The question is: Would you classify apostrophes and hyphens as punctuation marks? Now, Webster and a lot of other sources define them as punctuation marks. I know for sure that in Russian linguistics they are not and their functions in Russian aren't different from those in English. My arguments for them not being punctuation marks are:

  • both the apostrophe and the dash have very little, if anything, to do with syntax;

  • the apostrophe is used for contractions or to express the grammatical form of a word (possessives) or connect two words (like "we're") rather than separate them like the other punctuation marks do (the latter function applies to the dash as well);

  • punctuation marks indicate aspects of the intonation, i.e. whenever we have full stops, question marks, colons, dashes etc. in writing, we make pauses or have intonation changes in speaking. However, we don't do this for apostrophes and hyphens.

Thus, I'd say that the apostrophe is a diacritical sign/ascending stroke used to indicate a missed vowel or for other purposes and the hyphen is a sign to connect two parts of a word.

Whether you agree or disagree, please, leave your arguments!

  • 2
    There are two things I'm not sure of. First, is the classification of punctuation marks a linguistics issue? Second, is it true that punctuation marks mirror intonation in some way? I doubt that the answer to the latter is affirmative, since the rules for using punctuation marks can be described without any reference to intonation. Please research these questions. Nov 25, 2013 at 6:14
  • Thank you for your concerns, sir! Since linguistics is the study of the language and punctuation is part of the written language, I don't see a reason why it can't be an issue of linguistics. Punctuation marks and intonation are connected. When I was writing my question, I used he definition of punctuation marks provided by Collins. I think you'll agree that all punctuation marks mark pauses or intonation changes in speech. If you can provide an example where they don't, I would be obliged. The intonation wasn't my main argument anyway. I believe we could return to the main points of the quest
    – user2778
    Nov 25, 2013 at 11:07
  • Many punctuation marks are totally inaudible and have nothing to do with pronunciation, but rather are artifacts of the very poor user interface of English orthography. The apostrophe, for instance, is com'plete'ly silent, whether it appears in they're, thei'r, or th'ere. The fact that there are apostrophe's, and that they are very commonly used in ways considered "wrong" by some, is evidence that they can't be heard. Even commas can't be 'heard' by some people's mind's ear; they haven't ever associated them with intonation, and they think they're syntactically controlled.
    – jlawler
    Nov 25, 2013 at 19:14
  • For more information, see this article: umich.edu/~jlawler/IELL-Punctuation.pdf
    – jlawler
    Nov 25, 2013 at 19:16
  • Ursula Bredel has done some research on non-letter characters, but it’s all in German I’m afraid; she basically agrees, though. Slavist Daniel Bunčić analyzed the apostrophe in several languages. Note that dashes are still punctuation marks but hyphens are not.
    – Crissov
    Oct 8, 2014 at 13:04

3 Answers 3


I think such punctuation marks must be contained in linguistics since these marks make some differences in meaning of a written or oral sentences. It show us that punctuation and semantic are related to each other, and we could say punctuation is embedded linguistics.

please let me know your idea about my answer.Thank you.

  • Uhm, the meaning of oral sentences? You can't hear punctuation ;)
    – robert
    Dec 4, 2013 at 11:16


Thanks for the article. I found it quite interesring. I may sound too nitpicking, but I wouldn't agree with the abstract here:

"The modern suite of punctuation marks includes the period ‘ . ’, comma ‘ , ’, colon ‘ : ’, semicolon ‘ ; ’, left and right parentheses ‘ ( ) ’ (and other brackets, square ‘ [ ] ’ and curly ‘ { } ’), interrogation and exclamation marks ‘ ? ! ’ (bracketed with their inverses ‘ ¿ ¡ ’ in Spanish), dashes of several lengths ‘ - – — ’, single and double quotation marks ‘ “ « » ” ’, and the apostrophe, or raised comma “ ’ ” (not to be confused with the prime mark ‘ ′ ’, which is a diacritic)".

The author provides 3 different dashes. I agree with the last two, but the first one is called a hyphen and it, again, does not separate words into sentences or changes the meaning of a whole sentence, but connects two words (like the apostrophe) - exactly the reason why they should not be considered as punctuation marks.

Another abstract here proves my point about intonation:

"Still another use – indeed, the original use – of punctuation is to provide some indication of the intonational and rhythmic intentions of the writer, as the written words indicate the lexical and grammatical intentions. For instance, the comma in English is often claimed to represent an intonation sequence of mid-low-high-mid, like the one used in counting: Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four, ... They serve, to those who follow this theory, to represent the ‘authorial voice’, and guide conventions for reading aloud. This of course applies to English only, and should not be considered to apply to other languages, like German, where the rules for punctuation are specifically governed by syntactic considerations".

However, I don't fully agree with it either. The punctuation marks do not necessarily express the author's voice - they mark the boundaries of sentences, phrases, clarify the meaning of the sentence. It just happens that we use intonation and pauses for this in speaking and punctuation marks in writing. German does it as well, perhaps not in the same way English does, but in the following sentence, wouldn't you have short pauses, where you have commas: Meine Freundin, die übrigens jetzt in der Schweiz wohnt, schreibt an mich jeden Tag.

The author also mentions that the rules of punctuation are far from being standardised. What does it mean? If one is talking about the "author's style", it's one thing, but the rules of punctuation exist in every English speaking country, otherwise there wouldn't be such a thing as a punctuation mistake.



Thanks for the answer! I absolutely agree with you. Punctuation marks change the meaning of a sentence. A classical example:

Let's eat everyone! Let's eat, everyone!

The apostrophe does not do this:

Its a dog. It's a dog.

Here I would talk about a grammatical mistake, wrong spelling or even a wrong word.

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