This question is rather broad, and while I completely agree with Yiannis Lazarides about style related issues, I will try to give some answers to the questions that are not usually dealt with in style books, as well as some generic answers for those who are not required to use a specific style.
Abbreviations are usually provided for in style guides, but in case they are not, here are some rules:
- americans tend to omit the period in all abbreviations, which will result in:
- brits usually put a period in abbreviations that were made by truncation, resulting in:
Sgt (because the abbreviation contains the last letter of the word);
- putting a period after a word that is not truncated, as is sometimes done by americans who do use periods (
Sgt.) is simply wrong, but you should indeed do it if your style requires it;
- you will find many americans who put periods and many brits who don't, and you will find even more people and styles that recommend a hybrid rule (e.g. using periods for abbreviations but not for acronyms), so this isn't a hard and fast rule;
- some abbreviations will never take a period, no matter what set of rules you are using: they include measurement units (
in for inch,
cm for centimetre,
kg for kilogram, etc.) and chemical symbols (
Ca for calcium,
Au for gold).
As for periods at the end of abbreviations, I will direct you to Will Robertson's article, which is the best explanation I have found on the subject. In summary, you should use:
% '\@' after the period signifies it is not an end of sentence
% '\@' between a capital letter and a period signifies that it is an end of sentence
… said Mr X\@. Later, …
If you are creating your own macros to ease the work, you should make sure they look ahead for the next character and thus avoid putting double periods. The abbreviation dot should further be set in the same style as the abbreviated word. This can be done using a macro such as this one:
-) should generally be used inside compound words (See: Correct use of hyphen, en dash, or em dash in compound words, although it is sometimes possible to use an en-dash (
--) to mark a comparison or opposition between the words, or simply to denote a gradation (i.e. when you want to combine a compound word and another word). Hyphens are also used for hyphenation, indeed.
Similarly, an en-dash (
--) can be used to indicate a range (numbers, dates, pages); in that case, it should not be surrounded by spaces (See: Dashes: - vs. – vs. —).
Both the em-dash (
---) and the en-dash (
--) can be used to indicate a digression, or a break in the sentence (voluntary ellipsis) or a dialogue. Two rules then apply:
- pick one of them and stick to it;
- the em-dash should not be surrounded by spaces, while the en-dash should (on that point, see below).
Brackets are can be used to mark a digression (though dashes are much more elegant) or, more appropriately, to denote a parenthesis (i.e. an explanation of secondary importance) or a citation. Some styles will require nested brackets to alternate between the normal form and the square form.
Square brackets (
) can also be seen in some citation formats, and in order to denote omissions or the author's own incursion while quoting something.
Whether to use them or normal brackets depends on styles.
Slashes are used to mark the existence of alternatives, as a substitute for "or"; while common in english, they are not necessarily good practice, and not all typographers encourage their use. Their original and proper use in in fractions, or in some ratios that are written with that sign.
They do not seem to require any special spacing, however I notice that Bringhurst has put spaces around them (p. 33) when used as a substitute for "or" (but not when they are properly used, e.g. when writing a font size and leading: "11/13"). In the former case, I would think either a thin space (
\,) or a normal space would do.
The ellipsis sign (
...) is used to mark an omission, typically inside a quotation; it is a poor replacement for "etc." in an enumeration and should be avoided in that case. The least that can be done is to use
\ldots (see: Ellipsis with a period/fullstop) or typeset the correct UTF-8 character
… (XeLaTeX for instance). The ellipsis should be surrounded with spaces, especially if it follows an existing punctuation mark. You may also consider using the
ellipsis package or setting your own macro, depending on your style guide's requirements – some styles require the use of brackets or square brackets, for instance.
There are no rules that I know of regarding apostrophes, which are mainly used to indicate elision (i.e. the omission of a sound) in english. Note however that, strange as it may be, this sign's spacing varies tremendously across fonts and some will simply look better than others. The spacing of apostrophes is especially important if you intend to write some text in other languages that do not use the apostrophe in the same way (for instance, french uses it between words and hence requires a larger spacing).
Because it can be used in macros, it would be unwise to make this sign active in order to correct its spacing, so pick your font well if you are using any language other than english.
The same advice essentially applies to quotation marks (choose the font well if you intend to use any language other than english). There are no special rules there either, except that:
- americans tend to use double marks (
“”) for the main quotation, and single marks for nested quotations (
- brits do the opposite.
You can typeset the real, curly quotes directly in XeLaTeX, if you do not want to have to type
To my knowledge, english has no special rules regarding periods, commas, colons, semicolons, interrogations marks and exclammation marks. Their correct usage would really be off topic here and I won't get into it. They are not preceded by anything, and they are followed by a normal space. However, you should know that:
- in american english, the punctuation belongs to the quotation, parenthesis or digression, especially if it is a period or a comma, and should hence be placed inside the quotation marks, brackets or dashes;
- in british english, the opposite rule applies;
- in both traditions, "high" punctuation marks (
!) can be placed inside or outside the quotation marks, brackets or dashes depending on the context (e.g., if there is a question in a dialogue, brits will put the quotation mark inside, and if a quotation appears inside a question, americans will put the interrogation mark outside the quotation marks).
The "rule" according to which end of sentence punctuation marks should be followed by a space larger than the inter-word space is outdated and has no reason to be enforced any longer, although some styles do want it. It can be removed by calling:
Another statement could perhaps be made regarding quotations, parentheses and digressions. In english, there is no special rule about their spacing, and you will find that these punctuation signs can start a line, or even a page, in most books (including Bringhurst's).
The french have a somewhat different stand on that, and since applying it in english can't hurt, I will state that rule. The basic idea is that a line should never start with a disruptive sign such as: a number, a quotation mark, a bracket or a dash; hence it is recommended to put a tie (
~) before an opening quotation mark, an opening bracket and an en-dash indicating a digression (both at the beginning and at the end of the digression). However, I think that if applied at all, this rule should be seen as secondary, i.e. it shouldn't be used if it causes an underfull hbox or a bad line-break (which can happen with long words).
There are contradictory recommendations on that matter, especially as regards en-dashes: some typographers recommend to put ties outside the dashes and normal spaces inside, so that the digression is "framed" and stands out more in case of a line break. Hence, this is largely a matter of personal choice and consistency (unless your citation style says anything about it).