Why does punctuation matter?

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Here’s Edgar Allan Poe reflecting on the point of punctuation:

That punctuation is important all agree; but how few comprehend the extent of its importance! The writer who neglects punctuation, or mis-punctuates, is liable to be misunderstood–this, according to the popular idea, is the sum of the evils, arising from heedlessness or ignorance. It does not seem to be known that, even where the sense is perfectly clear, a sentence may be deprived of half its force–its spirit–its point–by improper punctuations.

(Edgar Allan Poe, “Marginalia.” Graham’s American Monthly Magazine, February 1848)

Punctuation is the system of signs or symbols given to a reader to show how a sentence is constructed and how it should be read.

Sentences are the building blocks used to construct written accounts. They are complete statements. Punctuation shows how the sentence should be read and makes the meaning clear. Every sentence should include at least a capital letter at the start, and a full stop, exclamation mark or question mark at the end. This basic system indicates that the sentence is complete. Punctuation is used to create sense, clarity and stress in sentences. You use punctuation marks to structure and organise your writing.

You can quickly see why punctuation is important if you try and read this text which has no punctuation at all:

perhaps you dont always need to use commas fullstops colons etc to make sentences clear when i am in a hurry tired cold lazy or angry i sometimes leave out punctuation marks grammar is stupid i can write without it and dont need it my uncle Harry once said he was not very clever and i never understood a word he wrote to me i think ill learn some punctuation not too much enough to write to Uncle Harry

Now let’s see if punctuating it makes a difference!

Perhaps you don’t always need to use commas, full-stops, colons etc. to make sentences clear. When I am in a hurry, tired, cold, lazy, or angry I sometimes leave out punctuation marks. “Grammar is stupid! I can write without it and don’t need it,” my uncle Harry once said. He was not very clever, and I never understood a word he wrote to me. I think I’ll learn some punctuation – not too much, enough to write to Uncle Harry.


Students, need to understand that punctuation is an important tool that they have at their disposal in order to express themselves clearly. Sloppy punctuation errors could lead to misunderstanding and loss of marks in public examinations. In order to demonstrate its importance you could use humour, as seen in the image above. Make sure you model correct punctuation usage yourself. If you’re not sure there are some great resources on-line.