Titles, End Punctuation, Dashes, Parentheses


T: titles. D: dashes.
EP: end punctuation.

1. an abrupt but temporary turn of thought.

1. close of a sentence.

2. DT: typography.

2. indirect and direct discourse.

Paren: parentheses

3. one end punctuation mark.

1. Punctuation with parentheses.

4. exclamation points.

2. Conventional uses.

DX: use dashes sparingly. Paren X: use parentheses sparingly.


T: titles require either italics, quotation marks, or no punctuation.

If your teacher marks "T," you have punctuated a title incorrectly. Do not just change it; state which of the rules below applies (for example, "Use quotation marks for titles of short stories").

NOVELS: War and Peace SHORT STORIES: "Revelation"
LONG POEMS: The Odyssey SHORT POEMS: "The Road Not Taken"
NONFICTION BOOKS: Up from Slavery CHAPTERS: "The Whiteness of the Whale"
COLLECTIONS: The Canterbury Tales ESSAYS OR ARTICLES: "Self-Reliance"
RECORD ALBUMS (OR CDs): Abbey Road SONGS: "Here Comes the Sun"
PLAYS: Romeo and Juliet  
FILMS: The Wizard of Oz UNTITLED MUSIC: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor
SOFTWARE: PowerPoint SACRED BOOKS: the Bible, the Koran
MAGAZINES: Newsweek BOOKS OF THE BIBLE: Esther, Psalms
NEWSPAPERS: The Honolulu Advertiser LEGAL DOCUMENTS: the Constitution
TV AND RADIO PROGRAMS: Sixty Minutes BRAND NAMES: Honda, Kleenex

If your word processing program does not make italics, or if you write by hand, indicate italics with underlines. Underlines should be continuous, not broken.

WRONG: The Woman Warrior

RIGHT: The Woman Warrior

Leave a title that appears within a title unitalicized:

A Preface to Paradise Lost

A Preface to Paradise Lost

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End Punctuation

EP: end punctuation. If your teacher marks "EP," identify which error you made:

1. Do not forget to write the necessary punctuation mark at the close of a sentence. The error occurs most in long questions when a writer forgets the original sentence structure:

WRONG: How could I be so cruel to someone who had been my friend for years.

2. Do not confuse indirect discourse with direct discourse:

INDIRECT: I wondered how he could be so cruel.

DIRECT: How could he be so cruel?

3. Use only one end punctuation mark. Using more makes your writing look like a comic book: "How did he know?!" Even if you are using quotation marks, use only one end mark:

WRONG: "How true!," he exclaimed. RIGHT: "How true!" he exclaimed.
WRONG: She asked, "Are you serious???" RIGHT: She asked, "Are you serious?"

4. Do not overuse exclamation points:

OVERUSED: Suddenly the phone rang! I jumped up and answered! It was a wrong number!

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D: dashes. If a teacher marks "D" on your paper, identify the rule that applies.

1: use a dash to mark an abrupt but temporary turn of thought. A dash is less formal than a comma, colon or parenthesis.

Think of it as a Pause button. It tells readers, "Don't lose the thread of my sentence, for I need to add something before I go on." When a period or another dash appears, readers know it is time to return to the original train of thought:

The nutritional value--if the term can even be applied to Spam--is minimal.

Spam does little good for the consumer's health--not to mention the pig's.

Dashes can set off appositives (noun phrases equivalent to other nouns in the sentence):

Just reading the ingredients--Spam, Velveeta, mayonnaise--can raise your cholesterol.

The most common error is the omission of the second dash.

A dash may follow a question mark or exclamation point but not a comma or period:

RIGHT: Her questions--"What day is it?" "Which way is up?"--revealed her confusion.

WRONG: His nicknames--Slowpoke, Slug, Leadfoot,--did not strike fear into opponents.

RIGHT: His nicknames--Slowpoke, Slug, Leadfoot--did not strike fear into opponents.

2. DT: typography. A dash is not the same as a hyphen. If your word processing program does not allow you to use a dash, indicate one by typing two hyphens--as in this sentence--with no blank spaces.

Never divide the hyphens at a line break. If you write by hand, do not write two hyphens; use an unbroken line longer than a hyphen.

HYPHEN: The word-dividing hyphen is a shorter mark that goes within words.

DASH: The dash--a longer mark--goes between words and divides sentences.

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DX: use dashes sparingly. Careless or excessive dashes make a page ugly and give the impression of scatterbrained thinking.

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Paren: use parentheses to set off an interruption. Without the parenthesis in the sentence below, readers might think one uncle served dishonorably:

Three of my four uncles served with honor in the war (the other was too young to enlist).

1. Punctuation with parentheses. As in the model sentence above, periods and other end punctuation go outside the close of a parenthesis. No punctuation mark can precede a parenthesis, but a comma can follow one:

Like three of my four uncles (the other was too young), my father served with honor.

Occasionally a parenthesis stands on its own as a sentence; if so, capitalize the first word and place end punctuation inside the parenthesis.

Three of my four uncles served with honor. (The other was too young to enlist.)

A question mark or exclamation point, if it is part of the parenthetical material, can go inside a parenthesis, but another punctuation mark is needed to close the sentence:

Miranda's frequent exclamations express pity ("O, woe the day!" "O the heavens!" "Alack, for mercy!") and wonder ("O, wonder!" "O brave new world!").

2. Conventional uses. Parentheses also set off publication dates in bibliography entries, and dates of birth and death: Waslaw Nijinsky (1890-1950).

They are used following quotations to cite page references (see QL: Quoting Literature in Part Five).

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Paren X: use parentheses sparingly. Like dashes, they make a page ugly and give the impression of carelessness. If something is worth mentioning, it deserves a sentence of its own.

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