Documentation:CTLT Writing Style Guide/Punctuations

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Use the apostrophe before an "s" to indicate the possessive (i.e. something that is of, or belonging to, something else -- the graduating class of UBC).

  • UBC’s graduating class

If something is descriptive rather than possessive, it does not take an apostrophe (the guide for students, the college for teachers, the outfielder for the Jays).

  • students guide
  • teachers college

In cases where the noun ends in an "s", use a single apostrophe after the "s".

  • The Sauder School of Business’ faculty members
  • Dr. Carl Wieman’s research

Note that the "s" followed by an apostrophe reads awkwardly, so it might be better to rewrite the sentence.

  • Faculty members in the Sauder School of Business
  • Research by Professor Carl Wieman

In cases where the possessive is plural, use a single apostrophe after the "s" or rewrite the sentence.

  • The students’ grades will be posted.
  • The senators’ votes were counted at the end of the meeting.


  • Grades will be posted.
  • At the end of the senate meeting, the results of the vote were counted.

Use an apostrophe with plurals of lower case letters.

  • Mind your p’s and q’s. Dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Capital letters and numbers have no apostrophe before plural-s.

  • She got straight As. We teach the three Rs.
  • The 1950s was a decade of rapid growth for UBC.

Do not use an apostrophe with the possessive pronoun "its".

  • The program is in its third year.

Use an apostrophe with the contraction meaning "it is".

  • It’s a difficult course.

Brackets (Parentheses)

Use regular brackets (parentheses) to indicate a separate thought or expression within a sentence.

  • She taught the statistics course (one of the toughest in the curriculum) for 15 years.

Regular brackets can be used to offer an explanation or definition of a term or an acronym that is to be repeated within the text.

  • The Killiam Faculty Teaching Prize (UBC’s most prestigeous teaching award) was won by Judy Brown.
  • The Canadian Association of Distance Educators (CADE) has honoured two UBC course developers. This year’s award recipients were announced by CADE officials at the spring conference.

Use brace or square brackets within a direct quote to indicate words of explanation that are not actually part of the original quotation.

  • "Those enrolling in it [the master’s program] should know that the requirement is six full credits and a thesis," said Professor Jones.

Avoid nested parentheses ([ ]) or square brackets inside round brackets, whenever possible.

Commas, Semi-Colons, Colons


In a series, place commas after each item and before "and".

  • Books, pencils, and rulers

In a quotation, put commas and periods inside quotation marks unless the quotation is not a phrase or clause.

  • "We need to recruit the best students we possibly can," he said.
  • The Registrar’s Office announced that the changes would be "retroactive".

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

  • Nancy Gallini, dean of the Faculty of Arts, spoke at the meeting.
  • Patrice Blanchard, federal minister of immigration, visited UBC.

With degrees and long descriptive phrases, put a comma between the name, the degree, and the phrase.

  • George Nelson, BA, MA, PhD, won a gold medal.
  • Alice Johnson, PhD, a pioneer in genetic engineering, took home the top prize.

When writing a specific date that includes the day of the week, put a comma between the weekday and the month.

  • Friday, Aug. 5

If abbreviating the weekday, remove the comma.

  • Fri. Aug. 5

Use a comma before a list beginning e.g. but not before etc. at the end of a list.

  • The walls were painted in a variety of colours, e.g. blue, green, peach, ivory etc.
  • The abbreviated form ibid. is in more general use in bibliographies etc.

Use a comma before a list or clause beginning with i.e.

  • Abbreviations are helpful when taking notes in a lecture, i.e. they can save you time and space.


Use a semi-colon to join separate statements too closely related to stand as independent sentences but are not joined by and, but, or , nor, for, yet.

  • The psychology course was extremely popular; students wanting to take it signed up on wait lists.

Use a semi-colon to separate phrases that contain commas.

  • Best actor, Robert De Niro, Raging Bull; best actress, Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter; best film, Ordinary People.

Use a semi-colon to precede explanatory phrases introduced by for example, namely, that is, accordingly, however, therefore when a comma seems too weak.

  • Some pleasures cost next to nothing; for example, reading.


Use a colon, rather than a comma, to introduce a direct quotation longer than a short sentence.

  • Winston Churchill said in 1942: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginnning.”

Use a colon in lines introducing lists, texts and tables.

  • The student signed up for five courses: History 101, Psychology 100, Philosophy 100, English 101 and English 102.

Use a colon to introduce an amplification, an example or a formal question or quotation. It takes the place of for example, namely, that is.

  • He read up on the main areas of study in horticulture: integrated pest management (IPM), biotechnology and crop physiology.

Use a colon to separate hours, minutes and seconds in clock and elapsed times, and periods before fractions of a second.

  • He ran the race in a record time of 1:25:15.

Use colons to separate titles and subtitles

  • The Renaissance: A Brief History


The dash should not be confused with the hyphen. A hyphen is used to break a word over two lines, or to join two compound words. A dash sets off mid-sentence lists or explanations, and can be used instead of a pair of commas, or instead of a colon. Many keyboards do not have a dash key, so two short hyphens are typed as a substitute, indicating a long dash.

  • ASSIST – a program developed for international students – will begin in September.


  • ASSIST, a program developed for international students, will begin in September.

Use dashes to set lists apart from the rest of the sentence.

  • The visitors will discuss common problems -- trade, tourism, immigration and defence -- before the conference is over.

Use dashes when commas (generally preferable) would create confusion.

  • The pies — meat and fruit — were cheap.


Three periods (...) comprise an ellipsis, with the addition of a fourth period to end a sentence. Ellipses are used to indicate omission of text. There are no extra spaces before, between or after each of the periods of the ellipsis except at the end of a sentence.

  • In her letter of nomination, Prof. McDougall wrote, "Lynda Hoffer is one of the most exceptional chemistry students I have ever had...exhibiting a keen love of learning."
  • He spoke of the need for disarmament... War seemed imminent if an agreement could not be reached within the next two weeks.


Use a hyphen when you join two words to form an adjective. This eliminates confusion.

  • first-year course
  • full-time equivalent
  • third-year students
  • part-time studies
  • the government-mandated budget cut

Use no hyphen when the meaning is clear and there is no ambiguity.

  • one half course
  • a full course
  • one half of the students

A hyphen should not be used to join a prefix to a root/base except to avoid doubling a vowel, tripling a consonant, duplicating a prefix or when the context is confusing or causes ambiguity.

  • anticlimax (a familiar term, requiring no hyphen)
  • antibiotic


  • anti-inflation
  • anti-junta
  • anti-ageism
  • anti-racism
  • anti-Semitic

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

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


One space after a period.

  • Sessions will start tomorrow._She will be arriving at around 9AM.


With a short series (list), use commas.

  • Students will need compasses, rulers and calculators.

With a long or complex series (list), use semi-colons.

  • His main research areas include: 20th century literature and criticism; aesthetics of criticism in the postmodern era; deconstructionist criticism and French literature; and theatre history for set designers.


Double quotation marks frame direct quotes. Anything inside them is assumed to be exactly what was said or written. Anything else inserted inside for clarification or explanation should be framed in square brackets.

  • He said, "We are working to improve it [the curriculum] over the summer."

Periods and commas should be contained inside the quotation marks unless the quotation is not a phrase or clause.

  • "This campus has a welcoming atmosphere," said Professor Weeks.
  • Housekeeping said the spilled ink was too difficult to "spot lift".

Single quotation marks indicate a quote or saying within a direct quotation.

  • "I don’t want the phrase ‘Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,’ to be seen to apply to the Faculty of Arts," said the new dean.