Tuesday 8 March 2016

Does Punctuation Matter? Is English Grammar Important?

Is English grammar important? Does punctuation matter? Who cares if words are spelt incorrectly or if a few commas or exclamation marks are missing or added? The government, it seems, does care. It sets out guidelines for children up to the age of 11 on the correct use of punctuation and spelling. These are  Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 frameworks. The latest update about the use of exclamation (!) has caused the media to comment but is the government right?

Does punctuation matter - exclamation road signs

Does Punctuation Matter?

Writing is about communication. If the message is understood then does it matter if the comma is in the wrong place or missing?

A child runs into the room where an old lady is sitting and shouts
"I've eaten granny".

I read that the child has just eaten their grandmother because I'm an English grammar pedant. If the punctuation is wrong, the words are spelt incorrectly or the wrong word is used it confuses me. I will read the rest of the book/article wondering when anyone will notice that granny is missing. Others may use their common sense and read it as "I've eaten, granny."

So for me punctuation is important. What I find worrying isn't the correct use of commas, although very important as they prevent children from eating grandmothers, but the governments dictate on the use of exclamation marks.

The 2016 framework states that the use of the exclamation mark (!) will only be marked as correct if it ends a sentence that starts with either what or how.

 For example

• What a lovely day!
• How exciting!

What a load of rubbish! How completely stupid! What happened to "Yikes!" "Help!"? What about the children who live in Westward Ho!?

Do our children even talk like that? I agree that exclamations should be limited. That only one is necessary and in a formal piece of work, for example an English examination, they probably shouldn't be used at all.
Our children communicate by text message, social media and email. We should be teaching them that the exclamation mark is used only on exclamations. That one is all that is required (unless on social media when any number is appropriate depending on how OMG!!!! it really was); that its presence doesn't make a bad joke funny; that a well written piece doesn't need any.

I wonder, when teaching Key Stage 3, how English teachers will explain why the authors they are studying can use it anywhere they like!

Romeo and Juliet - Shakespeare

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art though Romeo?

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

But the moment he recollected himself enough to notice me watching, he thundered a command for me to go, and I obeyed. He was beyond my skill to quiet or console!

Tanglewreck - Jeanette Winterson

"No indeed! I am slaving for our future. Without ME, there would be no future!!"

Dulce et Decorum Est - Wilfred Owen

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! 

So what do you think? Should we limit the use of ! to just these instances?



  1. Very interesting post! I tend to use too many exclamation marks, which is a force of habit. I guess I get excited over pretty much everything. Commas are definitely vital for specific sentences and so many people forget to use them. The amount of people who have just written one long sentence with no punctuation annoys me sometimes.

    1. Me too! Lol I really don't mind when its social media and someone is expressing their excitement but I do think that children should know the difference :-)

  2. I find a lot of the problem is that people have lost the ability to distinguish between formal and informal writing. I know it sounds really pretentious, but it depresses me how many emails and letters I receive in work which lack basic punctuation, or are full of exclamation marks and 'txt spk'. Young people, at least in my experience, generally make an effort - the real culprits are people in their 30s and 40s. I guess it's too late for them though...

    1. I agree totally. I always wanted to correct bad emails and at work, 7/10 try harder :-)

  3. Interesting. I use more exclamation marks when I'm writing on-line than I would for a letter, email or report. On-line/social media is a conversation that is waiting for a reply. Exclamation marks allow me to add expression which are missing from a face to face.

    I have a daughter who is taking the SPAG tests this summer. I'm so glad they are focusing more on this aspect than in previous years. I was taught all these rules at school, but they seem to have been phased out since my school days. Until now. Once you know the rules, then you know how you can break them.

    I'd happily take my red pen to some of the recommended reading books for Key Stage 2. Please don't get me started on apostrophes. (PCs, not PC's. Grr!)

    1. I agree, especially on social media like twitter where there are not enough characters to express thoughts clearly so a few !! are OK. I had to bite my tongue. I could have filled a book about apostrophes and misuse of words (its, it's, there, their, they're etc). They may make an entrance in another post :-)

  4. No! I don't agree. We were discussing this at work the other day. I teach in a Primary school and am really worried about the state of education at the moment. I am not looking forward to sending Sophie to school. It is hard enough to get children to write at times so to take away the fun creative side and fill their minds with technical vocabulary and a curriculum that used to be taught in secondary school is a very worrying situation to be in.

    1. When I researched this I was amazed at what under 11's are expected to know and how little emphasis is put on vocabulary. Writing is all about communication and dictats like these are sure to stifle their imagination.
      Reading my post again before replying I noticed a typo! I had written it's instead of its. Shame on me :-(

  5. speaking is important as writing. But for a non native speaker, if you'll stick yourself on the rule to communicate with native speaker, you'll find in disappointing and frustrating.

    opinion for IELTS

  6. I agree. Native users break all the rules! Most of them don't even know the rules :-(

  7. Yeah obvious it matters a lot specially when you are preparing for exams this is one thing that you should must have to to write well.
    summary vs. paraphrase

  8. I think, it does matter, but English doesn't use it usually, that's why I'm so sorry about that. When I write something or azwritingteacher write for me, I usually try to check up everything as punctuation as grammar.


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