Know Your Keyboard: Characters and Punctuation Marks

Posted by on May 30th, 2013

Quick, name as many punctuation marks as you can. No peeking at your keyboard!

How many did you come up with? Periods, commas, question marks, and exclamation points were probably at the top of your list, followed by apostrophes and quotation marks. There’s also the colon, semicolon, parenthesis, and more—too many punctuation marks to count. These are the marks we use on a daily basis, to express everything from a brief pause to excitement.

But what about the lesser-known punctuation marks and symbols? Your keyboard holds far more than letters; if you look down, you’ll notice all sorts of cool symbols. We’ve gathered up a few of the ones we like (and how to properly use them).

 

1) Em dashes, En dashes, and Hyphens

Not all dashes are created equal. You’ve probably noticed the hyphen key, located on both of your number pads. However, there are technically three different dashes, with completely different purposes.

The hyphen is the most commonly used version of the dash. You’ve probably seen a hyphenated word before, but we’ll give you an example anyway: the pink-hatted elephant walked down to the reddoored store.

En dashes are used to connect numbers, and sometimes words (see below). For example: 10–20, 50–100, 100–900. (Just think “to or though”: From 1 TO 10, or everything starting at 10 AND THROUGH 19).

Em dashes are used to break off thoughts. If you were paying attention—although it’s okay if you weren’t—we actually used an em dash in the second paragraph of this post.

You don’t actually have to worry too much about the difference between em dashes and en dashes. En dashes can actually be used to separate a thought as well – you just have to add a space on either side, like this example.

How to Type it:

If you’re using a word processor, it will generally insert the correct dash (or hyphen) for you. However, there are a couple of tricks to make sure your processor knows what you mean.

To type an en dash, type a space, followed by two hyphens and a space on the other side like this. On a PC you can also type Alt + 0150 (enter the numbers on your number pad), or insert the character code – if in HTML, and Option – on a Mac.

To type an em dash, do the same thingbut this time, ignore the spaces. If you want to use the character codes, try Alt + 0151 on your PC, or — if in HTML, and Option + Shift – on a Mac. Easy, huh?

2) The Pipe Bar

The pipe bar isn’t really a punctuation mark, but it’s still fun to know how to use. Pipe bars look like this: |. Look closely, and you’ll see that it’s not actually a lowercase “L”.

Pipe bars are used in Unix coding. They also work as a division symbol if you’re typing out a math formula. In design, they are often used to space out information on business cards, like this:

yourname@example.com | xxx.xxx.xxxx

How to Type it:

Find the backward slash (\) key on your keyboard; it should be right next to your “Enter” key. Just hold down shift while you press it, and voila! Pipe bar!

3) Braces

Braces – also known as curly brackets – are familiar to anyone who knows a little CSS. They can be used just like parenthesis and regular brackets, and are particularly useful if you’re putting one set of parenthesis inside of another (which is sometimes done [if you happen do like convoluted sentences {which some people do}]).

How to Type it:

To type a brace, hold down shift while pressing either the opening or closing square bracket key. Yup, it’s that simple!

4) Ellipses

You already know how to type and use this one but we bet you didn’t notice it’s name. The ellipses is that little “…”, used to denote a pause or a break in a quotation. In comics, it’s also used to show a silence.

Quick grammar rule: if the ellipses is in the middle of a sentence, type three dots. If it’s at the end of a sentence, type four.

How to Type it:

To type an ellipses in your word processor, just key in three periods. On a PC you can also type Alt + 0133, or insert the character code … if in HTML, and Option ; on a Mac.

4) Bullet Points

Here are the reasons you might want to use a bullet point:

  • You like lists
  • You really like lists.
  • You like little round circles.

Now, normally your word processor will take care of bullet points for you, and you don’t have to worry about it; just hit the “list” button, and type away! But every now and then, it’s fun to be able to type it individually. Like the pipe bar, bullets can be used to separate information in your designs.

Use a Bullet Point!
Business cards • Flyers • Really, whatever you feel like.

How to Type it:

To get a bullet (•), type Alt + 9679 on your PC, or ●.in HTML, and Option 8 on a Mac

6) Honorable Mention: Card Suits

While they have no real punctuation purpose, you can also type the card suits: ?  ? ? ? .

How to Type Them:

Spade: PC: Alt + 6 | HTML:  ♠ or ♠  | On a Mac: Hold down the Command and Option keys while you press T. This will display the Character Palette. Choose the symbol and click the Insert button.

Club: PC: <Alt + 5  | HTML:  &clubs; or &#9827; | On a Mac: Hold down the Command and Option keys while you press T. This will display the Character Palette. Choose the symbol and click the Insert button.

Heart: PC: Alt + 3  | HTML: &hearts; or &#9829; | On a Mac: Hold down the Command and Option keys while you press T. This will display the Character Palette. Choose the symbol and click the Insert button.

Diamond: PC: Alt + 4   | HTML: &diams; or &#9830; | On a Mac: Hold down the Command and Option keys while you press T. This will display the Character Palette. Choose the symbol and click the Insert button.

Got any more characters you like typing? We’d love to hear them!

About 

Alexey is a writer both on and off the clock. She’s inspired by classic poetry, music, and the relationship between visual design and the written word.

Questions or Comments? Leave a reply, we would love to hear from you.


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