I"d like to find one term which unites three parts of writing: grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Could orthography or proofreading be used to describe this?

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  • My guess is that you're asking for a word that distinguishes the analytical technical components of language from the more humanistic, raw components. How close am I?
    – tenfour
    Jul 11, 2012 at 1:09
  • Which components are which, and how do you tell? Jul 11, 2012 at 16:36
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    I remember a teacher at school being less than impressed at an exam board’s use of the acronym SPAG for this purpose... Jul 11, 2012 at 21:13
  • Only half in jest - perhaps the best single word would be ...education. Jul 28, 2013 at 20:06

7 Answers 7


There isn't really a word that refers to those three things and no others.

Grammar is not a part of writing. It's part of language, which is spoken.

Spoken language, of course, doesn't have any punctuation or spelling, but it does have grammar. And there are a lot of other things that go into writing besides spelling and punctuation.

I fear someone has been misinforming you.

  • I'd disagree with this statement quite a bit. Grammar certainly is part of writing, as writing is an expression of language. "He buyed me a cookies" is still ungrammatical despite my writing it and not speaking it.
    – Marcus_33
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:24
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    If you speak the language, you know the grammar, whether you can discuss it or not. And if you speak the language, you use your knowledge in writing it. That's certainly true. But grammar is only a very small part of the things you use in writing: there's rhetoric, stress, vocabulary choice, construction choice (one aspect of grammar), sociolinguistic factors, audience specialization, et complex cetera. "Grammar" per se, especially as taught in Anglophone schools, is largely irrelevant, when it's not downright mythology. Jul 11, 2012 at 17:30
  • I wonder what leads you to the belief that this (as I understand you very prescriptivist) way of teaching grammar is especially inherent to Anglophone schools. In my experience, it is almost universal in schools, regardless of language. There is also the fact that written and spoken grammar, generally, are two different things. There is a grammar of language as it is spoken, and a different grammar of language as it is written. Grammar is a part of language, which is spoken amd written. Jul 28, 2013 at 22:29
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    No, there's only grammar of spoken languages. There are no grammars of written language that are different from spoken grammars; but there are grammars for every spoken language, whether it has ever been written or not. Writing is just technology, a representation of spoken language, which is biological. Same as the difference between one's bicycle and one's legs. Jul 28, 2013 at 22:44
  • "[Grammar is] part of language, which is spoken." - Language can be spoken or written. Except some languages aren't spoken, e.g., sign language (which has its own grammar; it isn't a visual representation of standard English). "But grammar is only a very small part of the things you use in writing" - All of the things you list that are done in writing also apply to spoken language. Having said that, I do agree with you that the grammar of a language is not specific to the written form of that language, it does also (and chronologically first) apply to the spoken (or signed) form.
    – nnnnnn
    Apr 30, 2014 at 3:38

Teachers who assign student writing typically use some kind of rubric listing the various criteria by which the grade for the work is to be calculated. A common term for the criterion that includes grammar, spelling and punctuation is mechanics.

Here are is an extract from the online writing rubric by readwritethink under the criterion Mechanics:

Level 1 = Minimal : Many spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors; sentence fragments; incorrect use of capitalization

Level 4 = Outstanding : Correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation; complete sentences; correct use of capitalization

And here is an one from longwood.edu under the criterion Writing mechanics (Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation, Citations)

Level 4: The student uses correct grammar, makes essentially no errors of spelling or punctuation, and formats citations (if any) correctly.

Level 0: The writing's low-level mechanics are so poor that the language is incoherent and difficult to understand.

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    I see rubric has a sense I didn't know about: "A printed set of scoring criteria for evaluating student work and for giving feedback". Jul 11, 2012 at 16:04
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    That's funny- that's the only sense I did know about.
    – Jim
    Jul 28, 2013 at 18:08
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    It's a term of art in religious ceremonials. Like canon and canonical is in religious orthodoxies. Jul 28, 2013 at 23:03
  • See also: msu.edu/~jdowell/135/areaVI.html Nov 27, 2014 at 1:26

After looking up its definitions in several dictionaries, I would not use "orthography" as inclusive of (correct) grammar and punctuation, simply because it means:

  1. the conventional spelling system of a language.

  2. the study of spelling and how letters combine to represent sounds and form words.

[from the New Oxford American Dictionary]

1. a) the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage. b) the representation of the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols.

  1. a part of language study that deals with letters and spelling.

[from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

Perhaps the use of "orthography" seems pretentious to some, but the evidence, according to the authorities, is strongly in favor of its having to do with spelling, and spelling alone. Incidentally, it's generally recommended to do research before drawing conclusions or stating one's opinions.

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    So what is your answer to the OP's question? You have made a comment, pertinent, but still only a comment.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 28, 2013 at 17:27
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    It is most definitely an answer to the question "Could orthography or proofreading be used to describe this?", which the OP posed. This is what happens when an OP includes several different questions. Jul 28, 2013 at 18:27
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    I agree. It's an answer, and it's a correct answer. That's what we're here for. Jul 28, 2013 at 20:52
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    The problem is that the title question is different from the body question. This is not an answer to the title question.
    – tchrist
    Jul 29, 2013 at 3:19

I would use 'orthography' as inclusive of (correct) grammar and punctuation, not solely as a slightly pretentious synonym of 'accepted spelling'.


I just looked at the title for this site; and realized that "English Usage" may best capture the cmbination of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar.



I forget what the A stands for.



In programming languages, a typo can lead to a syntax error.

In linguistics, syntax (from Ancient Greek σύνταξις "coordination" from σύν syn, "together," and τάξις táxis, "an ordering") is "the study of the principles and processes by which sentences are constructed in particular languages." - Chomsky, Noam (2002) [1957]. Syntactic Structures. p. 11

The correct ordering of symbols covers grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

The correct order is still specified by the language grammar, though, see grammaticality.

  • Easily the best answer. Jul 2, 2021 at 23:41

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