+44 (0)1225 731 373
Sunday 19th May 2013 /
Never has such a little punctuation mark been so greatly misunderstood. So we decided it was only fair to give it the love it deserves.
Some people think of the comma as just the pawn of punctuation, in that it’s not quite as valuable as the full stop or the question mark, or as newsworthy as the infamously abused apostrophe.
But imagine reading what’s been written here so far, without any commas. You’d probably have given up wondering why nothing makes sense because that’s what commas do so well creating lists joining and setting off phrases avoiding confusion injecting rhythm and providing the necessary breathing spaces. See, you miss them when they’re not there.
Sometimes the best way of demonstrating the comma’s importance is with amusing examples:
On a road sign by a school –
‘SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING’ instead of, ‘SLOW, CHILDREN CROSSING’
On a curriculum vitae –
‘My interests include: cooking dogs, shopping, dancing and reading.’
Without commas, you’d have motorists puzzled at why children were moving at a snail’s pace. And probably scare off prospective employers at your implication of canine culinary activity.
However, it’s not just leaving commas out that causes problems. Many people are guilty of overusing them, too, ending up with clunky, rambling writing, that also tends to be made up of very, very long sentences when, really, a full stop to break things up would have been a much better choice.
Commas are brilliant for separating contrasting ideas in the same sentence, or to set off expressions that interrupt the flow of your writing. And of course, lists of three or more elements are much easier to digest when broken up with commas.
Both in print and online, we appreciate that language and punctuation evolves. But overall, we believe the little tadpole-like nine-shaped creature deserves respect – almost all writing looks, flows and feels better for it.