After searching the web for a comprehensive guide to American punctuation and not finding one, I decided to create my own.
In the early years of written English, punctuation served to mark pauses and other aspects of speech when text was read aloud. Over the subsequent centuries, punctuation marks were refined, eventually being used to indicate grammatical relationships between parts of a sentence. Today, punctuation serves both purposes, though the grammatical function dominates.
This guide shows the current style of American punctuation. British punctuation is slightly different, as explained here.
In creating this guide, I have consulted dozens of authorities, both online and in print. Where the authorities disagree, I either have explained the various positions or have presented the style I believe to be most useful. Fortunately, in most aspects of punctuation, there is general agreement.
Finally, as everyone knows, rules are made to be broken. Though it is a tired cliché that you must know the rules before you can break them, it is nevertheless true. This guide will show you the rules, but it is up to you to decide what to do with them.
Of the books listed below, those with particularly helpful coverage of punctuation are shown in boldface.
The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2011. 46th ed. Edited by Darrell Christian, Sally Jacobsen, and David Minthorn. New York: Basic Books, 2011.
Baron, Naomi S. Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading. London: Routledge, 2000.
Brittain, Robert. A Pocket Guide to Correct Punctuation. 3rd ed., revised by Benjamin Griffith. New York: Scholastic, 1990.
Carey, G. V. Mind the Stop: A Brief Guide to Punctuation with a Note on Proof-Correction. London: Penguin Books, 1976.
Casagrande, June. It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer's Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2010.
The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
The Chicago Manual of Style. 16th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Clark, Roy Peter. The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English. New York: Little, Brown, 2010.
Davidson, George W. Penguin Writers’ Guides: How to Punctuate. London: Penguin Books, 2005.
Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook. 3rd ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011.
Fish, Stanley. How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.
Garner, Bryan A. Garner's Modern American Usage. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Gordon, Karen Elizabeth. The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1993.
The Gregg Reference Manual: A Manual of Style, Grammar, Usage, and Formatting. 11th ed. Edited by William A. Sabin. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.
Johnson, Edward D. The Handbook of Good English. New York: Washington Square Press, 1991.
Lukeman, Noah. A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation. New York: Norton, 2007.
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009.
O'Conner, Patricia T. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English. 3rd ed. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.
Partridge, Eric. Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English. Revised by Janet Whitcut. New York: Norton, 1997.
Partridge, Eric. You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and its Allies. London: Routledge, 1977.
Paxson, William C. The Mentor Guide to Punctuation. New York: New American Library, 1986.
Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman, 1985.
Shaw, Harry. Punctuate It Right! New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1994.
Stilman, Anne. Grammatically Correct: The Essential Guide to Spelling, Style, Usage, Grammar, and Punctuation. 2nd ed. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2010.
Strunk, William, Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.
Summey, George. Modern Punctuation: Its Utilities and Conventions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1919.
Trask, R. L. The Penguin Guide to Punctuation. London: Penguin Books, 1997.
Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books, 2004.
Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. Revised by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and the University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual 2008. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2008.
Venolia, Jan. Write Right!: A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.
Adorno, Theodor W. “Punctuation Marks.” Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen. Antioch Review 48, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 300–305.
Aslanian, Jack. “The Dash Cramped: Should We Liberate the Em Dash?” American Medical Writers Association Journal 24, no. 1 (2009): 30–31.
Bayraktar, M., B. Say, and V. Akman. “An Analysis of English Punctuation: The Special Case of Comma.” International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 3, no. 1 (1998): 33–57.
Deneau, Daniel P. “Rhetorical Punctuation in Vanity Fair?” Victorian Newsletter (Fall 2003): 29–31.
Garner, Bryan A. “Don't Know Much About Punctuation: Notes on a Stickler Wannabe.” Texas Law Review 83, no. 5 (2005): 1443–52.
Hitchings, Henry. “Is This the Future of Punctuation!?” Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2011.
Menand, Louis. “Bad Comma: Lynne Truss’s Strange Grammar.” New Yorker, June 28, 2004.
Parker, Michael. “Catch and Release: What We Can Learn from the Semicolon (Even If We Choose Never to Use It in a Sentence).” Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature & Fine Arts 23, no. 2 (Summer/Fall 2011): 125–34.
Quible, Zane K., and Frances Griffin. “Are Writing Deficiencies Creating a Lost Generation of Business Writers?” Journal of Education for Business 83, no. 1 (September/October 2007): 32–36.
Reissenweber, Brandi. “Why Does the Exclamation Mark Have a Bad Reputation?” Writer, June 2011.
Robinson, Paul. “The Philosophy of Punctuation.” New Republic, April 26, 1980.
Schou, Karsten. “The Syntactic Status of English Punctuation.” English Studies 88, no. 2 (April 2007): 195–216.
Shawcross, John T. Review of Milton's Punctuation, and Changing English Usage, 1582–1676, by Mindele Treip. English Language Notes 8, no. 4 (June 1971): 326–31.
Storey, H. Wayne. “A Question of Punctuation and ‘Ear[s] for Dissenting Voices.’” Textual Cultures 1, no. 2 (Autumn 2006): 1–5.
Varnhagen, Connie K., G. Peggy McFall, Nicole Pugh, Lisa Routledge, Heather Sumida-MacDonald, and Trudy E. Kwong. “Lol: New Language and Spelling in Instant Messaging.” Reading and Writing 23, no. 6 (July 2010): 719–33.
Zhou, L. “Application of TPB to Punctuation Usage in Instant Messaging.” Behaviour and Information Technology 26, no. 5 (September/October 2007): 399–407.
The Punctuation Guide was created by Jordan Penn, a longtime enthusiast of American language, usage, and style. He earned a BA in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a JD from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. He can be reached at email@example.com.