The punctuation in an English text must follow the rules and conventions for English, which often differ from those applying to other languages. Note in particular that:
- punctuation marks in English are always — apart from dashes (see 3.17) and ellipsis points (see 3.3) — closed up to the preceding word;
- stops (. ? ! : ; ) are always followed by only a single (not a double) space.
No further full stop is required if a sentence ends with an abbreviation that takes a point (e.g. ‘etc.’) or with a quotation complete in itself that ends in a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark before the final quotes:
- René Descartes said ‘I think therefore I am.’
Full stops as omission marks (aka ellipsis points). Always use three points, preceded by a hard space. (Key code for Windows: Alt + 0160. In Word, press Ctrl + Shift + Space.) In Word, use Alt + Ctrl + (full stop) to insert ellipsis points. The points are not enclosed in brackets:
- ‘The objectives of the Union shall be achieved … while respecting the principle of subsidiarity.’
If a sentence ends with an omission, no fourth full stop should be added. If any other punctuation mark follows, there is no space before it.
NB: while in other languages omission marks are sometimes used to mean ‘etc.’, this is not normal practice in English — put etc. instead.
Run-in side heads (you are looking at one). These are followed by a stop not a colon.
Colons are most often used to indicate that an expansion, qualification or explanation is about to follow (e.g. a list of items in running text). The part before the colon must be a full sentence in its own right, but the second need not be.
Do not use colons at the end of headings.
In British usage, colons do not require the next word to start with a capital. (However, see chapter 8 for an exception.)
Colons should be closed up to the preceding word.
Use a semicolon rather than a comma to combine two sentences into one without a linking conjunction:
- The committee dealing with the question of commas agreed on a final text; however, the issue of semicolons was not considered.
You may also use semicolons instead of commas to separate items in a series, especially phrases that themselves contain commas (see also chapter 8 for the use of semicolons in lists).
Semicolons should be closed up to the preceding word.
Source: European Commission Directorate-General for Translation
A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission
Seventh edition: August 2011 Last updated: May 2014