What is the difference between grammar and punctuation?
Grammar and punctuation are two parts of the writing puzzle.
To become a better English writer, you must understand how they're related and use them to communicate clearly.
If you're a new writer, it's also a good idea to study the difference between grammar and punctuation before writing an article, short story or even a book.
The Role of Grammar
Grammar is the fundamental structure of the English language. It refers to the rules we use to put words together into paragraphs and sentences to convey meaning.
A teacher explaining why grammar is important may have hammered the importance of following rules.
While this isn't far from the truth, the reality is that grammar is more than just the rules learned in a textbook.
It is a comprehensive code for creating language people can understand. It provides rules for using words and putting them together properly.
The most foundational part of grammar is the sentence. A sentence is a combination of words that has a subject and verb and ends with punctuation.
What Is Punctuation?
Punctuation refers to the symbols used in sentences to make the meaning even clearer. The period (.) is one of the most commonly understood punctuation marks, but writers have many others they can use.
Here's a quick refresher of some other common punctuation symbols:
- Periods (.) separate sentences. In British English, these are called full stops.
- Commas (,) separate parts of sentences and indicate a pause, but not a full sentence stop.
- Question marks (?) designate a question and are used in place of a period.
- The exclamation mark (!) indicate stronger emotions when placed at the end of a sentence.
- Quotation marks (“) separate quotes from the rest of the sentence.
- Apostrophes (‘) denotes missing letters in conjunctions as well as possessive words.
- Hyphens (-) join words and create a natural division between syllables when words need to be broken at the end of a line
- Colons (:) introduce lists and long quotes.
- Semicolons (;) can join two sentences to avoid a run-on sentence.
- Ellipses (. . .) show where a writer omits words, phrases or lines in a quoted passage.
- Parentheses ( () ) or brackets (  ) can set apart extra information added to the sentence.
- Dashes (–) separate words in a sentence into a parenthetical statement.
There are other lesser-known punctuation marks as well, but these are the most common in the English language.
Are Grammar and Punctuation Different?
Grammar is the overarching rule of the English language. Punctuation is one category of rules that fall under the umbrella of grammar.
In fact, punctuation is critical to many common grammar rules. Common punctuation marks help prevent errors like comma splices and run-on sentences.
How Punctuation Clarifies Meaning
One of the most important roles punctuation fills is protecting the meaning of a sentence. Consider this common example from the popular book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Let's eat, grandma!
In this sentence, a grandchild is inviting grandma to eat a meal together.
In contrast: “Let's eat grandma!” has a far more nefarious meaning.
In this example, the simple comma makes a tremendous difference in the meaning of the words.
The apostrophe also has an important role in designating meaning. Consider the sentence:
The red glow was the sun's.
The apostrophe denotes possessive, which means the glow belonged to the sun. In contrast:
The red glow was the suns.
This sentence shows no possessive. The reader must assume that they are reading about a different planet where more than one sun shines light on the ground.
Refresher for Punctuation Rules
As you work to improve your writing skills, and understanding the difference between grammar and punctuation, knowing how to use commas, periods, exclamation points and other punctuation marks is an important step. Here is a quick look at some common punctuation errors and how to avoid them.
Run-on or Comma Splice
A run-on sentence occurs when a writer places two independent clauses into one sentence. A comma splice is a type of run-on where the sentences are joined using just a comma without a conjunction. Here are some examples:
The dog ran after the squirrel, and he almost caught him. (Correct)
The dog ran after the squirrel; he almost caught him. (Correct)
The dog ran after the squirrel he almost caught him. (Run-on)
The dog ran after the squirrel, he almost caught him. (Comma splice)
Apostrophes have two main jobs. They can show possession, and they can show where missing letters are in a contraction. These are proper uses of apostrophes:
He's going to bring us a present when he comes to visit.
John's mother waved a sad goodbye to her grandkids before boarding her flight.
Sometimes, people try to add apostrophes where they aren't needed, such as in plural words. For example:
The car was listed for a thousand dollar's off retail.
There is no need for an apostrophe here because the “s” is being used to denote plural. The only time an apostrophe is needed for a plural word is when the writer makes a plural from a single letter, as in:
Johanna spelled her name with two n's.
Most rules focus on too few commas, but it's also common for writers to use too many. Here is a well-written sentence:
I wanted to grab a bite to eat because I was hungry, but the restaurants were closed, so I just went home.
Sometimes, writers will write this with two extra commas, like this:
I wanted to grab a bite to eat, because I was hungry, but the restaurants were closed, so I just went home.
In this sentence, because does not require a comma because it is a subordinating conjunction. “So” does require one because it is a coordinating conjunction, and the two independent clauses need to be joined with a comma and conjunction as well.
Improper Quotation Mark Placement
Quotes need to be offset by punctuation, and the punctuation goes inside the quotation mark. If the thought is not complete, then the quote closes with a comma. If the thought is complete, it ends with an end punctuation mark, like a period or exclamation point.
“Wow,” said Mark. “That quarterback threw a huge pass!”
This sentence would be incorrect:
“Wow”, said Mark. “That quarterback threw a huge pass”!
Punctuation is an important part of english grammar. Whether you write British English or American English, punctuation marks designate meaning, indicate when to pause while reading and help protect writers from other grammar errors.
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