// you’re reading...

Editing

The Funny Grammar Guide to Commas

Many people, if asked, would name the comma as one of the simplest punctuation marks. Learned before the quotation mark, the semi colon and the apostrophe, we should all be familiar with the rules that govern its usage. Yet this small, unassuming punctuation mark is responsible for countless English grammar mistakes, not only visible in the work of new writers but also across a wide spectrum of published materials, as our funny grammar examples will show.

Comma Splices

One of the most common English grammar mistakes involving commas is the ‘comma splice’. This describes a sentence where the writer tries to use a comma to join two independent clauses, as seen on this billboard advert. The Democrats might care for the poor, but they’re not so hot on their punctuation! The problem arises because commas are not ‘strong’ enough to join independent clauses, as they do not create enough separation between the two separate parts of the sentence.

TOP GRAMMAR TIP:

Remember, if the clauses in your sentence are independent, either use a colon or semicolon to separate them, or add a coordinating conjunction.

Coordinating conjunctions: for, but, nor, and, so, yet, or.

Missing Commas

Commas are used to create a pause, or separation between clauses in a sentence, but they are also used to separate items in a list. Remember, when writing a list, commas should appear in between each individual item, but not before the word ‘and’, which precedes the final item.

For example: Mary bought eggs, cream and milk.

Missing out commas in a list can completely change the meaning of your sentence, as this unfortunate magazine cover demonstrates!

Comma Substitutions

Another very common comma mistake is to insert the comma in place of another punctuation mark, such as an apostrophe or full stop. The sign in this restaurant window presents a whole plethora of grammar mistakes, among them the misuse of the comma instead of a full stop in the price. (Can you spot two other punctuation mistakes, involving quotation marks and an apostrophe?)

Avoid this mistake yourself by remembering that commas are only used to separate different ideas and items in a sentence, never to end a sentence or indicate an abbreviation.

FINAL GRAMMAR NOTE

There are occasional instances in the English language where the comma splice, used for stylistic effect, is acceptable. The famous phrase “I came, I saw, I conquered,” is an example. However, it is advisable to avoid it in your own writing as it is generally frowned upon as a grammatical mistake.

Discussion

4 comments for “The Funny Grammar Guide to Commas”

  1. I have always wondered what a spliced comma was and never knew – thank you for putting my mind at rest as I was always
    haunted by the slight fear that I might have accidentally been using one without knowing!

    Posted by Louisa | September 13, 2011, 9:23 am
  2. Sounds like you need to get out more Louisa! (Just kidding, sorry!) No just wanted to say this is very useful and I love the fun gentle approach that makes it fun too. Very nice style.

    Posted by Alfie | September 13, 2011, 10:59 pm
  3. I have a question for you fine people. The use of the comma in the sentence “F*ck off, work” bothers me a little. It seems like it turns the sentence into a list of things to do. “F*ck off. Then work.” Is “F*ck off work.” more correct? Or is it a bit of a moot point? I apologise for the bad language, I couldn’t think of a cleaner example! Thanks, Liam

    Posted by Liam | September 14, 2011, 12:48 am
  4. a panda eats, shoots and leaves or
    a panda eats shoots and leaves

    Posted by no-one | September 25, 2011, 3:28 pm

Post a comment

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free

editing services from oxbridge editing

Follow Us