Primary English: Knowledge and Understanding - Medwell Jane A. 2014



A teacher must:

3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge

have a secure knowledge of the relevant subject(s) and curriculum areas, foster and maintain pupils’ interest in the subject, and address misunderstandings

demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship

demonstrate an understanding of and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English, whatever the teacher’s specialist subject.

4. Plan and teach well structured lessons

impart knowledge and develop understanding through effective use of lesson time

promote a love of learning and children’s intellectual curiosity

contribute to the design and provision of an engaging curriculum within the relevant subject area(s).

8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

take responsibility for improving teaching through appropriate professional development.

Curriculum context

National Curriculum programmes of study

This knowledge is designed to underpin the teaching of the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 programmes of study for English, which state, for example, that pupils should be taught

in reading to:

✵ read words with contractions [for example, I’m, I’ll, we’ll], and understand that the apostrophe represents the omitted letter(s) Y1

and in writing to:

✵ develop their understanding of the concepts set out in English Appendix 2 by:

image leaving spaces between words Y1

image beginning to punctuate sentences using a capital letter and a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark Y1

image using a capital letter for names of people, places, the days of the week, and the personal pronoun ’I’ Y1

image learning how to use both familiar and new punctuation correctly, including full stops, capital letters, exclamation marks, question marks, commas for lists and apostrophes for contracted forms and the possessive (singular) Y2

✵ indicate grammatical and other features by:

image using commas after fronted adverbials Y3/4

image indicating possession by using the possessive apostrophe with plural nouns Y3/4

image using and punctuating direct speech Y3/4

image using commas to clarify meaning or avoid ambiguity in writing Y5/6

image using hyphens to avoid ambiguity Y5/6

image using brackets, dashes or commas to indicate parenthesis Y5/6

image using semicolons, colons or dashes to mark boundaries between independent clauses Y5/6

image using a colon to introduce a list Y5/6

image punctuating bullet points consistently Y5/6.

Early Years Foundation Stage

The Early Learning Goals specify that, by the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage, children should:

✵ write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others.


Punctuation is an art, not a science, and a sentence can often be punctuated correctly in more than one way. It may also vary according to style: formal academic prose, for instance, might make more use of colons, semicolons and brackets and less of full stops, commas and dashes than conversational or journalistic prose.

In earlier periods of English, punctuation was often used rhetorically — that is, to represent the rhythms of the speaking voice. Writers in the seventeenth century, for example, often wrote with a delightful clarity and simplicity, and their prose was close to that of today. Their punctuation, however, clung to an older rhetorical system, which has now disappeared. Take, for example, the following two sentences from Sprat’s History of the Royal Society (1667):

They have therefore been most rigorous in putting in execution, the only Remedy, that can be found for this extravagance: and that has been, a constant Resolution, to reject all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style: to return back to the primitive purity, and shortness, when men deliver’d so many things, almost in an equal number of words. They have exacted from all their members, a close, naked, natural way of speaking; positive expressions; clear senses; a native easiness: bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainness, as they can: and preferring the language of Artisans, Countrymen, and Merchants, before that, of Wits, or Scholars.


Sprat’s text is not punctuated in the way that would be normal today. Try to rewrite this text using modern punctuation.

Each time you use a punctuation device, try to justify to yourself why you are using it.

The extract contains 106 words, all of them still current, but it is cluttered with an outdated use of punctuation: 18 commas, three semicolons, four colons, one apostrophe, ten capital letters and two full stops — nearly one punctuation symbol to every three words, on average.

The main function of modern English punctuation, on the other hand, is logical: it is used to make clear the grammatical structure of the sentence, linking or separating groups of ideas and distinguishing what is important in the sentence from what is subordinate. It can still be used to break up a long sentence into more manageable units, but this may only be done where a logical break occurs. Jane Austen’s sentence: ’No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would ever have supposed her born to be a heroine’ would now lose its comma, since there is no logical break between subject and verb (compare: ’No one would have supposed’).

The importance of punctuation can be illustrated by comparing the two following letters. In both cases, the text is the same. It is the punctuation that makes all the difference!

Dear John: I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind and thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy — will you let me be yours? Gloria

Dear John: I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind and thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria

In the following examples, punctuation changes meaning in more subtle ways:

They did not go, because they were lazy.

is not the same as:

They did not go because they were lazy.

The following sentences indicate the different weights of commas, brackets and dashes:

People in the north are more friendly and helpful than those in the south.

People in the north are more friendly, and helpful, than those in the south.

People in the north are more friendly (and helpful) than those in the south.

People in the north are more friendly — and helpful — than those in the south.

In this example, the difference is merely a hyphen:

twenty-odd people

is very different from:

twenty odd people

You might have a go at punctuating the following. Two very different meanings will emerge!

woman without her man is a monster

The above should have convinced you that punctuation is important. It should also have alerted you to an important feature of punctuation — one which hundreds of teachers regularly fail to emphasise sufficiently to their children. The traditional way of explaining punctuation to children is by emphasising its role as an indicator of the intonation present in speech: the prosody in linguistic terms. This produces such advice as ’When you come to a comma, take a short breath; when you meet a full stop, take a longer breath’. This advice does have an element of truth, although there are many sentences that can be read perfectly sensibly with no pauses at all at commas. (The advice-giving sentence just quoted is a good example of this.) What is underplayed in such advice is the crucial role that punctuation plays in indicating meaning in written text. Look at the following examples:

Children who like pizza often eat very few vegetables.

Children, who like pizza, often eat very few vegetables.

The only difference between these two sentences is the use of commas to mark off the adjectival clause who like pizza. Yet the sentences mean completely different things. In the first, the adjectival clause is restrictive — the predicate often eat very few vegetables only refers to those children who meet the criterion of liking pizza. In the second, it is non-restrictive — the claim is that all children like pizza and all often eat very few vegetables. The punctuation indicates the meaning.

Notice also that, while the commas in the second sentence will tend to produce pauses when the sentence is read aloud, it would also be quite natural to pause slightly in the first sentence after pizza, where there is no comma. Punctuation is often an imperfect indicator of intonation and we mislead children if we stress this aspect.


In the following sentences, decide what effects, on both intonation and meaning, the use of punctuation has.

However stressed the teacher, children are not allowed to talk in class.

’However,’ stressed the teacher, ’children are not allowed to talk in class.’

Cheese, which is very smelly, is still good to eat.

Cheese which is very smelly is still good to eat.

Punctuation marks

We can define punctuation as marks beyond the normal, lower-case letters and numerals that accompany written text and indicate aspects of its meaning. There are 12 main punctuation marks in English, and we will describe the use of each of the following:

✵ capital letters;

✵ full stops;

✵ commas;

✵ semicolons;

✵ colons;

✵ apostrophes;

✵ inverted commas;

✵ question marks;

✵ exclamation marks;

✵ hyphens;

✵ dashes;

✵ brackets.

You should note that languages other than English use different punctuation marks. Even languages that use the same script system as English, such as French and Spanish, have slightly different punctuation: French has its accents, é, è, c¸ and â largely indicating variations in pronunciation; Spanish has a slightly different collection of accents, é and ñ, which indicate pronunciation and stress, as well as two unique marks, ¿, ¡ (like upside down? and !), which are used before questions and exclamations.

Capital letters

There are a number of rules for using capital letters.

1. A sentence should always begin with a capital letter.

2. A capital letter should always be used for the pronoun ’I’.

3. Proper nouns always begin with a capital letter. These include:






Doctor Brown

salutations in letters

Dear Sir









towns and cities



Acacia Avenue


Rose Cottage

geographical features

Mount Everest

days of the week


months of the year


special festivals


historical periods

The Renaissance


The Amateur Athletics Association


Tate and Lyle

political parties

The Green Party

4. Always use a capital letter with deities, religions and sacred books: God, Christ, Buddha, Allah, Christianity, Islam, The Bible, The Koran.

5. Always use capital letters for the main words of a title, but not for the articles and prepositions, unless they begin the title: e.g. ’Have you seen Gone with the Wind?’

6. Capital letters are usually used at the beginning of each line of poetry, even if this is not quoted in verse form: e.g. ’Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer …’There are some poets, such as e.e.cummings, who omit capitals deliberately.

7. Capital letters are used to begin sentences in direct speech: She said, ’This is the way it should be.’

8. Always use a capital letter for the first word after the greeting in a letter:

Dear Peter,

We are sorry

Full stops

There are two main uses of full stops. The first, and most common, is to signal the end of sentences, unless these are exclamations or questions. As we discussed in Chapter 6, there is a tendency for commas to be used where there should be a full stop:

I am tired, I want to go to bed.

This is known as a comma-splice and should be avoided. The example above is clearly two separate statements, which must be separated by a semicolon, a conjunction or a full stop.

I am tired; I want to go to bed.

I am tired and I want to go to bed.

I am tired. I want to go to bed.


Which of the following sentences is correctly written? Suggest changes to repair those which are incorrect.

1. John was feeling bored during the holiday, his cousin was invited to stay with him.

2. On the first morning of his visit they went fishing.

3. They had both had fishing rods as birthday presents.

4. By the end of the morning they had caught no fish, John suggested a walk along the bank.

5. A long line of stepping-stones stretched across the river.

6. The stones were wet and slippery.

7. John went first, his cousin followed.

8. John fell and knocked his cousin into the water with him.

9. The boys walked damply home.

The second use of full stops is to show when words have been shortened. These are called ’abbreviations’:

B.C. — Before Christ

Mr. — Mister

Mrs. — Mistress

a.m. — ante meridiem (before noon)

p.m. — post meridiem (after noon)

Dr. — Doctor

You should note that, where such abbreviations have become very common, there is a tendency to omit the full stops. Few people nowadays would write BBC or FBI with their full stops. Some abbreviations have also lost their full stops because they have become words in their own rights. We call these acronyms and often no longer remember quite what the abbreviations stood for, for example radar (radio detecting and ranging) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).

If a sentence ends with an abbreviation, there is no need for an extra full stop.

They arrived at 8 p.m.

NOT They arrived at 8 p.m‥

If abbreviations occur in a list or clause that would normally require a comma, then one should be used as well as the full stop.

At 3 p.m., nevertheless, we had to leave.


Commas are perhaps the most difficult punctuation mark to get right, largely because there is a degree of optionality about their use. The exhortation considered above, that a comma indicates a short breath, has also caused a good deal of confusion about the correct use of commas. The comma-splice is probably a direct result of this. There are nine main uses for commas, and additional optional uses.

1. Commas are used to separate items in a list:

I bought bacon, eggs, butter and bread.

It is not usual to place a comma before the ’and’ but this can be appropriate.

The two couples who went were Peter and Sarah and John and Jackie.

Here there is some confusion about the pairings and a comma after ’Sarah’ would avoid this problem. Similarly:

For dinner I had fish and chips, bread and butter, and a cup of tea.

2. Commas are also used to indicate a change of subject in long sentences. In a short sentence such as the following, a comma is not needed.

He was hiding but I could see him.

In a sentence with a similar basic construction, but much longer, the comma can be useful:

He could have tried harder to get on the train standing at the station, but his luggage was very heavy.

1. Commas are used to mark off names and titles of people spoken to:

’Good morning, Mr. Harrison.’

’David, can you lend me some money?’

’Shut up, Bob, and sit down.’

4. Commas are used in direct speech to mark the change from narrative to speech and vice versa:

’Mary,’ he said, ’I think you had better go.’

Notice that the comma to signal the change from direct speech to narrative goes inside the inverted commas, whereas the comma signalling the switch back to speech is outside the inverted commas.

5. Commas are used to mark a word or phrase in apposition:

Danny, Champion of the World, crept through the undergrowth.

Joe, red in the face, ran out of the room.

He rejected Gordon, the only boy who could have helped him.

The word or phrase in apposition could be removed from these sentences without destroying the sense of each.

6. Commas are also used to mark off short asides:

I hate children, don’t you?

You are coming, aren’t you?

Well, it’s not my fault.

You know, you’re not so bad after all.

7. Commas are used to mark off phrases beginning with participles:

Crouching as still as possible, he watched the gateway like a hawk.

The dead man, lying still on the ground, blocked the road.

She marched ahead, beaming from ear to ear.

8. Commas are used with non-restrictive adjectival clauses, as discussed earlier:

The class, who were very noisy, were not allowed to go to play.

The class who were very noisy were not allowed to go to play.

The first sentence suggests we are talking about only one class, who happen to be being noisy. The adjectival clause adds information about this class but does not restrict the reference at all. The second sentence suggests there is more than one class, and it is the one which were noisy who are the subject. The second adjectival clause, therefore, restricts the reference. It is essential to the meaning and thus no comma is required.

9. Commas are used with some subordinate adverbial clauses:

Although it was sunny, he took the bus home.

He took the bus home although it was sunny.

In the first example, the main clause comes second and the reader needs to be alerted by the comma to the importance of what is coming. In the second example, the main clause has been passed when the conjunction is reached, so no comma is needed.

10. There are some optional uses of commas. For example, although we stressed earlier that saying that a comma indicates a short pause in a sentence was too simplistic, it is occasionally possible to use a comma to create a pause when you wish to emphasise a word or phrase:

He took on the dangerous task, without hesitation.

The comma is not strictly necessary here but it does have the effect of emphasising the final phrase.

Again, even though it is not usual to use a comma before ’and’ or ’but’, this can sometimes be helpful.

I went to see the new car and the old car broke down on the way.

The reader may momentarily think the writer was going to see both the new and the old car. A comma would prevent any niggling confusion here.

11. Commas can also be used after a fronted adverbial.

Disappointingly, the team was well beaten in the match on Saturday. (Adverb)

In spite of the weather, we will still be going to the beach tomorrow. (Adverbial phrase)

Although he knew it was hopeless, the soldier made one last effort. (Adverbial clause)


The semicolon has two uses.

1. To separate items in a list when the items are long:

There are three people I admire: my mother, for putting up with me for so long; my father, for putting up with both my mother and me; and my cat, for affecting not to notice any of us.

If this had been simply, ’There are three people I admire: my mother, my father and my cat’, commas would have sufficed to demarcate the list items.

2. To link statements that are closely related:

Young men can play any game; older men have less choice. Birds can fly great distances; 200 kilometres is little to them.

The semicolons here are replacing full stops but are permissible when the two separate sentences are very closely linked. In the first example, the second sentence offers an idea that contrasts with the first. In the second example, the second sentence expands on the first.


The colon has three uses.

1. It is used to introduce a list:

You will need the following ingredients: eggs, flour, milk, cheese and bacon.

2. It is used to introduce a statement that explains or exemplifies what has just been said in the previous sentence:

Our cat is easily frightened: he always jumps at the sound of our doorbell. Crewe Alexandra will win the match: they have the better team.

3. It is used when a complete sentence develops or explains another complete sentence. In this case the colon takes the place of a full stop:

He wanted to go to bed: he was tired.

There were no eggs left: James had eaten them all.


Try to punctuate these sentences correctly, using commas, semicolons and colons.

1. They were enemies nevertheless they loved each other.

2. The car was old and unreliable it was also rather uncomfortable.

3. The Mafia has one important unwritten law loyalty to the family.

4. My brother can’t be trusted he told me it was Wednesday today.

5. The West prospers the Third World suffers.

6. I like her she makes me laugh.

7. Brutus dies at the end of the play however Antony does not forget the noble motives from which he acted.

8. There are several arrogant figures in the play Caesar who habitually refers to himself in the third- person Brutus who is so convinced of his own rectitude that he spares no thought for the feelings of others and perhaps Cicero who will not follow what other men begin.


The apostrophe is probably one of the most misused punctuation marks. The following, genuine, notices were seen in a typical British High Street:


The Sport’s Store

The best burger in town — you’ll love it’s taste

The apostrophe has three uses, although the third is not universally accepted as correct.

1. The first use is to show possession: The car belonging to the man = The man’s car.

Though the use of the possessive apostrophe can look confusing, there is a simple rule (with only two exceptions).

The apostrophe rule: add an ’s on to the end of the possessor

Mike = Mike’s

children = children’s

dog = dog’s

The exceptions are as follows:

Exception 1: if the possessor ends in a single s (not ss) just add an apostrophe.

James =James’

boys = boys’

Note that words that end in a double s, conform to the first rule.

boss = boss’s

glass = glass’s

Exception 2: its (meaning ’belonging to it’).

This possessive pronoun has no apostrophe. Only use an apostrophe when it’s means ’it is’:

The dog left its muddy footprints on the carpet.

The dog always reminds us when it’s hungry.

Many expressions to do with time require apostrophes:

a day’s work

two days’ sleep

a week’s holiday

There is an assumption of possession in these phrases — ’the work of the day’.

Also, it is possible for the thing that is possessed to be understood without being stated. The apostrophe is still needed:

Let’s go to Ben’s (house).

It’s my father’s (wallet).

Note the following, however:

He is a friend of my dad’s. WRONG

He is a friend of my dad. RIGHT

He is my dad’s friend. RIGHT

2. The second use of apostrophes is to indicate omissions, and apostrophes are used to mark the places where letters have been missed out, for a number of reasons.


3. Although they are often misused to indicate plural forms (see the notices above) apostrophes can sometimes be used to do this.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

There are three 9’s in 999.

There are over 600 M.P.’s.

Such usage does not command universal acceptance, however, although sometimes the alternative (e.g. Dot your is and cross your ts) does not look correct.

Inverted commas (speech marks)

Inverted commas are also known as ’speech marks’ or ’quotation marks’. They are used to indicate direct speech. This is a term used to define words which are actually spoken by a character in a story or anybody else’s speech that the writer needs to record. Of course, it has to be made clear to the reader when the person is speaking and when the writer is narrating. There are sentences within sentences that have to be marked off. There are four patterns possible with direct speech:

1. Speech first, narrative second: ’We are not amused,’ she said.

2. Narrative first, speech second: She said, ’We are not amused.’

3. One sentence of speech interrupted by narrative: ’We are not,’ she said, ’amused.’

4. Two or more sentences of speech divided by narrative: ’We are not amused,’ she said. ’You couldn’t make me laugh if you tried.

1. Speech first, narrative second: There is always a mark between speech and narrative. Only commas, question marks and exclamation marks can be used at this point in the sentence pattern. The inverted commas enclose both the spoken words and the punctuation that goes with them. A small letter follows the question mark and the exclamation mark as well as the comma, because the sentence as a whole has still not been finished.

2. Narrative first, speech second: There is a comma between the narrative and the speech. The inverted commas enclose the words spoken and the final full stop, which marks the end of the direct speech and of the whole sentence. The first word of the direct speech begins with a capital letter: the words spoken are a sentence in their own right.

3. One sentence of speech interrupted by narrative: This puts the above two sets of instructions together. The second part of the direct speech begins with a small letter because it is a continuation of the sentence.

4. Two or more sentences of speech divided by narrative: The direct speech is two separate sentences, so there is a capital letter and a full stop for each.

Inverted commas show where direct speech begins and ends. You do not need new inverted commas for each sentence within the speech:

’You’re wrong,’ she said. ’That’s mine. Get your own. You’re not short of money.’

Use a new line for a new speaker and for the next sentence of narrative following speech:

’Hello,’ she said. ’What are you doing here?’

’Killing time,’ he said.

Judy looked out of the window. She mumbled, ’And that’s not all.’

Tom stared at her, boiling with anger.

Double inverted commas are sometimes used for direct speech and single inverted commas for all the other occasions when they are required:

“Have you read ’Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’? It’s a brilliant book,” she said.

This can sometimes produce interesting typographical entanglements:

“Have you seen ’Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’?”

Single or double inverted commas are also used to pick out words and phrases that an author wants to particularise:

You have used ’emergent’ in the wrong sense here.

’How do you spell “commitment”?’ he asked.

Question marks

The question mark comes at the end of a sentence that asks a question. There is sometimes confusion stemming from lack of awareness of the difference between a direct and an indirect question. Look at these two sentences:

Are you confused?

He asked me if I was confused.

The first one is called a direct question because it actually expects an answer. The second is called an indirect question because it does not ask a question but reports the occurrence of one. The first requires a question mark. The second does not.

Exclamation marks

Exclamation marks are used when a special note of urgency is required:

’Shut up back there!’ shouted the teacher.


’How brave you are!’

Remember that the exclamation mark has a built-in full stop so you cannot use another element of punctuation with it and must use a capital letter after it.


Hyphens are used for a number of purposes:

✵ Continuation of a word between two lines. In word-processed text this is usually done automatically, yet there are several rules that pertain.

Firstly, a hyphenated word must be divided between syllables. The break must be convenient and must not interfere with the pronunciation of either half of the word. Look at the following:

It is the first time in the history of this competition that someone has achieved a perf-ect score.

It is the first time in the history of this competition that someone has achieved a perfect score.

The first of these sentences is more uncomfortable to read than the second because of the awkward hyphenation.

Single-syllable words cannot be divided.

✵ Making one word out of two or more other words. Many nouns that are now one word were once two words. Many phrases that are now two words will one day be one word. Many words are at an intermediate stage and require hyphenation. All of this is debatable. Which of the following are correct, for example?

post box



Sometimes the choice is more obvious:

walking stick



Hyphens can be used to form ’compound’ adjectives out of two or more words (green-eyed, bow-legged, old-fashioned, etc.). Often they are vital to meaning:

a hard working person/a hard-working person

a little used path/a little-used path

✵ For some combinations of numbers. For example:







✵ To indicate range in dates and figures as well as routes and destinations. For example:

the 1914-18 war

a car in the £20,000-£30,000 range

the London-Bristol road

the Dover-Calais ferry


A dash can be used to indicate a dramatic pause or a hesitation, or a pair can function rather like brackets in separating a clause or phrase from the rest of the sentence. Look at the examples:

’The man was lying on the floor, gun in hand — dead.’

’What do you — no, you must — it’s not my — where are you go—’

’I went to town this afternoon — I know I shouldn’t have done — and spent all this month’s salary on clothes.’


Brackets can mark off additional information in a similar way to commas and dashes. Look at the following sentences, for example:

Melanie Jones, the team leader, gave last-minute orders before the game.

Melanie Jones — the team leader — gave last-minute orders before the game.

Melanie Jones (the team leader) gave last-minute orders before the game.

All these are possible, but the phrase ’the team leader’ becomes increasingly isolated from the rest of the sentence. Brackets are the most powerful of the three elements of punctuation above. Very often they are too powerful for the writer’s purpose and should be used sparingly.

Bullet points

There are several different punctuation styles for bullet-pointed lists. It is very important to be consistent and use the same style throughout a document.

Most lists are introduced with a colon (:), not a semicolon (a common mistake). Occasionally, a list will be introduced by a sentence ending in a full stop rather than a colon. The writer needs to decide whether to make the first-level bullet points flushed to the left or indented in from the left. You also need to use the same type of bullet point throughout. The most common is the round black bullet point. For second-level bullet points, the most common are dashes or round hollow circles.

With lists that are made up of full sentences, use normal sentence punctuation, as in the following list.

Here are some tips for editing your writing:

Read your document the next day with fresh eyes.

Read your headings separately to see if they are consistent.

Ask someone else to read your document.

Semicolons were traditionally used in lists to separate each bullet point, but although this is still correct, they are not used as often now. If you do use semicolons, the accepted practice, as in this list, is to:

✵ put a semicolon at the end of each point;

✵ use ’and’ after the second-to-last point; and

✵ finish with a full stop.

Normally lower case is used for the first letter in each bullet point, and a full stop after the last bullet point.

Before you travel abroad, remember to:

make sure your passport is valid;

find out if you need any vaccinations;

check you have all your tickets.

Microsoft Word has a different default setting to this, in which all lists begin with initial capitals, and this is becoming a widely used style. As always, consistency is important.

When the lists consist of single word or very short items, it is now usual not to use any punctuation marks at the end of each item.

In punctuating sentences, it is important to be:





image A sentence can often be punctuated in more than one way but the meaning of the sentence may vary with different punctuation.

image There are 12 main punctuation marks in the English language.

image Capital letters have many uses. A sentence always begins with a capital letter and the personal pronoun ’I’ is always capitalised.

image Full stops signal the end of a sentence and may also be used in abbreviations.

image There are nine main uses for commas and additional optional uses.

image Semicolons either separate longer items in a list or link closely related statements.

image Colons introduce a list or a statement that explains or exemplifies what has just been said, or is used when a complete sentence develops another complete sentence.

image The two main uses of apostrophes are to show possession and to indicate omissions.

image Inverted commas, also known as speech or quotation marks, are used to indicate directly reported speech.

image Question marks and exclamation marks indicate sentences that are not simple statements.

image Hyphens can be used to continue a word between two lines, to join two or to combine two or more words or numbers, or to indicate a range.

image Dashes can be used to indicate a dramatic pause or hesitation or used instead of brackets to separate parts of a sentence.

image Brackets can mark off additional information in a similar way to commas and dashes but are the most powerful of the three elements.

image Bullet-pointed lists can be punctuated in a variety of ways and a consistent approach is very important.


Having familiarised yourself with the ’rules’ of punctuation, it would be useful at this point to examine some pieces of children’s writing.

✵ What punctuation mistakes, if any, can you spot in these pieces?

✵ What misunderstandings about punctuation do these mistakes seem to suggest?

In particular, you might consider whether the children are using punctuation as a way of indicating intonation and phrasing or whether they have a more grammatical sense of its use. Devise a programme of activities to address any misconceptions.


DfE (2013) Teachers’ Standards. London: DfE. (www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/208682/Teachers__Standards_2013.pdf)

King, G. (2000) Punctuation. London: Collins Wordpower. A comprehensive and very humorous guide to English punctuation.

Truss, L. (2003) Eats, Shoots and Leaves. London: Fourth Estate. The best-selling book about punctuation. The fact that this description is not a simple oxymoron indicates something about the readability of the book.

Vandyck, W. (2005) The Punctuation Repair Kit. London: Hodder. A humorous guide aimed at Key Stage 2 children.