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OWL - Online Writing Lab: Punctuation

Collection of short tutorials created by ASC, the Academic Support Center staff, to help students successfully execute the writing requirements at Louisville Seminary.


Remember the old saying that when you take a breath you should add a comma.

Not true!! There really are rules and none of them have to do with breathing.

Use a comma to

  •  Set off an introductory word, phrase, or clause.

    "Haltingly, Jim answered the question in class."
    "Even though tired from lack of sleep, Sally made an A on her Greek test."

  • Separate clauses in compound sentences (make sure you also use a coordinating conjunction).

    "Alan built a snowman yesterday, and he also shoveled the driveway."

  • Set off nonrestrictive elements (clauses, phrases, and words that do not limit the words they modify).

    "Gene March, who attended Austin Seminary, is a wonderful professor and a great asset to LPTS."
    • "Who attended Austin Seminary" is not essential to the meaning of the sentence because it does not limit who it modifies.
    • If there were two Gene Marchs at LPTS then "who attended Austin Seminary" would be essential information distinguishing between the two Genes and the commas would not be added.

  • Set off appositives (a noun or phrase that renames a nearby noun).
     "John Grisham's new book, Skipping Christmas, is an easy read about a middle age couple who decide to forgo all the social conventions of Christmas."

  • Separate three or more items in a series (back to the "old" way of doing it!).

    "Spring semester I am taking Scripture II, HCE, and NT Exegesis.
  • Introduce a quotation
    "Raymond Brown opines that, 'NT writing about Jesus and his disciples relate a story enacted on the stage of history.'

Colons and Semi-colons

Writing well is a lot more than just correct grammar, but it is an important element.

Do you know the difference between colons ( : ) and semi-colons ( ; )? Here are the rules.

Use colons:

  • between the hour and minutes-8:15
  • after the salutation of a business letter-Dear Madam:
  • to introduce a list, examples, a series of statements, or a long quotation. The only trick here is that the part of the sentence that comes before the colon must be a complete sentence. Correct-Jim took three courses last semester: Old Testament, Hebrew, and HCE. Incorrect: My favorite foods are: spinach, okra, and turnips.

Use semi-colons:

  • between two clauses of a compound sentence when they are not connected by a conjunction. Correct: It's going to snow this weekend; I need to get out the shovels. Incorrect-It's going to snow this weekend; and I need to get out the shovels.
  • between independent clauses which are joined by a conjunctive adverb such as therefore, hence, however, nevertheless, accordingly, then, and thus. Correct-I partied too hardy last night; consequently, I failed my Greek test.

Don't rely on the grammar checker on your computer. It often does not catch these. These are but a few of the rules for colons and semicolons. Check a grammar handbook for more details.

Parentheses, Dashes, Slashes, and More

Remember that academic writing is extremely formal. This advice may not be true for other types of writing.


  • enclose material that is of minor or secondary importance to the sentence, use vary sparingly

"Since I am from Florida, I bought a winter coat before coming to Louisville (someone told me that they often have snow).


  • insert a comment or highlights material-use only in moderation
    "Learning Greek in J-term-who wouldn't remember that experience-was a challenge."
  • mark a sudden change in tone

    "Mother's suggestions were unsolicited-although helpful."

Slashes separates alternatives 

  • The writer should try to circumvent the use of slashes as they are awkward to read and can be misleading.
    "We are going to the movies and/or to dinner."
  • Shy away from the slash he/she when trying to avoid gender specific language. It is usually better to rewrite the sentence.

    "A student needs to study for many hours in order for him/her to earn an A." This construction is awkward. Usually the pronoun can be left out, or the sentence can be rewritten.