Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Comma sense

with 12 comments

IWC ref. 3707 (dial)
Image via Wikipedia

Suddenly, using commas seems a bit redundant.

See that comma there? See how important it is to the meaning of the sentence? If it was missing, I’d be startling you by suddenly using commas. Perhaps while I’m emptying the teapot, or putting petrol in the car.

So what’s this all about? Agencies who get paid loads of dosh for writing rubbish ad copy, that’s what. Here’s what I spotted:

Suddenly diving for treasure seems a bit redundant.

It’s a full-page ad in a glossy magazine for a very expensive IWC diving watch. Of course, what the cavalier copywriter meant to say was:

Suddenly, diving for treasure seems a bit redundant.

As in, if you’ve got the flash watch, there’s no need to dive for more treasure.

The first version means that it seems redundant to suddenly dive. Perhaps because you’ve got all day, and can choose your moment.

The comma.

Commas — fused sentences.

What’s the point? A guide to punctuation.

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12 Responses

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  1. Oh good – it’s not just me that this – hmm… let’s say annoys, considerably, for the sake of decorum.

    There was an online debate in the Times, some time back, arguing about whether teachers should be able to punctuate. It beggars belief.

    Ron

    13/07/2010 at 8:35 pm

    • Only slightly OT – for once – the greengrocers have lost the All-comers Aberrant Apostrophe Championship.

      Pubs have taken over the mantle of mediocrity.

      Ron

      13/07/2010 at 8:59 pm

      • I take it you have been carrying out selfless under-cover research work purely in the interests of furthering the cause of good grammar?

        Deborah

        13/07/2010 at 9:08 pm

    • Hi, Ron — that stuff about teachers being able to punctuate would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. No wonder so many people in this country leave school with such a poor education.

      Deborah

      13/07/2010 at 8:52 pm

  2. I love commas, but worry about using them too much. Now I see the opposite effect.

    Sandra Lee

    13/07/2010 at 8:36 pm

  3. Hi, Sandra, thanks. I think I’m guilty of using commas too much sometimes. However, I don’t think that’s a particular problem unless it changes the meaning of what you want to say. It’s amazing how a seemingly insignificant little punctuation mark can make such a difference.

    Deborah

    13/07/2010 at 9:01 pm

  4. Nah: “Diving for treasure suddenly seems a bit redundant.”

    Michael Farrell

    13/07/2010 at 10:22 pm

    • Oh yes, that’s much better. Thank you!

      Deborah

      14/07/2010 at 8:20 am

  5. Hi Deborah,

    A new word for you (which you may have seen), from CiF – the Torliban.

    Brilliant.

    Ron

    14/07/2010 at 6:13 pm

    • Hi, Ron — Thank you! I publish your comment with a scintilla of trepidation as I haven’t come across this word and don’t know what it means. Any chance of an explanation (she said, wincing slightly).

      Oh – just read your post. Phew. But being thick, I don’t quite get it. Tories + Lib Dems + ??

      Sounds like an alien race in Star Trek.

      Deborah

      14/07/2010 at 6:23 pm

      • Ah — thanks, Ron, for the off-blog explanation. My ‘phew’ was premature and my scintilla justified. I don’t think I like that neologism very much…

        Deborah

        14/07/2010 at 6:46 pm


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