It is the marks between or over letters that convert the written words into the spoken language. The oldest know work using punctuation is the Mesha Stele, an inscribed black basalt stone bearing an inscription. It was created in the 9th century BC. The invention of moveable type in the 14th and 15th centuries (AD) demanded the invention and standardisation of punctuation marks.

Punctuation marks provide for the pauses and the changes in tone which a reader must observe to make sense of any piece of written work. The variations in tone is not emphasised in English as it is, for example, in Chinese. In English the most pronounced rise in tone is at the end of a question. The start of a sentence is often spoken with a slightly raised tone.

It is the punctuation marks in and at the end of a sentence which indicate the breaks or pauses and the changes in intonation.

A full stop, a small dot at the level of the lowest part of letters other than those which have "descenders". A descender is that part of a letter which descends below the level of the line upon which the writing is performed. Every sentence which is not a question or an exclamation ends with a full stop. A question ends with a question or interrogation mark "?" and an exclamation ends with an exclamation mark "!". The full stop indicates to a reader - especially one who is reading aloud - that a pause in the flow of speech should occur. The exclamation mark also means that a long pause should be made and perhaps some slight emphatic tone applied. A question mark requires a pause and a raised tone.

Clearly a reader must be able to look ahead as he is reading so that the correct tone inflexions can be made and preparation is made for pauses. This is equivalent to a musician who can "sight read" a sheet of music, that is read the notes and play simoultaneously. Other marks which indicate pauses, in ascending order of length, are "commas" ",", "semi-colons" ";" and "colons" ":". These marks also serve to divide the writing into comfortable lengths so that a reader, after developing his skill, can breathe whilst reading a passage. Singers have to acquire this art also.

Another specialised mark is the "hyphen". It is a short dash "-" written half way between the line on which the writing is based and the vertical centre of the letters and between two words or two syllables. When used between syllables it is employed where the word is too long to be completed on the current line. The word is then broken at the end of a syllable and a hyphen is used to show that it carries on on the next line. The hyphen is also used to form compound words such as "clear-headed" and "fine-leaved".

Most other punctuation marks such as "brackets" or "parentheses", ellipses, backward or forward slashes and long horizontal dashes are used variously for segmenting, separating and indicating omitted words.

Other punctuation marks as well as all of those mentioned above are demonstrated in the web sites listed under the "Resources" tab in the "Grammar and Punctuation" section. Also there acknowledgement is made of the published English grammar that has been the major reference source for the "Grammar" section of this site.













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