The importance of comma as a punctuation mark

Punctuation marks play a very important role in giving intended meaning to the language. Using wrong punctuation marks or using them in wrong placements can change the meaning of the sentence completely and sometimes even convert the sentence to total nonsense.

Here we want to talk about comma. The importance of comma as punctuation mark has been brought out clearly in the following article. Material for preparing this article is collected from various sources on the net and grammar books.

•    Pardon Impossible, to be sent to Siberia.
•    Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia

Czar Alexander the third had once sentenced a man to certain death by writing on the warrant-Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia. His wife, Czarina Maria, saved life of this man, by changing position of comma as shown above. Authorities set the man free.

The comma is considered a real villain among marks of punctuation. Wrong placement of comma can give different meaning to sentence depending upon where it is placed. Consider following sentences:
•    Let us eat, daddy. 
•    Let us eat daddy.

In the first sentence daddy is being called for dinner. However, in the second sentence, daddy himself has become an item to be eaten. Omission of comma in this case has converted the first sentence to complete non sense.

•    Hang him, not let him free 
•    Hang him not, let him free.

In above sentences, just shifting comma by one position has completely changed the meaning of the sentence.
In 1872, wrong placement of comma cost millions of dollars in import duties to US government. In a tariff act passed in 1872, list of duty free items included: “Fruit plants, tropical & semi tropical.”
A government clerk put the mark of comma at wrong place, which made the sentence read: “Fruit, plants tropical & semi tropical.”
Importers successfully contested in the courts that the passage as written meant that all tropical & semitropical plants were exempted from payment of duty.

Following pairs of sentences can also convince anybody regarding correct use of marks of punctuation:

•    The murderer protested his innocence an hour after he was hanged.
•    The murderer protested his innocence. An hour after, he was hanged.

The first sentence without comma is a complete nonsense. It means that the murderer protested his innocence after he was hanged!

  •     Private- No swimming allowed.
  •     Private? No. Swimming allowed.
In the second sentence, addition of a question mark and full stop has converted a private property to public property.

•    I am sorry you cannot come with us.
•    I am sorry. You cannot come with us.
•    The criminal, says the judge, should be hanged.
•    The criminal says, the judge should be hanged.

Shifting the comma by just one place has completely changed the meaning of the sentence. In the second example, it is not the criminal but the judge, who should be hanged.
& finally;

•    The inspector said, “The teacher is a fool.”
•    “The inspector,” said the teacher “is a fool.” (Here the inspector is called a fool)

Above sentences are enough to prove importance of using not only correct punctuation marks, but also their correct placement.

Take a look at some of these great examples of punctuation mistakes.  If you didn’t previously recognize the importance of punctuation, you will after seeing these!

1)  Dear John Punctuation

The Dear John punctuation example is a very commonly used story about a man who received a beautiful letter from his loved one. In the letter, his girlfriend spelled out, in no uncertain terms, how much she loved and adored John and it was clear to anyone reading her words that she couldn’t live without him.  Or could she?

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours?

What happens to the letter if there were some punctuation mistakes and it was punctuated in an entirely different fashion?

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Which letter do you think John would prefer to receive?

2) Woman without Man

A professor wrote the following sentence on the board and asked his class to punctuate it:

Woman without her man is nothing.

Half of the class punctuated the sentence in the following way:
Woman; without her, man is nothing.
The other half of the class responded with the following:
Woman, without her man, is nothing.
It’s clear, from this example, that punctuation is very important indeed!

3) Who is Supplying Who?

Say ‘NO’ to Drugs from the NMB Police D.A.R.E Officers.
Oops! That one missing comma turned police officers into drug dealers.

4)  His Wife’s Life Depends Upon It