Using Hyphens, Brackets, Ellipses & Quotation Marks

Writing not only consists of letters and words but many forms of punctuation. Watch this video lesson to learn about four types of punctuation: hyphens, brackets, ellipses, and quotation marks.


Developing a written language changed our society forever. Nowadays, you are constantly bombarded with a wide variety of text everywhere you turn. However, in order for this text to be effective communication, writing needs to have punctuation. Punctuation is defined as the marks in writing used to clarify meaning. In this lesson, we will discuss four types of punctuation used in writing: hyphens, brackets, ellipses, and quotations.


The first type of punctuation is the hyphen. If you are familiar with dashes, hyphens will look very similar. The only difference visually is that a hyphen is shorter. This is a dash ( — ) and this is a hyphen ( – ). While dashes are used to set off phrases within sentences, hyphens are used within compound words.

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The first way to use a hyphen is to combine two or more adjectives. Remember, adjectives describe nouns. Let’s look at this phrase as an example: ‘one-way street.’ This phrase combined the adjectives ‘one’ and ‘way’ to describe the noun ‘street.’ The hyphen connects the two descriptions. This method can also be used with nouns. For example, ‘forty-seven’ and ‘sixty-two’ use a hyphen to combine numbers.

A second way to use a hyphen is to break up a word at the end of a line of text. However, in order to do this you must break the word between syllables only. For example, if you wanted to break up the word ‘community,’ insert hyphens at the syllables: ‘com-mu-ni-ty.’ So, if you are nearing the end of the line you may write ‘commu-‘ at the end of the line and then begin the next line with ‘nity.’


A second type of punctuation is the bracket. You can think of brackets as square parentheses. Brackets look like this: [ ]. Similar to parentheses, brackets include clarifying information. Usually, you use parentheses if the information is more of an aside, which is an off topic idea. On the other hand, if the information further explains the text, you use brackets. For example, look at the first sentence in Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address: ‘Four score and seven years ago; .’ To clarify this, you can insert brackets. ‘Four score and seven [87] years ago; .’ In this case, the brackets provide a further explanation.

A second use for brackets is to change the wording of a quote. Sometimes when you quote someone, you need to change the wording in order for it to fit in your sentence. For example, according to Winston Churchill’s biographer, ‘[he] was an out-spoken and strong leader.’ In this sentence, brackets show that within the quote ‘he’ has replaced the name ‘Winston Churchill.’ In this way, you can manipulate quoted material, as long as meaning is not lost.


A third type of punctuation is ellipses. Ellipses are the three dots used in some sentences to show pauses, continuation of thought, or omitted words. This punctuation is extremely useful when transcribing actual speeches, as people naturally pause when speaking. However, ellipses can also be useful in text to indicate continuation of thoughts. For example, imagine you are writing a story about a character who notices something suspicious. That character might say, ‘I wonder… .’ The three dots here indicate he is thinking about the suspicious object or situation, but perhaps doesn’t know exactly what to think.

Another use for ellipses is to indicate when words have been omitted. This mostly occurs when you are citing a quote from another source. Consider this example: ‘Football is not as popular a sport as one might think; in fact, when one considers world sports ; football is far from the top of the list.’ This sentence is long as it is, but the ellipses here indicate that some words have been cut out between the words ‘sports’ and ‘football’ in order to make it shorter. Again, make sure the meaning of the sentence is not lost when using ellipses.

Quotation Marks

A final type of punctuation is quotation marks, also called quotes. Quotes indicate spoken words in writing. Quotations look like a double apostrophe surrounding all the spoken words. Every time a character speaks in any written work, quotes should appear before the first word spoken and after the final word. For example, look at this sentence: Dorothy replied, ‘There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.’ It is important to note that you should always have quotation marks around all the words being spoken, but not the signal phrase. In this case the signal phrase is ‘Dorothy replied,’ since it signifies the following speech.

Lesson Summary

This lesson has discussed four types of punctuation used in writing to clarify meaning. The first type is a hyphen, which combines words or indicates line breaks. ‘One-way street’ and ‘forty-seven’ correctly use a hyphen. The second type of punctuation is the bracket, which is like a square parentheses that adds explanatory information to text. A third type is ellipses, or the three dots, that indicate a pause or omitted words. Finally, quotation marks are punctuation surrounding the spoken words in writing. Keep these ideas in mind to make your writing communicate ideas effectively.

Learning Outcomes

As you come to the end of the video, you should understand how to:

  • Recognize the importance of punctuation in writing
  • Demonstrate the proper usage of hyphens, brackets, and ellipses
  • Recall when and how to properly use quotation marks

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