An essential punctuation guide for IELTS Writing.

depositphotos_7932028-Quill-pen-and-ink-well-with-paper-scrollI find that many of my students have problems with punctuation in writing.  This isn’t just a problem for learners of English; many native speakers find it difficult too!

I think the fact that so much of our written communication nowadays is either email or text messages has meant that we just don’t practise punctuation the way people did ‘in the old days’.

Punctuation is important, however, it enables people to make sense of your writing and shows that you are an educated person.  So, that said, below is my quick guide to punctuation.

– The most basic thing is to start a new sentence with a capital letter and to end with a full-stop. You also need to use a capital letter for proper nouns (people’s names, place names etc).

e.g.      He is going to visit Buckingham Palace on Monday.

– There are various uses for commas (,).

  • You should use commas when you need to separate parts of a sentence to avoid any confusion of meaning.  In speaking we use pauses and intonation to do this.

e.g.      To slim down you do not need to take diet pills, and a sensible eating and exercise regime will help you achieve your desired weight.

In the example sentence the comma after ‘diet pills’ makes it clear that only diet pills AREN’T required but that a sensible eating and exercise regime is necessary.

  • You should use a comma after most linking words (however, therefore, in addition etc)

e.g.      It’s a well-known fact that both diet and exercise are necessary to reach a healthy weight.  However, many people say they don’t have time to exercise.

A comma is usually used before and after a linking word when it is in mid-sentence.

e.g.      Many people, however, say they don’t have time to exercise.

  • In conditional clauses, commas are used then the ‘if clause’ comes first.

e.g.      If it rains, we’ll get wet.


We’ll get wet if it rains.

We use semi-colons to join two independent clauses that are closely linked but are grammatically complete.  Although a full-stop can always be used in this case, the semi-colon is more formal.

e.g.      Many people dislike physical exercise; personally, I find it beneficial both for the body and the mind.

– The colon is similar to the semi-colon but we use it when we wish to draw attention to what is to follow.

e.g.      Physical exercise is beneficial for the following reasons:

– We use quotation marks for direct speech or other quoted material.  They are also used for titles.

e.g.      The President said it was a new beginning. / a new beginning

The film Avatar/Avatar has amazing special effects.

– We use apostrophes to show possession or for contracted forms.  Notice the position of the apostrophe in the firs two examples.

e.g.      We went to the girls house.  (Just one girl).

We went to the girls house.  (More than one girl)

Its (it is) a strange situation.

Please note that the word ‘it’s’ is not about possession; it’s a contracted form.  The possessive form does not have an apostrophe (its).

A note about contracted forms (don’t, can’t etc); do not use them in formal writing, use the full form instead.

– We use brackets when we wish to give some extra information which could actually be omitted.  Do not overuse in IELTS.

e.g.      In England (and probably other English-speaking countries too)

– We use a question mark at the end of a sentence which is a question. (Avoid asking questions in formal IELTS writing tasks)

e.g.      Why are so many people obsessed with losing weight?

(Do not use in formal IELTS writing tasks).  We use an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence to express some kind of emotional emphasis.  It should be noted, however, that we do not use it too often and that in emails etc, it can be misconstrued a shouting at someone.

e.g.      What a mess!

Hope you find this useful.

Here’s to the best IELTS score possible!

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