What is punctuation?  

rm_homophone 64M
6 posts
6/3/2006 1:11 pm
What is punctuation?

What is punctuation?

Do you have trouble with punctuation? Are you always using commas instead of full stops?

Punctuation is a set of visual signs or symbols to help us understand the meaning of words written down.

Why do we need it with writing if we manage without it for speaking?

We do not need it when we are speaking because we use different sorts of signals instead. For example, we use pauses and changes of tone to tell the listener where the groups of words start and finish and whether they are questions or statements.

Does it really matter? Wouldn't we actually manage quite well without it?

If we only ever wanted to write very short, simple statements, it would not matter at all.

i have gone to the youth club

Anyone could understand this without bothering at all about there being no capital letter and no full stop. However, could you be quite so sure of this second note?

fred is with jean and thomas the cat
has eaten bill

Does it mean the cat is called Thomas?
Is Fred with one person or two?
Has the cat eaten a person called Bill?
Simple punctuation can solve all these problems:

Fred is with Jean and Thomas. The cat
has eaten.

Capital Letters and Full Stops.

The simplest of all punctuation devices are capital letters and full stops. When we make a statement, they act as a green light and a red light: the capital letter tells us when to start off and the full stop tells us where we must stop. If we fail to stop, we will have a collision with another sentence. Each sentence is complete in its self and makes full sense. If we end up with a group of words that does not make sense, we must have put a full stop in the wrong place. For example, we would not write:

I have eggs and toast for breakfast. On Saturdays.

The final two words clearly belong to the preceding sentence:

I have eggs and toast for breakfast on Saturdays.


Comma usage is in some respects a question of personal writing style: some writers use commas liberally, while others prefer to use them sparingly.

The first thing to note is that the comma often marks a brief pause in the flow of a sentence, and helpfully marks off one phrase from another.

I wrapped the fresh fish in three layers of newspaper, but my van still smelled like trout for the next week.

The game was over, but the crowd refused to leave.

The student explained her question, yet the instructor still didn't seem to understand.

Yesterday was her brother's birthday, so she took him out to dinner.


Please put all capital letters and full stops in the right place.

we went to scotland for our holidays last year
the car broke down just outside edinburgh
my sister said we ought to have gone by british rail
the river tay is a beautiful river
we got as far north as aberdeen before returning home
i would like to climb ben nevis in the next year or two


Please put all full stops, capital letters and commas in the right place.

while I was eating the cat scratched at the door
because her alarm clock was broken she was late for class
if you are ill you ought to see a doctor
when the snow stops falling we'll shovel the driveway
having finished the test he left the room
to get a seat you'd better come early
after the test but before lunch I went jogging
the sun radiating intense heat we sought shelter in the cafe

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