Grammar vs. Punctuation – What’s the Difference?

Two essential features of language are grammar and punctuation. We use these aspects to become more effective speakers and writers who convey messages clearly. 

But grammar and punctuation are different. They differ in meaning, focus, and application. 

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So, what’s the difference between grammar and punctuation? Is punctuation part of grammar? Find out the answers by reading this guide on grammar vs. punctuation. 

What is Grammar?

Grammar refers to a language’s structure or the way we combine words to form sentences and paragraphs with a complete thought. It also dictates where a word should be placed and why. 

One simple grammar rule is that every sentence includes a noun and verb. Without one, it wouldn’t be a sentence of which you know the meaning. 

For example, “Mary swims.” is a sentence because it has a noun and verb. It’s composed of two tiny words that express a complete thought. 

Grammar can also be described as the basic study of words. It is concerned with the inflections of words or accidence and syntax or the structure of sentences. Grammar also tackles the different parts of speech, including nouns, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, etc.

Every language has different grammatical rules. For example, in English, adjectives should always come before nouns. 

Another example of a grammatical rule is to add -s or -es to regular nouns when forming the plural form. For example, “tree” becomes “trees,” and “candy” becomes “candies.” 

Parts of Speech

Let’s go back to basics and discuss the parts of speech.

  • Nouns are names for persons, places, objects, and concepts.
  • Pronouns take the place of nouns.
  • Verbs express time while showing action, condition, or state of being.
  • Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns.
  • Adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, and fellow adverbs.
  • Prepositions show the relationship between nouns or pronouns and some other word.
  • Conjunctions join clauses, phrases, and words. 
  • Interjections express strong emotion or reaction.

What are Examples of Grammar?

Here are some examples of grammar based on its definition.

Grammar as the Classes of Words

Grammar studies the classes of words or the different parts of speech. 

He, she, it, and they, we, you, and I are examples of nominative pronouns. We can turn them into the objective case if they function as objects in the sentence. These include him, her, it, them, us, you, and me. 

Another example of a part of speech is a verb, available in different tenses. One grammar rule regarding verbs is to add -d or -ed when changing it to past tense. That means “walk” becomes “walked,” and “rate” becomes “rated.”

Grammar as Study of Inflection

In this case, inflection refers to the change in the form of a word to take on a different meaning. The grammar rule on verb tenses is one example. Another example is the use of -er and -est to show degrees of comparison.

We use -er for some adjectives when we want to change them into the comparative form. Instead of “pretty,” we say “prettier.” Instead of “cold,” it becomes “colder.”

Use “-est” to change the adjective into the superlative form. For example, “clean” turns into “cleanest” to show that the degree of cleanliness is at its highest.

Grammar as Study of Word Functions

Grammar looks at the role of every word in the sentence and how they connect based on the arrangement. Syntax is an aspect of grammar that discusses the parts of sentences, such as the subject, predicate, and object.

You’ll also learn through syntax that verbs can be transitive or intransitive. If there’s a direct object, it’s transitive. If it doesn’t have one, it’s intransitive. Here are some examples:

  • I attended my classes.

In this sentence, “I” is a pronoun in the nominative case that functions as the sentence’s subject. It is followed by the verb “attended,” which is in its past form. Then, “my” is a pronoun that modifies the noun “classes.” “Classes” functions as a direct object. 

  • Dogs sleep on pillows because of the smell.

“Dogs” is the plural form of the word “dog,” which is the sentence’s subject. “Sleep” is a present tense verb followed by the preposition “on” and the object of the preposition, “pillows.” “Because” is a subordinating conjunction followed by the preposition “of.”

“The” is an article that modifies “smell.” In this sentence, “smell” functions as a noun instead of a verb. 

What is Punctuation?

Punctuation refers to a set of symbols that control texts and what they mean. We separate these texts into phrases, clauses, and sentences. 

Punctuation can also be described as a feature in writing that tells us how to read the text. For example, question marks, periods, and exclamation points indicate a full stop with different meanings. Commas and semicolons may indicate a pause and more. 

Punctuation Symbols

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Here are some of the most common punctuation marks:

  • Periods or full stops (.) separate sentences.
  • Question marks (?) also separate sentences while designating a question.
  • Commas (,) indicate a pause and separate parts of sentences.
  • Exclamation marks (!) indicate intense emotion while separating sentences.
  • Apostrophes (‘) show missing letters in contractions.
  • Semicolons (;) help avoid run-on sentences by joining two sentences.
  • Parentheses ( () ) separate additional information within a sentence. 
  • Colons (:) denote lists and quotations.
  • Hyphens (-) separate words or show the spelling of words. 

What are Examples of Punctuation?

This writing feature shows that grammar rules are not enough. Even if you observe the correct order of words, improper punctuation can still change the meaning. Here’s an example:

  • Let’s eat dad.
  • Let’s eat, dad.

The first sentence indicates that “dad” is a direct object of the verb “eat.” It means the speaker is demanding to eat dad with someone else.

The second sentence considers “dad” as the direct address of the sentence because a comma separates it. The speaker is talking to dad, asking to eat.

Here’s another famous example:

  • Woman, without her man, is nothing.
  • Woman: without her, man is nothing.

We can use commas to separate appositives. Appositives are words that rename a noun, such as “without her man” in the first sentence. The first sentence means that a woman is nothing without her man.

The second sentence has an entirely different meaning, stressing the word “woman.” It means without a woman, a man is nothing.  

Difference Between Grammar and Punctuation

Now, let’s break down the difference between grammar and punctuation and understand the relationships between elements of both.

Meaning

Grammar is the rules that dictate how we should construct words, phrases, and clauses. Here’s a little practice exercise. 

Examples:

  • “Unhappy” comes from the root word “happy” and the derivational prefix “un-.”
  • “Tall woman” is a phrase composed of an adjective followed by a noun. 

Punctuation refers to symbols that clarify a text’s meaning. 

Examples:

  • “Who is she?” is an interrogative sentence because of the question mark at the end.
  • “Ann, Julia, and Pat” are separated by commas to show that there are three different nouns.

Focus

Grammar deals with words. 

Examples:

  • Grammar may be concerned with the placement of a subordinating conjunction to introduce a dependent clause.
  • Grammar discusses nouns that can function as adjectives in sentences.

Meanwhile, punctuation deals with symbols.

Examples:

  • “?” is the symbol for a question mark.
  • “-” is the symbol for a hyphen, while a longer hyphen (–) is an en dash. There’s also an em dash (—) to break sentences. 

Application

Grammar is used for both speech and writing. That means you must follow its rules, whether you’re writing an essay or preparing for a presentation in front of the class. 

But punctuation only applies to written communication. For instance, you don’t say “comma” out loud, but you know you should pause when you’re reading. 

Schools of Thought

We learned many of these conventions from our high school English teacher, but it’s easy to forget things over the years. As an English writer, the only school of thought that guides our use of punctuations is syntactic. But grammar is guided by two disciplines: prescriptive and descriptive. Both are common practices in writing.

Why is Grammar Important?

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Grammatical elements let us quickly convey what we want to express or communicate to someone. It provides all the rules and tools we need to speak and write as effectively as possible. A systematic language system will also help you sound more fluent. Even one incorrect piece of grammar can change the entire meaning of a sentence. 

Consider this example:

“The concert were fantastic. My favorite band played at the concert. My favorite band is from Australia.”

The short paragraph sounds monotonous and repetitive. But if we follow grammar rules, we understand that we should observe sentence variety. 

It also makes sense to use pronouns to replace their antecedents. Changing “were” to “was” becomes necessary to fix the subject-verb disagreement. 

Here’s a better version of the example above. It’s only made of one sentence but expresses the same idea with proper grammar. 

“The concert was fantastic. My favorite band from Australia played.”

Each type of written or graphic work requires its own style guides, depending on various factors, but an editor can ensure consistency with all grammar in the piece. Fellow writers, brush up on your grammar skills before submitting anything. 

Why Is Punctuation Important?

Proper punctuation is essential if you want to clarify the meaning of what you are writing. A simple absence of a comma can change the whole meaning of the sentence, especially for those with complex structures.

The addition of quotation marks for words can also imply something. Writers typically use it to distance themselves from the words. So, when someone calls you a “professional” writer, it could mean the writer isn’t the one who claims you’re a professional. 

Another example of how punctuation changes the meaning of a word is when we add hyphens to adjectives. “Man eating lion” is different from “man-eating lion.”

Not observing proper punctuation use can lead to a comma splice. It’s a run-on where the writer joins two sentences using only a comma. Here’s an example of a comma splice:

  • Marley almost destroyed the couch, the owner caught him.

One way to solve a comma splice is by replacing a comma with a semicolon. 

  • Marley almost destroyed the couch; the owner caught him.

You can separate both clauses with a period to create two full sentences.

  • Marley destroyed the couch. The owner caught him.

Is Punctuation Part of Grammar?

No, punctuation is not grammar. Both concepts aren’t the same, although they work together to improve one’s writing. Each has its own list of rules to adhere to.

Grammar refers to the structure of the language, including the rules on every part of speech and syntax. It discusses the type of sentences, sentence structure, parts of sentences, knowing when to use a slight pause, and the function of every word in sentences.

Grammar refers to things like proper nouns, verbs, tenses, and the construction of clauses in your piece of writing. When reviewing a written piece of work, a grammar editor might look for natural pauses, sentence usage, correct usage of tense, verbs, nouns, proper pronouns, etc. 

Punctuation marks refer to standard symbols we use to understand the meaning of sentences further. The style of punctuation uses a list of items like the degree symbol, commas, periods, exclamation marks, quotation marks, and more. These kinds of symbols are key to proper punctuation.

The proper usage of punctuation falls under writing conventions. Capitalization rules and spellings are also part of writing conventions.

Notice how they are called “writing conventions” because they do not matter in speech. You don’t have to observe proper capitalization or spelling when speaking with a coworker or giving a speech. 

Observing proper grammar and writing conventions is essential to make you a better writer. Doing so will help you create more precise and error-free writing. Many AI checkers combine both writing features when trying to check your text for mistakes. 

Is Incorrect Punctuation a Grammatical Error?

It might sound like common sense, but more people mess this up than you think. Incorrect punctuation is a punctuation error and not a grammatical error. But if we go by the meaning of grammar as the all-embracing language rule, then punctuation mistakes are grammar mistakes.

What matters is that proper punctuation and grammar clarify the meaning of a sentence. They work together to express a clear and complete thought.

Does Spelling Count as Grammar?

Spelling errors do not count as grammar errors because it does not refer to the arrangement of words. Instead, it’s the correct arrangement of the letters to form a word. Spelling is also not part of grammar because it only focuses on written language and not speech.

This feature falls under writing conventions. One can group it alongside capitalization and punctuation rules. 

Both spelling and grammar help sentences make sense. Writers need to observe both rules to keep their writing understandable. A misplaced comma is just as important to catch as using proper pronouns. 

Final Word on Grammar vs. Punctuation

Now you know the difference between grammar and punctuation. Grammar refers to the system of language that deals with word order. Punctuation refers to the symbols or marks that clarify a sentence’s meaning. 

Grammar and punctuation are different language aspects that cover diverse rules. But they do not cover everything. Other rules exist for spelling, capitalization, and writing style.