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A parents’ guide to punctuation: punctuation explained

Wondering how to explain sentences or full stops to your child? We have you covered!


Sentences

Sentences: the building blocks of a piece of writing! A sentence contains at least one word, starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, exclamation mark or question mark. A sentence must contain a verb (or, for KS1 pupils, a ‘doing’ or ‘being’ word) and usually contains a subject and/or object.

Full stops

The trusty old full stop – this is the staple of every written piece of work. A full stop shows you’ve reached the end of a sentence and allows the reader to pause for breath.

Question marks

Quite simply, a question mark appears at the end of a question, or, as it is occasionally known, an interrogative sentence. Generally speaking, a question mark will appear at the end of a sentence that starts with (or contains) a question word, such as who, where, what, why, when or how, amongst many others.

This is one of the easiest punctuation marks to use, as it only has one function. Asking a question? Use a question mark.

Exclamation marks

Did you know? Exclamation marks were only included on standard typewriters in the 1970s! It’s a sign of how frequently we use them now that they appear on the number 1 key. 

Exclamation marks are used to show excitement, frustration, anger or many other strong emotions. An exclamation mark can replace a full stop if you want to add more emotion to the sentence, or it can be used after an interjection – “Oh! That was so much fun!”.

With the new curriculum, children are also taught in Year 2 that they need to use exclamatory sentences in their writing – these are a little different as they must start with “how” or “what” and contain a verb.

“How beautiful!”

Exclamation.

“How beautiful her dress was!”

Exclamatory sentence.

“What a wonderful day!”

Exclamation.

“What a wonderful day it is!”

Exclamatory sentence.   

Commas

Multifunctional and very versatile, the comma is often misused. With so many potential ways of using it, it’s not surprising children often pepper their work with commas, throwing them in at the end like a sprinkling of fairy dust.

Below is a list of some of the common uses for the comma, although it certainly isn’t all of them!

After using an introductory phrase, we need a comma to start the second part. This first part of the sentence is a ‘fronted adverbial’ (because it comes at the front of the sentence).

Commas can also be used in lists of three or more items or adjectives. For example:

I went to the shop and bought apples, bananas, milk and bread. The dog was small, shy and brown.

There is no comma before the ‘and’ unless it helps to make the sentence clearer.

Using commas for clarity

If there is a chance that your reader is going to misunderstand the sentence, you can use a comma to clarify things.

Stop clubbing baby seals!

(People should really stop hurting baby seals).

Stop clubbing, baby seals!

(Baby seals should really stop going out to clubs).

Let’s eat Grandma!

(Showing cannibalistic tendencies).

Let’s eat, Grandma!

(Telling Grandma that it’s time to eat).

Question Tags

A question tag is a short phrase which can be added to the end of a sentence to turn it into a question. If the sentence is positive (for example, uses ‘it is’), then the question tag will be negative (‘isn’t it?’).

You’re hungry, aren’t you? I’m not coming, am I? 

Commas for clauses

If you want to add non-essential information to a sentence, you can use commas to drop in an extra clause.

My dog was exhausted after our long run. My dog, who never gets tired, was exhausted after our long run.  

There are many more uses for the comma, including speech punctuation. 

For anyone who is interested in finding out more about grammar and punctuation, we recommend the famous ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss or ‘Grammar for Grown Ups’ by Katherine Fry. 

Happy Doodling! 

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