Grammar and punctuation

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Advice Leaflets

Advice leaflets originally produced for the Study Advice Service in the University of Hull, which holds the copyright:

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Everyone has a knowledge of grammar. This is the deep knowledge we all have of the language we speak. If you didn't know grammar, this article wouldn't make sense to you; you couldn't speak, read or write English. What frightens most people about grammar is that they don't have the technical vocabulary to talk about it: their knowledge is implicit ('natural') rather than explicit ('learned').

You have almost certainly been told that the end of a sentence must have a full stop, or have some connective to the material round it. If you do have some technical knowledge, then it may help to realise that a sentence, in formal academic English writing at any rate, should have at least a subject and a main verb. That is also the definition of a clause. Simple sentences contain one clause.

Compound and complex sentences have more than one clause, and are characteristic of academic writing. Compound sentences are the ones connected by and, but, or, or nor; complex sentences are joined by subordinating conjunctions or relative pronouns (wh-words), which often have a meaning in expressing the logical relationship of the clauses they link, though this can be exaggerated.

Compound sentences can look like this:

Point 1 and Point 2, but Point 3

Complex sentences can look something like this:

[Subordinate Clause (e.g. If we now look at this)] + [Main Clause (e.g. we see)] + [Subordinate Clause (e.g. that punctuation is easy)]

By connective we mean some way of linking two sentences. The commonest are conjunctions (joining words) and relative pronouns (wh- words); but you can also use punctuation as links. (See semi-colon, colon, and parenthesis above.) When you use a sentence conjunction (and, but, or, nor) you should not use a full stop. When you use a subordinating conjunction (such as although, because, in order to, since, etc.) you should use a comma or not, depending on how hard your sentence is to read (how long it is).

One trip-up that catches many writers is this. However is not a joining word. (If you want the detail, it is a sentence adverbial.) Use however after a full stop. In my view, therefore is the same - use it, normally, to start a new sentence, not to link two separate sentences.

A note on ' or an example of what happens in speech punctuation:

"Good morning," he said.
"Oh, hi."
"Where are you going?" he asked.
She turned round. "None of your business."
He said, "Why are you always so touchy?"
She said, "It's because you're always so pushy."


More sophisticated punctuation