that end in s can form the possessive either by adding the apostrophe + s or simply adding the apostrophe. Today both forms are considered correct (Jones’s or Jones’), and many large organisations now drop the apostrophe completely (e.g. Barclays Bank, Missing Persons Bureau) when publishing their name.


  • The Hughes’ home (or the Hughes’s home)
  • Mr Jones’s shop (or Mr Jones’ shop)
  • Charles’ book (or Charles’s book)


The difference between a ‘bracket’ and a ‘parentheses’ can be a bit confusing. Generally, ‘parentheses’ refers to round brackets ( ) and ‘brackets’ to square brackets [ ]. However, we are more and more used to hearing these referred to simply as ’round brackets’ or ‘square brackets’.

Usually we use square brackets – [ ] – for special purposes such as in technical manuals. Round brackets – ( ) – are used in a similar way to commas when we want to add further explanation, an afterthought, or comment that is to do with our main line of thought but distinct from it. Many grammarians feel that the parentheses can, in fact, be replaced by commas in nearly all cases.


  • The government’s education report (April 2005) shows that the level of literacy is rising in nearly all areas.
  • I visited Kathmandu (which was full of tourists) on my way to the Himalayas for a trekking expedition.
  • You can eat almost anything while travelling in Asia if you are careful to observe simple rules (avoiding unboiled or unbottled water is one of the main rules to be aware of.)

Detailed Explanation on Hyphens

When and How to Use Hyphens:

1. For numbers between 21 and 99

Different style guides and writers have different rules about writing numbers but many of us copywriters write one to nine in words, and use digits for numbers from ten upwards. UNLESS you’re writing a sentence that includes numbers below and above ten, in which case you stick to one format (as in the previous sentence where I wrote them out).

If you are writing numbers between 21 and 99, use a hyphen.

For example: twenty-three cakes, sixty-two days, ninety-nine red balloons.

2. To avoid ambiguity

This is a good common sense rule: use a hyphen when you need to combine two words to get your meaning across.

For example: a cross section of the public is not the same thing as a cross-section of the public. And the Rolling Stones are re-forming means something very different from them reforming and changing their ways.

3 To make compound adjectives and compound nouns

You use hyphens to tie words together to make adjectives or nouns with more than one word. So, you say three pages but a three-page document, stainless steel but a stainless-steel kitchen.

Other examples: English-Saudi relations, the London-Glasgow train, a three-legged dog, a four-bedroom house.

4. With prefixes when you can’t make a single word

You can often combine a prefix with the noun or adjective that follows it to make one word, such as ultraviolet, prehistoric, premenstrual and antenatal, but when you can’t, insert a hyphen between the two.

For example: anti-establishment, pro-democracy, un-British, quasi-intellectual, ex-Minister, post-apocalypse.

5. To spell out a word

If you’re writing how a word is spelt use hyphens to separate the letters.

For example: H-Y-P-H-E-N.

6. To avoid ugly words

For example: it’s de-ice not deice, re-enter rather than reenter and shell-like instead of shelllike.

7. When a sentence runs on to the next line

You don’t see words at the end of a line chopped into two very often online (though the Financial Times and the BBC do it I’ve noticed), you tend to come across it more in print. Where you do see it, a hyphen indicates that the word continues on the next line.

For example: the last word on this line should be stradd-
ling two lines and needs a hyphen to show that it continues on the next line.

8. To indicate stammering in speech

It’s unlikely we’ll need it but just so you know.

For example: I was g-g-g-g-going to tell you this frightening story.

As language evolves so quickly some of the confusion around hyphens may always be around but I hope these rules help.

Over to you, do you struggle with hyphens or any other aspect of grammar? Or is yours perfect? Feel free to leave me a comment.


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