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Students and instructors sometimes believe that punctuation is a function only of writing. Many people are not aware that when we speak, we modulate our voices, separating one phrase from another. Our voices rise or fall, according to the meaning of what we want to say!

Speech is punctuated by pauses. A pause in speech, which is a breath, is taken at a point when a pause that separates grammatical elements makes sense. A breath is taken after completing a phrase of words that belong together. That way, words that belong together are heard together, and comprehension is easy. 

Another way we punctuate is known as intonation. When finishing a sentence, English speakers drop their voice at the end of a declarative statement and raise their voice when  asking a question. It is interesting to note that in recent decades, the practice of dropping the voice at the end of each declarative statement has changed. It is not uncommon to hear a conversation now where a declaration ends in rising intonation. For native speakers, intonation is acquired naturally. 



Click here for Punctuation Marks in English Writing

, comma 

. period

; semicolon

! exclamation mark

? question mark

"..." quotation marks

' apostrophe

The ability to punctuate writing correctly is a more complex matter. Learning how to punctuate writing correctly is an important part of learning and literacy, and demands study and practice. There are hard and fast rules that must be learned. When we write, we separate grammatical elements from each other by punctuation in a way that gives meaning to our writing. Punctuation helps us make sense of what we read and write. In both writing and speaking, if your intonation or punctuation is incorrect, listeners and readers will have a difficult time understanding what you are trying to communicate. 

For ESL learners, verbal intonation may be more difficult than written punctuation. Incorrect verbal intonation causes great problems in the ability to be understood.