Punctuation and Symbols

Back to Directory

ampersand (&)

Spell out and in most cases. Use ampersands only when it is an official part of a name (e.g., Lewis & Clark College), as a design element, or when it is required to save space.

*Note: The ampersand is not officially used with the names of any PSU units.

Apostrophe with degrees

  • bachelor’s degree
  • master’s degree
  • doctorate or doctoral degree (not doctor’s degree)
  • bachelor’s degree
  • bachelor’s degree in psychology
  • bachelor’s degree in music
  • Bachelor of Science
  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Bachelor of Music
  • master’s in history
  • Master of Arts in history
  • master’s in social work
  • Master of Social Work
  • master’s in urban and regional planning
  • Master of Urban and Regional Planning
  • master’s in business administration
  • Master of Business Administration
  • He received a doctorate in education.
  • He received a Doctor of Education.

See also Capitalization.

Apostrophe with inanimate objects

Such usages as “Oregon’s governor,” “Portland’s mayor,” and “today’s newspaper,” are considered acceptable in all but the most formal writing.

Apostrophe with institutions

Apostrophes are usually dropped when used with institutions:

  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Southwest State Teachers College

Apostrophe with it

It’s is a contraction for it is:

  • It’s a good thing you showed up early.

Its is a possessive:

  • The car’s engine is good, but its body is in bad shape.

Apostrophe with plurals

An apostrophe does not indicate a plural, except in the rare instance that confusion would result without it:

  • There are four s’s, four i’s, and two p’s in Mississippi.
  • Here is a list of do’s and don’ts.
  • If if’s and but’s were candy and nuts, we’d all have a happy holiday season.


  • There were five PhDs at the party.
  • The president’s committee included six CEOs.

apostrophe with possessives

Singular noun:

  • John Smith’s cat
  • Mary Morris’s cat
  • Kansas’s wheat crop
  • Karl Marx’s book

Two or more persons possess one object:

  • John and Mary’s cat
  • Sherman and Jackson’s office

Plural noun ending in “s”:

  • The Smiths’ cat (two or more people named Smith jointly own the cat)
  • The vice presidents’ memo (two or more vice presidents jointly wrote the memo)

Two traditional exceptions to the singular noun rule:

  • Jesus’ teachings
  • Moses’ tablets
  • with years
  • the eighties
  • the 1920s
  • the ’40s

apostrophe with years and ages

When abbreviating years, use an apostrophe ( ’ ) to replace the first two numbers of the year. Do not use an opening single quotation mark ( ‘ ):

  • Right: Jen was born in ’96 during an ice storm.
  • Wrong: Diane graduated in ‘82 with a degree in English.

See also Abbreviation.

No apostrophe should appear between the year and the s when referring to periods of time:

  • Right: Craig particularly loves to study the 1890s in his history class.
  • Wrong: Some argue the 1960’s produced the best music of the twentieth century.

This same rule applies when referring to decades:

  • Right: As Tom entered his 30s, he decided it was time to finish his bachelor’s degree.
  • Wrong: Gloria wasn’t ready to admit she was in her 60’s yet.


Spell out cents:

  • Harry owes Sally 75 cents.


Use colons to introduce a series or a list:

  • Please bring the following items to the retreat: coffee, cookies, pencils, and notepads.

Capitalize material after a colon if it constitutes a complete sentence:

  • The president was perfectly clear on one point: Cut back spending or find yourself another job.

Do not use after are or include:

  • The committee members are Elena Montoya, William Lawrence, Jessica Harm, and Sally Deppner.


Use the serial comma before the final and in a series of three or more:

  • We packed sandwiches, sodas, and tofu.

Use a comma after the year in a date:

  • Mark was born on August 24, 1963, in Anaheim, California.

Do not use a comma when only using a month and a year:

  • Mark was born in August 1963 in Anaheim, California.

Use a comma after a state when used in conjunction with a city:

  • Sharon was born in Yonkers, New York, but has lived in Salem, Oregon, for most of her life.

Commas are usually not needed with short introductory phrases. But use a comma if not using one might result in confusion, or if the introductory phrase ends in a number or proper noun and the main clause begins with a number or a proper noun:

  • On February 14, 27 people received valentines.
  • Speaking before the Union for Fair and Just Lunch Hours, Mayor Hallestrom pledged that she would support the group’s legislative program.

dollar sign

Use a dollar sign ($) before the number when referring to monetary values. Do not include dollars written out when the dollar sign is used:

  • Right: Joe owes me $5 for lunch yesterday.
  • Right: The parking ticket cost Lucy $50.
  • Right: The grant was for $194,875.
  • Wrong: He is seeking a $10 million dollar gift for PSU.


Ellipses are most commonly used to indicate missing words. Three periods are used with a space on each end. If used in conjunction with the end of a sentence, include the ellipses at the point of the missing words and use a period at the end of the sentence as you normally would:

  • I took his advice, thinking it wise counsel, and lived to regret it. (original sentence)
  • I took his advice ... and lived to regret it. (with ellipses)
  • I took his advice, thinking it wise counsel. Later, I learned how wrong he was. (original sentences)
  • I took his advice... . Later, I learned how wrong he was. (with ellipses)


Hyphenate compound adjectives that precede nouns:

  • The coach brought a well-prepared team to the tournament.

Do not hyphenate well-established compound modifiers:

  • The high school team was thrilled to practice in the Rose Garden.
  • Many say that the civil rights movement started with Rosa Parks.

Do not hyphenate after words that end in ly:

  • It was a greatly improved team.

Use hyphens when the adjective is suspended:

  • This is a two- to three-year project.

Be careful where the hyphens fall. Compare:

  • We need eight foot-long lengths of pipe.
  • We need eight-foot-long lengths of pipe.


Most prefixes do not take a hyphen:

  • She is a premedical student.
  • Danny is a preschool student.

Exceptions. If the root word begins with a capital or the same letter that the prefix ends with, or if confusion would result:

  • It’s time for him to re-evaluate his position on that issue.
  • We cannot set type in non-Roman alphabets.

Be careful of what is and is not a prefix:

  • I had to re-create my term paper when my computer crashed.
  • I plan to take two weeks of vacation to recreate.

Use a hyphen with co when it relates to occupation:

  • Co-author
  • Co-worker


  • Co-op (as an abbreviation for cooperative)

quotation marks

Commas and periods are placed inside quotation marks. Question marks and exclamation marks are placed inside quotation marks if they are part of the quotation, outside if they are not:

  • “I pledge my undying support for your cause,” the candidate said.
  • He said to me, “I’m going to take my ball and go home!”
  • Just before she walked out the door, Anna turned and said, “I’ll be sure to send you a card from Aruba.”
  • Did you read “The Raven”?

Colons and semicolons are always outside quotation marks:

  • Three poets made up the so-called “Lake school of poetry”: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey.
  • Rep. Johnson is a “lame duck”; he’ll never get that bill passed.


Use semicolons to separate long items that occur in a list (see also Lists):

  • Lynette is the world’s leading expert on the natural science of the northeastern section of Oregon; the history of the cave dwellers on the island of Santa Catalina; the speed and handling capability of 12-meter sailboats; and the best and worst restaurants, hotels, and beaches of the central California coast.

Use semicolons to separate items that contain commas (see also Lists):

  • The new professors introduced at the assembly were from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; Linkoping, Sweden; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Milan, Italy.

Use semicolons to separate related independent clauses.

  • Of course I plan to attend Prof. Toomey’s lecture on the D-Day invasion; it’s the highlight of the semester.


The slash is overused and often confusing. Avoid it. Instead express in words what you mean:

  • Right: The meeting is for faculty, staff, and students.
  • Wrong: The meeting is for faculty/staff/students
  • Right: The professor will give the information to his or her assistant.
  • Wrong: The professor will give the information to his/her assistant.
  • Right: All students should know where to find financial aid information.
  • Wrong: Every student should know where s/he can find financial aid information.

Do not use a slash in place of a hyphen:

  • Right: The group will discuss Chinese-Soviet relations in the 1960s.
  • Wrong: The group will discuss Chinese/Soviet relations in the 1960s.

Back to Directory