Does Grammar Include Punctuation?

Martin Lassen
People often wonder whether the term “grammar”, when referring to English learning, includes punctuation or not. Let’s find out.

People often wonder whether the term “grammar”, when referring to English learning, includes punctuation or not. This article explains whether “punctuation” is a part of “grammar” or whether it is in its own category.

Is Punctation Part of Grammar?

Grammar is the construction of sentences and paragraphs and how they form meaning. One aspect of grammar is “punctuation”, which relates to the symbols used to add meaning to sentences. Many grammatical rules cannot be followed without punctuation; therefore, it does form part of “grammar.”

The Cambridge Dictionary states that punctuation is “symbols used to separate phrases.” These symbols have many functions, including informing whether a sentence is a question or exclamation. They also inform when to pause and signal the end of a sentence.

Essentially “grammar” is the blueprint of the rules of the English language and how to put words together, and “punctuation” is one “branch” of these rules.

Some people argue that ”punctuation” is not part of “grammar” because “grammar” exists in spoken English, but punctuation doesn’t.

However, a person’s ability to speak well and without “grammatical” errors is intrinsically linked to a basic understanding and competence in written English’s grammatical rules, including punctuation.
In some grading systems and rubrics, “punctuation” is a separate category. However, errors in this section would directly affect the “grammar” section of the grading because the sentences would not be constructed correctly. For example, misusing commas and semi-colons would result in “run-sentences” or “sentence fragments”, which are classed as “grammatical errors.”

Furthermore, on the IELTS grading rubric for writing, “punctuation” forms part of “grammatical range” as well as “coherence and cohesion.” This rubric is relevant because to gain a high score on the “grammatical range” section; you need to use different punctuation like colons, semi-colons, and commas to show a “wide range of structures.”

The term “a wide range of structures” refers to “complex sentences” and “complex compound sentences”, which require commas and semi-colons to be correct.

What Is Grammar?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “grammar” is the “use of words and how they change form and combine with other words to make sentences.”

A fundamental aspect of how they combine with the other words is “punctuation” because it determines how the words in the middle of a sentence combine with a comma or how the final word in a sentence combines with the first word of a new sentence.

When grading “grammar” as an English teacher, there are essentially five main “branches” that are taken into consideration:

  • verb tense
  • determiners
  • connectors
  • punctuation
  • word order

Some schools or organisations sometimes grade one or more of these categories individually, or “punctuation” is sometimes graded with “spelling.” However, It is the combination of these five areas which essentially determines a person’s “grammatical range.” 

What Is Punctuation?

The Cambridge Dictionary states that “punctuation” is a collection of symbols that separate phrases and add meaning to sentences.

It is an essential part of English learning for both natives and non-natives because the incorrect use of “punctuation” can make text confusing for the reader and implies that the writer has a low level of English or lacks care and attention to detail. Also, when “punctuation” is used correctly, it makes writing more concise, accurate, and easier to understand.

It has always been the case that some people punctuate correctly and others don’t. However, some people are quite old-fashioned and strict regarding the use of “punctuation” and take “offence” at the misuse of punctuation, such as this man in the UK.

Indeed, in ESL and academic writing, “punctuation” is crucial and is often the difference between passing or failing. However, there is evidence that in today’s society, fewer and fewer people are using “punctuation” because of the growth of writing on the internet and in text messages. 

Is the Use of Punctuation Declining?

People in today’s society, especially young people, write far more instant messages on the internet than traditional paragraphs or letters. Due to the nature of these instant messages, there is obviously not much need for punctuation because they are often informal and do not really require full stops or quotation marks.

Omitting punctuation may be acceptable in instant messaging, but there is evidence it allows people to form bad habits, which are then mirrored when people try to write formal paragraphs.

Also, many younger people have an aversion to the full stop because they perceive it as “aggressive.” This perception could lead people to omit it completely when they are writing anything, which is obviously not ideal for when they are writing formal or academic texts.

However, it seems apparent that whilst the traditional “punctuation” rules will probably always apply, there has always been a disparity in how some people use and perceive “punctuation” compared to others.

Furthermore, based on the significant debate online between younger and older generations about the differences in “punctuation”, it seems that this disparity is only likely to increase as we evolve into a “digital society.”

Final Thoughts

“Grammar” is the “rulebook” of English and determines how words function together to form meaning in sentences. One essential part of this is “punctuation”, which is the use of symbols that connect words and sentences. Incorrect punctuation results in poor sentence structure and, therefore, “grammatical structure.”

Written by Martin Lassen for
Martin is Founder and CEO of On a mission to help people improve their English skills.


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