As this image humorously demonstrates, the comma is a vital punctuation mark. They can greatly improve our understanding of a sentence, particularly a longer one. If you’re confused about how to use commas correctly, their purpose is to subtly indicate a natural breathing space.
Here’s where a lack of commas can lead
One company that may now recognise the importance of correct punctuation is Southern Rail following this inadvertently honest exchange with a Twitter user, picked up by Private Eye:
Customer: Are you putting on replacement shuttles for the Rye service you’ve cancelled again?
Southern Rail: Hi. We are not sorry.
Well, I guess they’re honest, if nothing else!
Here’s another example of the confusion caused by lack of a vital comma, courtesy of a website guide to the Dominican Republic, which stated:
“Most of the time travellers to major cities and resorts get a reaction to unknown microbes in tap water.”
Clearly, time travel is a well-known phenomenon in the Caribbean.
Then there’s the classic Sunday Times listing for a programme featuring “Highlights of (Peter Ustinov’s) global tour including encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800 year old demigod and a dildo collector.”
How to use it …
More subtle than the full stop, which brings a sentence to a juddering halt, the comma is a gentle pause and, when properly used, greatly enhances readability and understanding. Compare these two sentences:
“A prolonged period of lockdown will I believe be devastating to the economy.”
“A prolonged period of lockdown will, I believe, be devastating to the economy.”
Would you agree that the second sentence is easier to understand? Most people would put commas before and after the words “I believe” because they qualify the key statement, distinguishing personal opinion from indisputable fact.
… and when
The biggest problem with commas is that we simply use too many of them so that, far from clarifying meaning, they merely confuse. Recognising where commas are needed is an acquired skill but, as a rule of thumb, if in doubt, leave it out! Commas are meant to improve the reader’s understanding but if instead they interrupt the sentence flow, chances are you don’t need one.
If you’d like to ensure there are no comma catastrophes in your marketing, please get in touch for a friendly chat!