Siri, the intelligent assistant built into Apple’s iPhone 4S, is certainly fun to show off. You can joke around with it, getting amusing replies if you ask it to beam you up, open the pod bay doors or share its favourite colour. However, Siri is much more than just a source of amusement: it can also help you get more things done with your iPhone. We explore how you can transform it into an impressive productivity tool.

See also: The complete list of things to ask Siri in the UK

Punctuate your speech

Unless you frequently dictate, reciting your punctuation aloud doesn’t feel completely natural. But without it, any time Siri transcribes what you say, your text will resemble something out of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Thus, when Siri asks you what you’d like your new email to say, speak like this:

dear dad comma new paragraph happiest of birthdays exclamation mark we’ll try to FaceTime with you later comma once the kids are home from school full stop smiley face

Siri understands a range of punctuation terms, such as new paragraph, exclamation mark, and even smiley face

Siri can handle other dictation instructions, too.

  • Instructing all caps makes the next word you speak all upper case, while all caps on and all caps off toggles the caps lock.
  • Saying cap capitalises a word, as in I named my dog cap Cat.
  • Speaking the names of punctuation marks and symbols – such as ampersand, asterisk, open or close brackets, em dash, percent, copyright, registered, section, pound, penny and degree sign – makes them appear.
  • Saying smiley, frowny and winky (optionally with face) creates the appropriate emoticon.

(To make things easier to read, the rest of the examples in this article show the punctuation mark in commands instead of spelling it out, for example, the full stop symbol instead of the words.)

Use cue words

Sometimes Siri listens without really hearing. For example, when giving it instructions like this:

iMessage my wife I’m stuck in traffic, so I might be home late this evening.

If you don’t use cue words, Siri may ignore some of what you say

Siri transcribes our instruction, and then replies: OK, I can send a text to Lauren Friedman for you. What would you like it to say? We appreciate that Siri knows we want to send an iMessage, and understands to whom we want to send it, but it’s frustrating to recite a message only for it to be ignored. However, it’s possible to both start and dictate a new iMessage (or text message) in a single step. Simply add a cue word or phrase such as that, or tell him or tell her.
iMessage my wife that I’m stuck in traffic, so I might be home late this evening.

Change Siri’s mistakes via speech

Sometimes Siri doesn’t properly transcribe what you’re saying: Tickle Me Elmo, for example, might become Pickled Feet Elmo. When Siri reports your transcribed message is ready and then asks if you’re ready to send it, you can correct the message pretty easily.

Change the message to: maybe we should get her a Tickle Me Elmo doll.

You can also instruct Siri that way when it creates reminders, email messages, calendar events, notes, and the like.

If you’re driving or unable to look at the screen for any reason, you can instruct Siri to read back your transcribed message before sending it to avoid any awkward, embarrassing or confusing errors. When it asks you to save or send your iMessage, email, reminder or whatever it happens to be, just say Read it to me first. Then you can change it, save it or send it.

Edit Siri’s transcriptions

Suppose you express the following:

iMessage my boss I’ll have the completed project on your desk tomorrow morning.

The mistake, of course, is that you forgot a cue word. Siri notes only that you want to send an iMessage to your manager; it doesn’t record the content of the message you want to send. If you’d like to avoid repeating yourself when Siri asks for clarification on what message you’d actually like to send your boss, you can instead scroll back up to where Siri transcribed your instructions incorrectly.

Tap on the mistranscribed text to make it editable. We inserted a that after boss and then tapped Done. Siri reprocessed the corrected instruction, and this time it knew just what we wanted to say.

Even better, when the onscreen keyboard appears as you edit the transcribed text, you can use the microphone button to start dictating as you edit your transcribed text. It’s self-referential, but it works.

Name your friends

Tell Siri how to refer to different friends and family members, and then use those labels to contact them

So long as you use real words, you can tell Siri about important people in your life in fun ways.

You probably already know that you can tell Siri about connections. For instance, Lauren Friedman is my wife. You can also add fancier connections such as father-in-law, best friend and even nemesis.

We told Siri Kit Gould is my boss, which it understood. Now, when we say iMessage my boss that work is a constant delight, Siri knows just what to do.

The relationships you tell Siri about get included in your own address book entry. You can add them manually by going to your record in your iPhone’s Contacts app, tapping Edit, and adding or editing fields in the relationship section.

Know what you can say

You may have come across lengthy lists of things you can say to Siri.

Siri can do much more than just take dictation and send text messages. Here are some specific commands and questions you can give to the iPhone 4S’s voice-activated assistant:

  • What day of the week was November 28, 1980?
  • Remind me to order iTunes gift cards two days before Valentine’s Day.
  • How many days until Mother’s Day?
  • Make an appointment named Weekly Check-in for three days after Saint George’s Day at 10am, with Robert Smith.
  • When is my next meeting?
  • Reschedule my meeting with Robert Smith to April 25 at 2pm.
  • What time is it in Berlin?
  • What time is sunset in London?
  • Remind me to pick up milk when I leave here.
  • What is the current outside temperature?
  • How high did AAPL [Apple’s share price] get today?

For instance, after receiving an iMessage, just add Reply to in a message – Reply to Dan Moren that I agree completely – to create your response. Saying Note to self: Buy a loaf of bread creates an appropriate entry in the Notes app. And Show me [date] summons up your calendar for the day in question.