A Comma Can Save You From Becoming a Witch!

Commas are used to give a pause in a piece of text. They are also used to give emphasis and to clear ambiguity and confusion. As a result, they can save you from becoming a cruel witch! It is true! In this sentence—

Pratibha finds inspiration in cooking her children and her dog.

Pratibha comes across as a cruel witch who wouldn’t stop at throwing her kids (and her faithful dog) into the soup cauldron. The mental image one has, is of a wrinkled old crone tucking in her napkin at her throat with eyes gleaming maniacally. Nasty, right?

But if you write this—

Prathibha finds inspiration in cooking, her children, and her dog.

You heave a sigh of relief because Pratibha isn’t such a monster at all. In fact, she sounds just like you!

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. ~ Oscar Wilde Click To Tweet

A comma protects you from other similar disasters. Here are a few more rules regarding the use of commas:

The Oxford Comma:

Consider the following sentence:

Reshma was excited about her trip to Jaipur, Udaipur and Bikaner.

There is nothing wrong with it. This is an acceptable way of writing the sentence. The meaning is clear and there is no ambiguity.

The sentence could also be written with an Oxford comma which is a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, including before ‘and’ or ‘or’. Hence, if you followed the Oxford comma rule, you would write the above sentence like this:

Reshma was excited about her trip to Jaipur, Udaipur, and Bikaner.

The first example (i.e., “… cooking, her family, and her dog”) also used an Oxford comma. In simple sentences like the one above, there doesn’t seem any reason for the Oxford comma to be inserted. It is redundant here. But what if the sentence were like this:

Today’s menu includes eggs and toast idly and chutney and sandwiches.

This sentence is confusing. It is not clear if the series include eggs and toast, [idly and chutney] and [sandwiches]? Or is it [idly] and [chutney and sandwiches]? The Oxford comma can clear up the confusion instantly.

Today’s menu includes eggs and toast, idly and chutney, and sandwiches.

Let it be known, I am a fan of the comma; it gives cadence to my witting. Those who disagree are in their usual hurried state…not giving pause where a breath is due. ~ Nanette L. Avery Click To Tweet

Misuse of the Comma:

Sometimes a comma is used to between two thoughts because they are connected to each other. This kind of usage is known as a comma splice.

Here’s an example of a comma splice:

I went to the circus with Radha, I saw horses and elephants there.

That is a compound sentence. Surely one of the other punctuations might suit better here than a comma. Like:

  • Period: I went to the circus with Radha. I saw horses and elephants there.
  • Semicolon: I went to the circus with Radha; I saw horses and elephants there.
  • Conjunction: I went to the circus with Radha and saw horses and elephants there.

I'm one of those people who lies awake all night and worries about all the horrible things that can go wrong, whether a comma was wrong. ~ Michael Beschloss Click To Tweet

There are a few more strange usages of the comma one comes across from time to time. We will cover those in another post.

Do you have a comma or punctuation related query you’d like us to address? Tell us in the comments below!