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  • Writer's pictureAmanda George

Commas? Cats? Sharks? Hot chocolate? What gets you excited?

Do you get obsessed with things? Not the fun things like cats, hot chocolate, chips or a watch-in-one-go, only-get-up-to-pee Netflix series. I mean the weird things. And I’m not talking about sharks, steam engines or castles either (all worthy obsessions, in my opinion). No, I’m talking about an unhealthy obsession with commas, which is actually quite handy (and perhaps no coincidence) considering my line of work.

First up, a brief history of the comma. The ancient Romans and Greeks preferred not to use commas (or other punctuation marks); they were probably considered unnecessary in texts designed to be read aloud. Imagine life without punctuation…

In the 2nd century BC, Aristophanes of Byzantium introduced a series of dots known as the comma, colon and periodus. This system continued into the Middle Ages, with the comma ‘pause’ often shown as a slash (/).

Finally (thank Dog), in the 16th century, Italian linguist Pietro Bembo and Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius began to standardise punctuation (for clarity in printed books). The roles of the comma, full stop, semicolon and their esteemed friends continued to be defined, and their use is still debated today (don’t we know it!).

So,[1] now is the time to pay attention because here is the grammar lesson [1: use a comma after an introductory word such as yes, no, so, well, hello]. Because I think it is easier, and more fun, to learn through examples than through abstract, theoretical[2] principles [2: use a comma to separate two adjectives if their order is interchangeable], these paragraphs, the business-end paragraphs,[3] are all about commas and some of their uses [3: use commas to set off non-essential words, clauses and phrases].

Attempting to cover All Things Comma in one short piece would be boring, time-consuming, and[4] counterproductive [4: the Oxford – or serial – comma is the last comma in a series of words before and/or, and it is optional (thankfully), unless there is ambiguity]. So, let’s wrap this comma-fest up for now, and[5] we can continue obsessing over (how not to use) commas in the next blog [5: use a comma before a coordinating conjunction that links independent clauses]. I bet you can’t wait! And me? I’m off to binge on hot chocolate and shark films and dream about steam engines.

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