The Punctuation

Word processors

Many people reading this guide will have never used a typewriter. For them, typing means using a word processor. In almost all respects, the word processor is a superior tool. There are, however, a few caveats when it comes to punctuating with word processors.


An ellipsis, properly punctuated, consists of three periods, with single spaces before and after each dot ( . . . ). If, however, you type an ellipsis this way in most word processors, you run the risk of having the ellipsis broken over a line break.


Thus, “the theories . .
. were disproved.”

To prevent this, you need to insert a non-breaking space on each side of the middle period in an ellipsis. This will ensure that the three ellipsis points stay together when a line break occurs.

In Microsoft Word, a non-breaking space can be inserted by pressing CTRL+SHIFT+SPACEBAR.

It is worth noting that there is a Unicode character, U+2026, for an ellipsis (…). Because it’s a single character, there is no risk of it breaking across a line. The downside is that in most typefaces, there is far too little space between the dots. Unless you are working with a typeface that renders the Unicode ellipsis with adequate spacing, I suggest sticking with periods and non-breaking spaces.

Quotation marks

Here is one area where punctuating with a typewriter was easier. If you look at your computer keyboard, you will find (on US-English keyboards) a single key with both a double quotation mark ( " ) and a mark that can be either an apostrophe or a single quotation mark ( ' ).

On a typewriter, these marks are straight, since they must be used for both opening and closing marks. Modern word processors, on the other hand, have the ability to insert unique opening and closing marks.

The default setting in Microsoft Word attempts to insert the opening and closing marks as appropriate. The appearance of these marks depends on the font being used.


Opening and closing.

Opening and closing.

Words apostrophe.

The year is 98.

Notice that Microsoft Word inserts the correct mark (opening or closing quotation marks, or apostrophe).

Word has a problem, however, when a quotation begins with an internal quotation (in other words, when a single quotation mark immediately follows a double quotation mark). This is how Word produces the marks in the following sentence:


In his widely quoted critique of contemporary art, Professor Brown declares: “’Post-postmodern installations are as accessible to the average museumgoer as Stephen Hawkings writings on theoretical physics are to the average stargazer.

The problem, which might not be noticed on first glance, is that Word has inserted an apostrophe, rather than an opening single quotation mark, in front of Post-postmodern.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this. If you have the proper mark somewhere else in your document, you can copy and paste it in place of the erroneous apostrophe. Alternatively, an initial space between the opening double quotation mark and the opening single quotation mark, subsequently deleted, will get Word to insert the proper mark. Either way, the resulting sentence should look like this:


In his widely quoted critique of contemporary art, Professor Brown declares: “‘Post-postmodern installations are as accessible to the average museumgoer as Stephen Hawkings writings on theoretical physics are to the average stargazer.


Most word processors will, at least optionally, replace two repeated hyphens with an em dash. Microsoft Word does this as long as you don’t insert a space before typing the repeated hyphens. Word can also generate an en dash if you type a single space, followed by two hyphens, and then another space.

Outside of Microsoft Word, both Windows and Mac OS can generate dashes using certain keyboard shortcuts.

For an em dash in Mac OS, press option+shift+hyphen. For an en dash, press option+hyphen.

For an em dash in Windows, hold down the alt key and type 0151 on the numeric keyboard. For an en dash, hold down the alt key and type 0150.


Though never used in formal writing, primes and double primes are sometimes used to designate feet and inches in other works.


He is 5′ 10″.

The prime symbols look similar to quotation marks, but they are actually distinct characters. Using quotation marks results in the example below.


He is 5’ 10”.

Using proper prime symbols will require a little more work, as you will need to figure out how to insert special symbols with your word processor. Whether you take the time to use primes or you simply use quotation marks, remember that these are not functioning as quotation marks; therefore, a period or comma should be placed after the final prime, not before it.


He is only 5′ 7″, but his son is 6′ 2″.


He is only 5′ 7,″ but his son is 6′ 2.″