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Oh, what a difference a comma makes! In the world of punctuation, commas can be the “spoiled cousins” – they don’t take much effort to write, but ignore them and your whole sentence gets a retaliatory kick in the ankle. Use them properly, and your sentence flows much better. Ahhh….

grandma commaThis is the classic example of comma misplacement. The first sentence is alarming! It’s reminiscent of the children’s fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” when the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and her grandma, then slogs to bed for a postprandial snooze. Not good.

The second sentence is so heartwarming. Here, we imagine the grandchildren cooking a meal for grandma, lovingly calling her to the table where they’ll enjoy it together. Much better!

Think of commas as little yield signs; they signal a slight pause in the sentence, and also set off clauses within sentences. Like this:

It didn’t take long for Harold and Mildred, reunited after a 40-year split, to start old-couplegetting on each other’s nerves.

We can remove “reunited after a 40-year split” from the sentence without affecting the meaning much. We’d still have a sentence that makes sense:

It didn’t take long for Harold and Mildred to start getting on each other’s nerves.

But doesn’t that lack a little pizzazz? The clause describing their reunion goes a long way toward explaining the couple’s annoyance with one another. After 40 years apart, they still have issues!

Regardless of how things go (or don’t) for our lovely couple, commas are very helpful in explaining a portion of their dysfunctional relationship.

And, like Harold and Mildred, sentences can become dysfunctional without commas! Before sending your sentence out the door, read it out loud – if it roars to the finish line, you might need to insert a few commas to set off an explanatory phrase. Even one comma will save grandma from being devoured!

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