The Oxbridge Editing Blog 2nd December 2010

Funny grammar mistakes: Commas

2nd December 2010
Speak right now to our live team of English staff

Next on our list of funny grammar mistakes is one of the most commonly used (and misused) items of punctuation in English grammar rules – the comma. The comma is used to break up two clauses where a pause is needed in a sentence. Sometimes the pause is because a new idea or different topic is being introduced, or sometimes it separates items in a list.

What commas certainly do, whether by their presence or their absence, is to powerfully change the meaning of a sentence. So the accidental omission or inclusion of commas in the wrong place can lead to some hilarious grammar mistakes, as this child’s writing mistake shows. In this case of course, the comma is intended to separate the intention of the sentence from the addressee, or person being spoken to. Always remember to include a comma before the name of the person being spoken to in dialogue.

In lists, commas often separate different items from one another – a simple enough concept. However, accidentally missing out a comma will automatically having the effect of making the two consecutive terms it should separate seem like one item in the list, as this hapless CV writer discovered the hard way. Let’s hope she wasn’t going for a job interview at a Battersea dog’s home!

Perhaps the most common example of English grammar rules being broken by comma misuse is the famous quote on which this ubiquitous grammar book was based; ‘eats, shoots and leaves’. Here, the comma should not have been inserted, because there should not be a gap between eats and shoots: the sense of the sentence should be allowed to run straight on.

We also think these genuine examples are pretty funny reminders of just how important commas are and how disastrously you can change the meaning of your sentence by using them incorrectly!

“Goats cheese salad ingredients: lettuce, tomato, goats, cheese”

This example is a hilarious comma mistake from a genuine restaurant menu! The accidental inclusion of an extra comma has suddenly made the menu a lot less vegetarian-friendly!

“Slow children crossing”

This brilliant funny grammar mistake comes from a real road sign, which instead of warning motorists to kill their speed because of children crossing the road, instead warns of unusually snail-paced children in the area!

And finally one last example, which genuinely appeared in the Times, intended as a brief description of a Peter Ustinov documentary:

“Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector”

So remember: the simplest way to check your comma use and make sure you aren’t breaking any grammar rules is simply to read through your sentence, making sure that there should be a genuine pause or gap everywhere you have inserted a comma.