sandy henderson, london-based copywriter


  1. Commas show which words belong together and which do not. They also separate two or more adjectives qualifying the same noun.
  2. Semi-colons are often avoided because people are unsure how to use them correctly. To some, they mark an elegant pause; to others a pretentious comma. They are used: to join two clauses which could stand as separate sentences yet are better shown as parts of a single sentence; and as a divider in compound lists.
  3. Colons are used to: (a) introduce lists; (b) introduce direct speech; and (c) connect two sentences where the second amplifies or qualifies the first.
  4. Verbs are words which usually express an action (come, go, decide) or a state (be, have, know). Intransitive verbs are verbs which cannot have a direct object (to sleep, to object).
  5. Quotation marks: use double quotes for direct speech, single quotes for foreign words, slang, technical terms etc. If the entire sentence is in quotes, the full stop goes inside the quotes; otherwise, it goes outside.
  6. Exclamation marks indicate emotion in direct speech. They should be avoided in business writing. They should not be used to indicate a command.
  7. Brackets enclose words of explanation added into the middle of a clause, to separate them from the clause they interrupt.
  8. Dashes are another form of parenthesis. They are also used to indicate an incomplete train of thought (I was on my way home – but that’s another story). They should not be used in place of a colon.
  9. Hyphens are used to form compound adjectives (up-to-date report) and fractions (two-thirds) but not to link an adverb and the adjective it modifies unless the result would be ambiguous (e.g. a black cab driver).
  10. Apostrophes indicate contraction (it is = it’s) or possession (EXCEPT belonging to it = its). Singular words ending in s take the singular apostrophe where the extra syllable would be pronounced (James’s); otherwise, the plural apostrophe (Mephistopheles’).
  11. Capital letters denote the name of a person, language, place or body, or the start of a sentence. In other cases, use lower case unless the result looks silly or confusing.
  12. Numbers: use words from one to nine, figures from 10 to 999,999 and a combination thereafter (1 million, 3 billion etc.). Do not start a sentence with a figure.