Punctuation Marks and the Concept of a Sentence

Punctuation Marks and the Concept of a Sentence

A pedagogical focus on the teaching of the use of punctuation marks is not a particularly fashionable idea at the moment. Such teaching may appear complex, boring and indeed irrelevant in an age of computer error-checkers and a more relaxed attitude to international norms of grammar use in English.

For Devereux Education.Co.Uk, this seeming lack of a desire to pursue such a tuition focus results in the missing of a great opportunity to talk about the concept of a sentence. For me personally, this discussion began with the introduction of the very first UK National Curriculum and the Key Stage One SAT`s in which seven-year olds were expected to be able to `demarcate a sentence by using a full-stop and a capital letter`. This educational goal caused much controversy and begs the question of whether many adults, never mind seven-year olds, would be able to explain confidently what a sentence is.

One definition is that of `a single verb or set of words which are complete in themselves`. I think that this definition is helpful. Other traditional definitions express the need for a subject, verb and object or for their complex equivalent names which are used by linguists. For me, a sentence is a spoken or written word or group of words which may be responded to; for example, “Hello(.)” or “Help(!!)”; the latter of the two requiring an obvious exclamation mark to express a degree of concern.

Of course, not all of the languages of the world use punctuation marks. Where punctuation marks have been developed in a language, they have become very useful `cues` for the reader to express himself or herself appropriately. Thus, commas are there for the shortest of pauses when reading aloud, semi-colons and colons are there for the `mid-length` pauses between clauses and full-stops reflect the need for longer pauses between sentences and paragraphs. Many book titles and chapter headings do not require full-stops as they do not need responses from the reader. Instead, the necessary and useful capital letters help the readers` eyes to focus on the key words in the titles, thus aiding paragraph content prediction.

Other punctuation marks help the reader even more to `read ahead` via the eyes` amazing saccade movements and thus provide him or her with a greater understanding of what is happening in the text as the `story` unfolds. The specific rules for the use of speech marks, (as opposed to the often inappropriately used quotation marks), are a clear example of this. The rules governing the use of the colon at the end of an introductory clause in a list, where the bullet points are separated by semi-colons, as part of a very long sentence, help the reader to skim and to scan the text, and so to understand a complicated and lengthy piece of text, by separating it physically into manageable portions.


Chris Devereux


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