Punctuation

Periods

Don’t add a period to a sentence that ends with a punctuated abbreviation. If a sentence ends with a website address, be careful not to include the period in the link.

  • The tax agreement was the first of its kind in B.C. It can be found on the web at gov.bc.ca.

Don't use periods in bulleted lists.

Remember to put only one space at the end of a sentence.

See dates for how to abbreviate months and days.

Place periods outside of parentheses unless they contain a full sentence.

  • Sentences must be short and simple (not long and convoluted)
  • Sentences must be short and simple. (They should not be long and convoluted)

Dashes & Hyphens

Dashes and hyphens are not the same. Know what you are using.

Hyphens are the shortest. They are used to separate words or numbers.

  • Two-part adjectives
  • Phone numbers (250 123-4567)
  • Time periods (fiscal year 2014-15)

Use an en dash for a range of data, including dates.

  • Comments will be accepted all summer (June 1 – August 31)

Use long dashes, or em-dashes, to set apart text that adds information to a sentence but isn't essential for the sentence to make sense. Em dashes give more pause than a comma.

Do not add spaces before and after an em dash.

  • Customer Service and Information Branch—a new organization—is hosting the event

Use the CMS symbol tool to insert dashes.

At the beginning of a sentence, only the first part of the hyphenated word is capitalized. (For more, see Capitalization.)

Use a hyphen when you join two words to form an adjective, unless the first adjective ends in ‑ly. Check the Canadian Oxford for spelling.

  • The 2,500-seat arena but The arena has 2,500 seats
  • She is 12 years old but she is a 12-year-old girl
  • Part-time studies but the student is studying part time
  • Out-of-province sellers may need to register and self-assess tax on goods purchased out of province
  • Tax-exempt equipment may be purchased by eligible purchasers
  • A highly intelligent life form

Use a hyphen to avoid double vowels.

  • Anti-inflation
  • Anti-ageism

Use a hyphen with the prefix “re” where the word would otherwise be confusing.

  • Re-coiled the rope (as opposed to recoiled in horror)
  • Re-covered a chair (as opposed to recovered from an illness)

Commas

In a series, place a comma after each item but not before the final “and” or “or” unless the lack of a comma creates confusion. A comma before the final "and" or "or" is commonly called a serial comma or Oxford comma.

  • Books, pencils and rulers are kept in the stockroom
  • The competencies tested during the interview are conflict management, organizational awareness, impact and influence, and service orientation
  • The ministries of Health, Energy and Mines, and Forests (so it is not interpreted as ministries of Health, Energy, and Mines and Forests)

In a quotation, always put commas inside quotation marks.

  • “We need to recruit the best candidates we possibly can,” he said

With a long descriptive title, put commas after the name and job description.

  • Judy Smith, manager of the Human Resources Department, spoke at the meeting

If you must use an introductory phrase, use a comma.

  • To qualify for a refund, the medical equipment must be used by a health facility
  • While we have outlined the general rules for real property contracts below, there are exceptions
  • Under such contracts, separate the price of the manufactured home and materials

Use a comma to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet. An independent clause is a part of a sentence that could stand alone as a sentence.

  • You may fax in your tax return on or before the due date, but it must be received by the ministry by 11:59 pm on the due date

Break longer sentences into two if you can. See the Plain Language Guide.

Do not use a comma if any of the seven coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet) separate words or clauses that are not independent (dependent clauses).

  • You will receive a refund of any payments made to the B.C. government but intended for another tax jurisdiction

Colons & Semi-colons

Avoid semi-colons. Use two sentences where you might have used a semi-colon to link two independent clauses. Use bullets instead of semi-colons for complex lists.

You can start sentences with

  • But
  • However
  • Or
  • Otherwise

Don’t use furthermore, therefore and heretofore.

Use a colon to introduce a list. Do not use a colon when the list items finish the sentence. See rules on lists.

Apostrophes

Use an apostrophe before an “s” to indicate the possessive.

  • Bill’s dog

Use an apostrophe with the contraction of “it is” but not with the possessive pronoun “its.”

  • The dog needs to go for a walk. It’s time to put its leash on

Do not use an apostrophe to form plurals.

  • I don’t want to hear any ifs, ands or buts about it

Quotation Marks

Use double quotation marks to enclose direct quotations, frame unfamiliar terms on first reference or set off significant words or phrases. Do not use quotation marks in any other cases.

Only use single quotation marks for a quote inside a quote.

Periods, commas and other punctuation go inside quotation marks.

  • "This branch has a welcoming atmosphere," said Susan Banks

Exclamation marks and question marks go inside quotation marks when they are part of the quoted material, outside when they are not.

  • He said, “Your strategic plan is a train wreck!”
  • Can you believe he said my strategic plan is a “train wreck”?

Slashes

Only use a slash in fractions and URLs. Using a slash, as in “and/or,” creates ambiguity and pushes the thinking onto your audience. See the Plain Language Guide.