Commas   Hyphens   Dashes  Quotation marks (Inverted commas)  Additional points on punctuating direct speech   Apostrophes   Abbreviations   Bullet points

This section is not intended to teach you how to punctuate English sentences. Instead, it describes some central differences in American and British usage as well as some aspects of English punctuation that Danish speakers tend to find confusing.

Please refer to Swan or the Oxford Dictionaries guide to punctuation if you need more general guidance on English punctuation.


Danes shed blood, sweat and tears learning how to apply the grammatical comma. Please try to forget what you have learnt when writing English. In English, commas generally reflect pauses in speech.

Danish commas to avoid

Relative clauses with 'that'

Avoid putting a comma before a clause beginning with ‘that’.

Correct example I told you that you should stop putting commas before ‘that’.
Incorrect example I told you, that you should stop putting commas before ‘that’.

Restrictive relative clauses

Don’t put commas around defining (restrictive) relative clauses.

A restrictive relative clause provides essential information about the noun it refers to. If you leave it out, the sentence won’t make much sense. A non-restrictive relative clause can be removed from the sentence without changing its essential meaning. (If you need an explanation of what a relative clause is, see this Oxford Dictionaries article on relative clauses.)

Correct example The girl held out the hand that was hurt.
Incorrect example The girl held out the hand, that was hurt.

Correct example It reminded him of the girl (whom) he used to know.
Incorrect example It reminded him of the girl, (whom) he used to know

Commas in lists

Don’t place commas before the final ‘and’ or ‘or’ in lists unless the meaning is ambiguous.

Correct example He’s interested in chemistry, molecular biology and musicology.
Incorrect example He’s interested in chemistry, molecular biology, and musicology

After ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’

Don’t place commas after ‘e.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ (See Abbreviations below for more points on Latin abbreviations.) 

Correct example  The exam requires participation in instruction, i.e. participation in at least 75 per cent of the course.
Correct example  The field of greatest importance is exegesis, i.e. interpreting the biblical scriptures.
Correct example  Handling personal issues (e.g. work-life balance)

Commas after introductory elements

Use a comma after introductory elements, adverbial clauses, prepositional phrases and participial phrases.

As a rule, you should not allow a brief introductory element to merge with something following it in a way that might confuse your reader.

 Correct example Walking home through the University Park, Professor Jensen realised how to solve the problem he had long been grappling with.
Correct example Finally, I want to emphasise the importance of proofreading.
Correct example At the beginning of the autumn semester 2014, all students should have appropriate housing.

Incorrect example Until the spring course lists will not be published.
Incorrect example Inside the lecture theatre was brightly lit.


Hyphenation is being used less in compound words and is optional in many cases. Whether you choose to hyphenate a word or not, please be consistent (in other words, don’t write ‘trouble-shooting’ in one paragraph and ‘troubleshooting’ in the next). Your spellchecker may have its own ideas about hyphenation.


Coordinate, microeconomic, sociopolitical, subdivide, troubleshooting
Co-ordinate, micro-economic, socio-political, sub-divide, trouble-shooting

 Danish hyphens

Many (if not most) Danish hyphenated forms do not take a hyphen in English. If you are a native speaker of Danish writing in English, be sure and check your English text for hyphenated forms and look them up to make sure that they actually exist.

Correct example PhD student
Incorrect example PhD-student


Only hyphenate dates when you’re using them as adjectives.

Correct example seventeenth-century England
    (‘seventeenth-century’ is an adjective describing ‘England’)
Correct example in the seventeenth century
Incorrect example in the seventeenth-century

Word division

Avoid dividing words at the end of the line wherever possible. You can choose to have Word avoid hyphens or hyphenate documents automatically. Choosing ‘no hyphenation’ is often the best option.

If you do choose to hyphenate your document, make sure you’ve selected the appropriate language settings in whatever program you’re using. Find out about hyphenation settings in Microsoft Office.

When using hyphens to divide words at the end of the line:

  • Divide only between syllables. Consult the Merriam Webster online dictionary when in doubt about syllabification.
  • Do not divide one-syllable words or very short words.
  • Do not divide at the end of the last full line of a paragraph.
  • Do not divide a word that will be continued on the next page or in the next column.
  • Proper names consisting of more than one element should be divided between the elements rather than within any of the elements wherever possible.


There are two types of dashes worth worrying about:

  • en dashes (den korte tankestreg) (­­–)
  • em dashes (den lange tankestreg) (—)

There are broad national differences in dash conventions, and many publications have developed their own house rules. Something about dashes brings out the picky Per Nittengryn in many writers. At AU, our passions lie elsewhere, so we tend to simply follow the suggestions provided by AutoCorrect in the British English version of Word. When writing for non-AU publications, other conventions may apply. Whatever convention you are following, be consistent.

If you are using the right version of Word (UK English), you will use spaced en dashes in the following contexts:

Parenthetical comments

Use spaced en dashes for parenthetical comments. US English uses unspaced em dashes in these situations.

If your language settings are correct, Word automatically converts hyphens to en dashes when you type space – hyphen – space – ‘xxxxx’. If for some reason you need to insert an en dash somewhere else in your text, the keyboard shortcut is Ctrl + - (minus sign).

Correct example Spaced en dashes – not em dashes or hyphens – should be used for parenthetical comments.
Incorrect example Unspaced em dashes––not en dashes or hyphens––should be used for parenthetical comments. (US English)

Instead of colons, semi-colons and brackets

Use unspaced en dashes to replace colons, semi-colons or brackets in running text. If your language settings are correct, Word automatically converts hyphens to en dashes when you type space – hyphen – space – ‘xxxxx’.

Correct example Aarhus University, as a strong, modern university, is in a strong position to live up to these requirements – in a short space of time, it has achieved a ranking among the top 100 out of the 20,000 universities in the world.

Note: Dashes are especially common in informal writing in English. In more formal contexts, use parentheses, colons and semi-colons. See Swan on the uses of colons (section 454) and semi-colons (section 459).

Quotation marks (inverted commas)

Single and double inverted commas are not interchangeable. There are rules governing their use, and it’s important to apply them consistently.

In AU texts, we use double inverted commas to mark the beginning and end of direct speech. We use single inverted commas

  • to indicate that a term or phrase is being used as an example,
  • to indicate that the writer wants to distance himself from the term in some way (scare quotes)
  • to mark off a quotation within a quotation. See Punctuating speech below.

 Punctuating speech

Use double inverted commas at the beginning and end of a quotation. Use single inverted commas for quoted words within the main quotation.

Correct example The language consultant wrote: When in doubt, you should always consult Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage, which emphasises that even very advanced students can make mistakes’.”

Additional points on punctuating direct speech

Many buckets of ink have been spilled on the question of whether commas and full stops should be placed before or after quotation marks. Follow The Guardian's rules and you won’t go far wrong. 

If you are quoting a full  sentence, place commas and full stops inside the quotes.

Correct example The language consultant explained: “Place commas and full stops inside the quotes when quoting full sentences,” and I replied: “I’ll certainly do my best to remember that.”
Incorrect example The language consultant explained: “Place commas and full stops inside the quotes when quoting full sentences”, and I replied: “I’ll certainly do my best to remember that”.

If you are quoting a fragment of a sentence, place commas and full stops outside the quotes.

Correct example The language consultant went on to explain that updating the Style Guide “was a difficult but deeply satisfying task”.
Incorrect example The language consultant went on to explain that updating the Style Guide “was a difficult but deeply satisfying task.” 

In articles and press releases, use colons to introduce quotes, not commas.

Correct example The AU Style Guide says: “Please don’t use commas, use colons.”
Incorrect example The AU Style Guide says, “Please don’t use commas, use colons.” 

Long quotations (block quotations) should be single-spaced and indented.

Do not combine double inverted commas with this formatting, or apply a different font, size or colour from the main body of your text.

  • Use block quotations for quotes of eight lines or more.
  • Start on a new line.
  • Indent entire quote to same position as a new paragraph.
  • Single space the block quote.

Scare quotes and examples

Use single inverted commas to set off words from the rest of the text in an ironic or distancing way (so-called ‘scare quotes’), or if the phrase or sentence you’re introducing is an example or instance of something you’re trying to explain.

Correct example The so-called ‘flexicurity’ model is long on flexibility but short on security.
Correct example Most ‘ordinary’ people are anything but ordinary.
Correct example Buzzwords like ‘self-realisation’ and 'mindfulness’ are characteristic of New Public Management.
Correct example The Danish word økonomisk can either be translated as ‘economic’ or ‘efficient’.


 Plural vs. possession

In Danish, we use apostrophes when adding plural endings to an abbreviation or number.

flere PhD’er, postdoc’er, 1960’erne, PC’er

In English, no apostrophe should be used before the plural ending of abbreviations, names, numbers, letters and words, even before words that are not normally written in the plural. Use apostrophe -s  to indicate possession (genitive).


Correct example There are several PhDs in the programme.
Incorrect example There are several PhD’s in the programme.

Correct example PCs
Incorrect example PC’s

Correct example He got straight As
Incorrect example He got straight A’s

Correct example In the 1960s
Incorrect example In the 1960’s


Correct example AU’s goal is to
Incorrect example AUs goal is to

Possessives of words ending in –s

If you need to form a plural of a word that already ends in -s or -z, add an apostrophe or rearrange the sentence.

Correct example Hobbes’ Leviathan is a central work of philosophy.
Incorrect example Hobbes’s Leviathan is a central work of philosophy.
Correct example Leviathan, a central work of philosophy by Thomas Hobbes….


Don’t use full stops after contractions (abbreviations in which the first and last letters of the word are present), for example in abbreviations of academic degrees, titles and street names.

Academic degrees and titles

Correct example Dr Forsker Forskersen, PhD
Correct example Ms Ekstern Lektorinde, MA
Correct example MD
Correct example BA, BSc
Correct example MA, MSc


Correct example Jasmine St
Correct example Easy St

Use full stops with the following kinds of abbreviations:

People’s names

Correct example Lauritz B. Holm-Nielsen
Correct example J.R.R. Tolkien
Correct example George W. Bush

Latin abbreviations

Correct example e.g.
Correct example i.e.
Correct example ibid.
Correct example etc.

Bullet points

Start the first word of each bullet point with a capital letter.

The following criteria will be applied:

  • Relevance
  • Quality
  • Price

Don’t put full stops in simple lists of items with bullet points.

Subjects offered by the department:

  • English
  • Spanish
  • French

If each bullet point is a full sentence, end each bullet point with a full stop.

The department’s goals are as follows:

  • We will increase admissions by 30 per cent.
  • We will improve the quality of our study environment by 30 per cent.
  • We will strengthen our contacts with potential employers by 30 per cent.

Otherwise, no full stops:

The department’s goals are:

  • Increased admissions
  • Improved study environment
  • Closer cooperation with potential employers

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