Just when you think you’ve finally got your grammar and spelling sorted out, along comes something else to causewoes! Punctuation is one of the most common causes of mistakes in English writing. In this two-part Funny Grammar blog, we will explore some of the most common punctuation mistakes and remind you of the rules that will help you to avoid making them in your own writing.
Commas are among the simplest punctuation marks, but because they can be used in several different ways, they still cause confusion for many writers. The first and simplest use of a comma is to separate different clauses or parts of a sentence. By far the easiest way to work out where a comma should go is to read the sentence aloud. Wherever you would naturally pause while reading, you should insert a comma in the sentence. This is because when we read a sentence aloud, we naturally use pauses to imply where there is a separation between different ideas.
The famous example of this is in the difference between these two sentences:
“Let’s eat, Grandpa”. And: “let’s eat Grandpa!”
So this grocery store owner has been rather over-zealous with the use of commas in the freezer aisle, as the words ‘ice’ and ‘cold’ are intended to be connected and therefore should not be separated by a comma.
Commas are also used to separate items in a list.
For example: I bought bread, eggs, milk, honey and tea.
TOP GRAMMAR TIPRemember that when using commas in this way, it is not necessary to include a comma before the word ‘and’.
Finally, don’t make the same mistake as this toy shop owner – never use commas for abbreviations; you need an apostrophe for that!
Speech marks (also sometimes called inverted commas) are most frequently used, as their name suggests, to show that somebody is speaking.
For example: “Children,” called the teacher, “come back inside now.”
However there has recently been a trend for using inverted commas to imply irony or scepticism. (You may even have noticed people sketching speech marks in the air with their fingers whilst talking to imply that they are not convinced by a particular idea or phrase.)
When used in this way, the inverted commas suggest that whilst something has been claimed, or named by somebody else, the person speaking does not entirely believe the claim.
For example: My daughter did not go to school today. She claimed her “blinding headache” meant she couldn’t possibly concentrate on her maths test.
Or: Supernatural fanatics have pointed to the “clear evidence” that there was a full moon last week as proof of werewolf activity.
Unfortunately however, this relatively new use of the punctuation mark is frequently misinterpreted as a means of emphasis, leading to many embarrassing punctuation mistakes, as this unfortunate birthday cake shows. The children in question, whilst trying affectionately to celebrate their father’s birthday, have accidentally suggested that they have doubts about their true paternity!
So remember – speech marks should be used for speech, NOT for emphasis!