Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Comma

The comma. It can be described in many words such as: elusive, abused, misunderstood and confusing just to name a few. The use of the comma may be one of the first grammar rules we learn, but it is more often the first rule we forget. When used properly it can signal breaks in a sentence and the pasting of two independent clauses together, but when used incorrectly it can cause mass chaos. One comma error that has caught much public, and has been included in many funny email montages, is the “Slow Children Crossing” road sign. While it is supposed to serve as an indication that decreasing your vehicle’s speed would be a good idea because of a nearby park or school, the absent comma implies that the children are mentally handicapped. Cleary, this offensive mistake could have been avoided with one thing; a comma.

It is in unfortunate, yet humorous, mistakes such as that one that we can see the colossal importance of one of the tiniest characters in the English language. Due to the obvious fact that the comma has been abused repeatedly over time with no remorse, many people have surfaced that have made it their own personal battle to re-establish respect for the comma. Perhaps one of the more public crusades is that of Lynn Truss; the author of the novel Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. The cover of Truss’ book playfully displays a panda, to which the first chunk of the title refers to, walking away with a gun while another panda on a ladder paints over the misplaced comma between Eats and Shoots. Yet another example of the sort of havoc a misplaced comma can cause; a panda that eats, shoots and leaves. It is a slightly scary, but logically unsound sentence. Truss also takes a shot at the plight of the apostrophe; an issue further discussed here by Brieanne Graham. Truss makes a point of re-educating the masses on previously relaxed punctuation rules. Similarly to Truss’s waging of war on ignorant punctuation, the Imperial College in London has launched a petition to save the comma and there are several Facebook groups dedicated to the same cause.

To avoid the wrath of these punctual dictators one would do well to review the rules of comma use. It may even help school grades and the overall perception of one’s writing capabilities. No one wants to include a “slow children playing” like error in a business report or a high school essay. You never know just who you might be offending.


  1. I agree that proper comma use is important. It is almost unfortunate that a simple misuse of a comma can change the context of a sentence completely, but it is crucial to use them correctly.

  2. Commas can be tricky to use. I often find myself making a comma splice. They can be over used quite easily.

  3. I like your image, as there are times when I myself lack in "comma sense." I think the comma is probably the most misused punctuater (my new word for the day) there is.

  4. I agree with the sentiment that while commas are the most heavily used punctuation, they are also the most frequently misused.