Thursday, September 9, 2010

Comma Abuse

Back in my days as a middle school teacher, an English teacher shared an exercise that she had given a 7th grade class with the rest of the staff. She gave them this paragraph to punctuate:

Sammy went to the market in his pocket he had grandma’s purse on his back he wore his shirt on his feet he wore his shoes on his face there was a big smile at the market Sammy was very happy

One student punctuated it like this:

Sammy went to the market in his pocket. He had grandma’s purse on his back. He wore his shirt on his feet. He wore his shoes on his face. There was a big smile at the market. Sammy was very happy.

You can imagine how hilarious that was to the rest of the staff. But looking back at it, I can understand the student’s error, especially with the emphasis we make on using the active rather than the passive voice.

Grammar is one of those things that are difficult perfect, even as a writer. I, like the student have my punctuation weakness. In my case, it’s the abuse of commas. I recently read through a rough draft of my last blog post and was mortified at my abusive use of commas. While some tend to underuse commas, I over use them. Unfortunately, Microsoft word, the most popular word processing program, doesn’t detect comma abuse in its spell and grammar check. This, sentence, with, commas, after, every, word, escaped, detection, by, the, spelling, and, grammar, check. So for those of us needing a “Commas Anonymous” group there is little help there.

I know I’m not alone on this. I Googled comma abuse and found numerous hits. I found a blog about comma abuse: “
How to use the comma: Simple rules and hints that help you stop comma abuse” by Shane Werlinger. The introduction of the article states, “The comma has to be one of the most abused punctuation marks. It is either overused, placed haphazardly on the writer’s whim, or not used enough. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been guilty of this at one time or another.”

In the comments, someone even pointed out the comma error that the “expert” inadvertently included in his post. Yes comma abuse is prevalent, but I’m sure there are also other punctuation abuses.

So there you have it: “Hi I’m Jewel Amethyst and I’m a comma abuser.”

What about you? What punctuation do you abuse?


Phyllis Bourne said...

I'm Phyllis, and I'm a comma queen! LOL! You can never have to many lipsticks or use too many commas.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm in the comma abuse crowd. Lately I find myself using exclamatiion points more than I should in fiction. I know it's because I've gotten in the habit of doing it in blogging and it's a bad habit to have.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Lol Phyllis! I thought I was the comma queen. As for lipstick, if I own 2 I own a lot.

Charles looks like we need a punctuation anon group.

The way we abuse commas I wonder if this is one of the things where the rules for comma use will eventually change because no one quite mastered it. Just a thought...

Marissa Monteilh said...

Jewel, (my, right, hand, is, raised) I, am, a, comma, addict - commaholics, anonymous, here, I come, - great, post!!

G said...

No fair! A newbie writer should be the comma abuse king!

Or, at the very least, the court jester.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Welcome, to, the, club, Marissa. :)

G you can be the court jester. There's fierce competition for comma king (or queen) :)

Liane Spicer said...

I don't think I abuse commas (or maybe I'm in denial.) What I tend to do is inadvertently type a comma wherever I pause to think, but I generally catch those on reread.

Carol Mitchell said...

We were taught commas with:
Charles the first walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off.

I have the exclamation problem. I have to reign myself in all the time.

Jewel Amethyst said...

LOL Carol. Hadn't heard that particular sentence before.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Liane, definitely denial :)

I wish Microsoft Word grammar check would detect misused, overused, and underused commas (and other punctuations).

Carissa Peck said...

I am an English teacher and I use apostrophes WAY more than I should. I always have to go through and make sure I didn't add them to a word for no reason.

I have NO idea WHY I do this! It is only when I type; I don't do it when I handwrite.