English Punctuation: Hyphens, Apostrophes, and Slashes

Series index: English Punctuation Overview.


Word-level punctuation marks clarify the meaning of words themselves. You’d think they’d be simpler than sentence-level punctuation, but even these small details cause controversy and confusion.


Hyphens connect words to avoid confusion, but since their usage varies so much, they can create more confusion than they prevent. Luckily, a number of sites have some guidelines:

  • The King's English - includes a few basic rules and some example errors. I especially like the first rule: "Hyphens are regrettable necessities, and to be done without when they reasonably may." Note: keep in mind that this book is from 1908.


Despite being one of the most simple punctuation marks, apostrophes are often misused (like the infamous Greengrocer’s Apostrophes). Do your part: know your apostrophe rules and support The Apostrophe Protection Society!

  • Contractions - includes notes on distinguishing contractions from clipped forms and abbreviations.

Note: single quotation marks look just like apostrophes, but they shouldn’t be called apostrophes. More on single quotation marks later.


The slash isn’t used nearly as often as other punctuation marks, but it can certainly come in handy.

  • The Slash - another look at its common uses, including examples.