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The Comma: Common Grammar Errors

Cynthia is a writer, artist, and teacher. She loves studying language, arts, and culture, and sharing that knowledge.

Conjunction Junction - And, Or, But - School House Rock

The Comma - A Little History

The comma, that little mark related to the apostrophe in its looks, is one that causes such angst to many a writer. Whether to leave it or omit it is a gray area, even for the best of writers.

You may ask, "Who needs commas?"

Given that I've used a comma four times already in this little bit of writing may indicate that I need commas.

They're such trite little buggers, aren't they?

The comma wasn't always part of the English language. In fact, its use has only been documented for about five centuries. Monks and other esoteric types needed a way to separate text so they could read it aloud. Imagine having to read something like this to an audience:

IFYOUCANREADTHISTHENYOU

AREAMAZINGBECAUSETHE

MONKSFINALLYHADTOCOME

UPWITHASYSTEMTOFIGURE

OUTHOWTOPUTPAUSESAND

OTHERQUESTIONSINTHETEXT

ANDLETTERSWEREINBIG

BLOCKSOFTEXT.

So, you can see why literary types went on to adopt a system of marks and pauses - comprehension and knowing when a person could take a breath were important.

Things today are a little different. We have, little by little, been using punctuation less and less. We write shorter sentences, especially for the internet.

So, who's to say what's to become of the comma? Well, for now, it's still essential. I will tell you why in Mister Comma's story.

Mister Comma's Story

Mister Comma is at once tiny and ubiquitous in everyday writing. But, his job has become easier over the years.

Authors of yesteryear lived to write ornate, descriptive sentences. Charles Dickens, for example, would have page-long sentences on occasion - filled with commas, semicolons and dashes.

Mister Comma was always happy about this. He has helped to decorate sentences, painting scenes inside the reader's head with adverbial phrases and interjections, for generations. If anyone has job security, it is the comma.

Mister Comma knows his job is still secure, though. Many a sentence could not go on without him. Take, for instance, the following sentence:

She went to the store and bought cookies, chocolate, cream cakes, ice cream and candy.

Aside from such sweet pleasures as candy and cookies, Mister Comma avails himself in lists to avoid confusion.

Without the correct use of Mister Comma, something different could happen:

She went to the store and bought cookies chocolate cream cakes ice cream and candy.

I think I'd like to try the flavor "cookies chocolate cream cakes" ice cream.

Mister Comma will also tell you that he won't go in before the "and" in a list. He has other things to do anyway.

Of course, some literary types will insist that Mister Comma properly performs his job duties and that he insert himself before the last "and" in a list. It depends on the feisty-ness of the writer. Really, some circles say he should, and some say he shouldn't. He doesn't like that aspect of his job: too many conflicting points of view drive him a little crazy.

the-comma-uses-of-but-and-with

Mister Comma Loves But's, And's, Or's, Yet's, and Other Conjunctions

Mister Comma always chuckles at the word conjunctions. They always remind him of that icky eye disease conjunctivitis. He has to wonder who makes up these words? But then he thinks about the roots of English and wonders no more - so varied with Latin and Greek origins, and borrowed words from other languages.

In any case, he also has an affection for the beloved conjunction because sentences need Mister Comma.

She cried and cried, but she still wouldn't leave that job.

Jake played with his toys for hours, yet he didn't finish his homework.

Mister Comma wouldn't have it any other way.

Mister Comma's Job Description Is Extensive

Mister Comma loves these little words called interjections. They're little one-word insertions that express an emotion or a command. They may or may not carry meaning.

Stop, or I'm going to tell Mom!

Geez, why do you do that?

Mister Comma sometimes like to think of himself as quite the grammatical guru. He especially hangs out around those parenthetical phrases. He won't tell you, however, that parenthetical phrases are really parts of sentences that aren't necessary to get the point across.

I am, without a doubt, going slowly insane.

Without a doubt? Really? Did I really have to insert "without a doubt" to know that I'm going slowly insane? Mister Comma will gladly say otherwise. He'll agree, without a doubt.

Her hair, straggly and greasy, is getting long.

Mister Comma will tell you that straggly and greasy is essential for his use in the above sentence, but it makes no difference to the fact that some girl's hair is getting long. We don't have to know that her hair is straggly and greasy, unless we feel like gossiping.

Some Final Notes About Mister Comma's Job

He advises you not to be stupid. It's part of his job, you see.

Use him in logical places so that there are natural pauses in the sentence. Also use him in places where you don't want to change the meaning of the sentence.

Mason walked on his feet, a little more sore than usual.

Mister Comma wants to know something. Did you really mean what you said in the above sentence? Or did you mean:

Mason walked on, his feet a little more sore than usual.

Are we talking about Mason being sore or are we talking about Mason walking on? See? Don't be stupid. Mister Comma will not tell you when you're being ambiguous and crazy; he'll just do what you ask him to do because only you know what you're really trying to say.

Here's another example:

Parents eat free food with your children.

Mister Comma wants to know how you can enjoy food with children in it. He must insist you employ him more effectively here:

Parents, eat free food, with your children.

Yes, this was on your neighborhood church sign.

Use Mister Comma with a little wisdom and he'll be more likely to be understood, correctly, the first time.

© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun

Comments

Karenmcg925@gmail.com on August 24, 2019:

Well, being from south Louisiana we don’t use commas or speak with any knowledge of sentence structure. What are you going to do with a group of people who say I’m going to make groceries. And we spell wrong. But, I would like to learn. Merci’

chris varghese on February 11, 2013:

great explanation abt the use of commas

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on July 01, 2012:

Josh - behold the Crazy Cyndi, possessor of Comma Knowledge. :D

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on June 30, 2012:

Cyndi, again an amazing, intellectual and hilarious hub on grammar! Voted, up, awesome, funny and interesting! :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on June 16, 2012:

Julie - WOW! I'm so honored! Thank you so much for your kind words and comments. Now...if I can keep cranking out wacky, humorous grammar hubs, I'll be doing great! :) Hubhugs!

Blurter of Indiscretions from Clinton CT on June 16, 2012:

I just pasted an RSS feed for your grammar posts on my blog. Love them that much!!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on May 08, 2012:

Hi, Cyndi. :) Hehe, my crazy little characters will hopefully help people to figure out those commas. They sure can be little headaches, can't they? Thanks so much for stopping by. It's fun to see another "Cyndi". :)

Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on May 08, 2012:

Hello Cyndi, I love your little characters! Thanks so much for clearing up the coma in a list before "and." I was taught you didn't need it and later had others to vehemently (you know how people can be) tell that I did need. Now, whatever my fingers type (or not) that what happens to the comma before "and." Other pieces of comma info were appreciated, too. Thanks for writing. Voted up and Sharing.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on April 24, 2012:

Eric - hehe, that's EXACTLY what my husband says. I speak Spanish, too, and he says that he would have actually looked at the textbook if he knew his future wife was going to speak Spanish. But, hopefully my grammar hubs make it less painful. ;)

Eric Calderwood from USA on April 23, 2012:

Great hub. At age 43, I still need to learn about proper punctuation. I should have studied harder in school.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 17, 2012:

Thank you, Donna. Mr. Comma certainly has a crazy personality, no? Hehe. Thanks for stopping by! ~CC

Donna Cosmato from USA on February 17, 2012:

Thanks to you and Mr. Comma for an entertaining and enlightening read on his many duties and tasks. Great tutorial for students, educators, writers...well, really just about anyone!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 15, 2012:

KimberlyLake - aw, thank you for stopping by! I'm so glad you enjoyed Mr. Comma. He does get around. :) Thank you so much for your warm comments.

Kimberly Lake from California on February 14, 2012:

Very, very, enjoyable. Mr. Comma gets around, can't live with him, can't live without him. Looking forward to many, many more hubs from you!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 14, 2012:

beezico - thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Glad you liked this hub. :)

Olusola Omo Badmus from London, United Kingdom on February 14, 2012:

I love this one... Really inventive. Thumbs up!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 12, 2012:

And you are my "Millionaire" friend! Thank you so much - this is like the best compliment a writer could have. *Thank you*

Shasta Matova from USA on February 12, 2012:

Hey I'm back to let you know that I have included this hub in my weekly favorites. Knowledge is wealth, so you are a Millionaire in that regard!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 10, 2012:

Hehehe...yes, I really don't like it when grammatical types put on airs. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by - I feel like a Millionaire! :D

Shasta Matova from USA on February 10, 2012:

A delightful and entertaining hub that also informs without sounding condescending. Voted up.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 08, 2012:

katrinasui - hehe, those cantankerous commas are always lurking around. I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. :)

katrinasui on February 08, 2012:

Good to know the history of Comma:)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 06, 2012:

Hehe, thanks RedElf. I may have to write some more of these. I thought three might be enough, but I keep getting such great feedback about them. :D Thanks so much for your wonderful comments.

RedElf from Canada on February 06, 2012:

I am enjoying your punctuation series.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 04, 2012:

Ah, yes, Mr. Comma sometimes finds ways to be devious and coy. But, he certainly loves his job and likes when the humans use his services. :D Thanks for stopping by, L.L.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 04, 2012:

rebeccamealey - hehe. Mr. Comma certainly knows his days are not numbered. I'm glad you liked reading about him. :)

L.L. Woodard from Oklahoma City on February 04, 2012:

Enjoyed reading your rules and examples of usage of the comma, that sometimes elusive tool of punctuation.

Voted up and SHARED.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on February 04, 2012:

A very fun read. I really enjoyed it. I think Mr.Comma has plenty of job security even with short sentences and the internet!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 04, 2012:

Brett - why thank you, sir. :) Mister Comma does lend himself to comedic tendencies when he sees fit. Haha. Thanks for the compliments and comments.

Brett C from Asia on February 04, 2012:

Up, funny, useful and AWESOME!

I love the way that you explain the comma's use in such a detailed way, while keeping it fun and light to read ... really nice job!

SHARING SOCIALLY and Tweeting.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

Peggy W - hehehe. It would be such a "sin" to have children on the menu. Thanks so much for stopping by. :D

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 03, 2012:

Thanks for illustrating how to properly use the comma. We do not want the church people thinking that children are also on the menu! Haha!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

WD Curry - well, I must say, you have no idea how snooty Senorita Semicolon is. Just you wait. ;)

WD Curry 111 from Space Coast on February 03, 2012:

Don't underestimate the little comma, it is taking over the semicolon's territory.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

LOL, EclecticFusion. You've managed to crack me up. Uh-oh, I might need to be detained by the men in white coats. I haven't started the hub on semicolons, yet, but you've totally convinced me that I need to do it. I'll start it tonight. :D

Lisa from Tennessee on February 03, 2012:

I'm actually in comma rehab. I'll do better one day! Oh, and please write about semicolons. I am so scared of them!

Excellent hub!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

mljdgulley354 - thanks for stopping by, friend! I'm so glad you liked this one. Wow, based on these comments, I'm going to have to write about the semicolon next. Thank you so much for sharing, mlj. You're awesome. :)

mljdgulley354 on February 03, 2012:

Awesome hub and so much needed. Thank you for sharing this great information. Voted up and will be sharing.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

mooboomoo - oh, not the comma paranoia. :) Nah, those commas aren't too bad unless you're like me and sometimes you use them a little too much. Thanks for the votes and for commenting.

mooboomoo from London on February 03, 2012:

Excellent hub, thank you. I've never had much trouble with the comma (I love using them), but I do know some who have and I think your article will definatley help them.

Now I've said that I'm getting comma paranoia!

Voted up and interesting.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by again, Vinaya. I am having fun with these for sure. :) Perhaps I'll write about the semicolon next.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

Joelipoo - I too just LOVE grammar but it's because I teach Spanish and have to teach my English-speaking students the rules of English so they can figure out how to speak Spanish. Thanks again for stopping by. :)

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on February 03, 2012:

What an amusing style to write about grammar. Your illustrative article is useful and informative

Joel from Ohio on February 03, 2012:

@cclitgirl - Grammar is far too interesting to me. I have a whole comma lesson plan I developed with easy to understand examples such as those. I realize the struggle people have with grammar because it is such a complex thing.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

Oh! Another grammar-phile! I love your examples, Joelipoo. Serial commas give serious food for thought!! Excellent examples.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

Hehehe...given that my AP English teacher from high school follows my hubs, I'd better make her proud. Thanks, billybuc for your comments.

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

Alocsin, I so love your visits and comments. Thank you a million times for your votes and insights. :)

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

Thanks, Cliff. Oh, the English language, so full of exceptions to the rules and arbitrary grammar. :) I think even native English speakers are always learning, too. Thanks for stopping by!

Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on February 03, 2012:

Thanks, O'Dan. :D I'm a chronic user of commas. Always good to hear from you and read your insightful comments.

Joel from Ohio on February 03, 2012:

@Cliff - You should definitely use the serial, Oxford, Harvard, or whatever you want to call it comma. Take a look at the following two sentences.

I dedicate this book to my parents, John and Susan.

I dedicate this book to my parents, John, and Susan.

The comma completely changes the meaning of the sentence. In the first sentence, the book is being dedicated to two people. Those two people are the author's parents. Because the serial comma is not used, it turns into an appositive. In the second sentence, the book is dedicated to four people. The use of the serial comma in this sentence entirely changes meaning. While in some setences the meaning won't be altered, it is still correct to use it.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2012:

Great hub! You managed to shed light on a misunderstood piece of punctuation and still make it amusing. I wish all of my ex-students could read this.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 03, 2012:

Good review for hubbers and a necessary read for all writers. Voting this Up and Useful.

Cliff Mendrez from Philippines on February 03, 2012:

IAMAMAZINGBECAUSEIREADTHOSEBIGBLOCKSOFTEXT

Creative way of explaining how to use commas the right way. I'm still having difficulties in deciding whether I should use a serial comma or not. I still have a lot to learn about the English language. Good job sharing this one.

Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on February 03, 2012:

Fantastic hub yet again. My favorite things about the comma is that it allows us, as writers, to control the pace of the text. It allows us to insert those pauses, mimicking the conversational quality in the offspring of our brains.

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