# What is $dx$ in integration?

When I was at school and learning integration in maths class at A Level my teacher wrote things like this on the board.

$$\int f(x)\, dx$$

When he came to explain the meaning of the $dx$, he told us “think of it as a full stop”. For whatever reason I did not raise my hand and question him about it. But I have always shaken my head at such a poor explanation for putting a $dx$ at the end of integration equations such as these. To this day I do not know the purpose of the $dx$. Can someone explain this to me without resorting to grammatical metaphors?

The motivation behind integration is to find the area under a curve. You do this, schematically, by breaking up the interval $[a, b]$ into little regions of width $\Delta x$ and adding up the areas of the resulting rectangles. Here’s an illustration from Wikipedia:
$$\sum_x f(x)\Delta x\approx\int_a^b f(x)\,dx,$$
where we take those rectangle widths to be vanishingly small and refer to them as $dx$.