Comma: 'A punctuation mark'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

If you wish to convince skeptics that punctuation is important, here is a good way. Ask them to read this sentence aloud: That which is is that which is not is not.

After several unsuccessful readings, they will probably appreciate your version of the sentence:

That which is, is; that which is not, is not.

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Another ploy that proves the point is to punctuate this sentence: The dog said Mother is tired.m Most people do it this way first: The dog said, "Mother is tired."m then ask them to try it again, leaving Dr. Doolittle out of the picture.

Finally the result is: "The dog," said Mother, "is tired."m

Or, how about these sentences?

* After we ate the paper plates were thrown away.

* While he was washing the birds flew overhead.

Without commas, the first sentence suggests a gastronomical disaster; the second sentence suggests an overzealous nature lover.

At a picnic your list of provisions could include ham sandwiches, watermelon pickles, fruit salad, chocolate cake. By the addition of four little commas, however, you could immediately double your menu: ham, sandwiches, watermelon, pickles, fruit, salad, chocolate, cake. Now -- thanks to commas -- isn't that a better picnic lunch?

By eliminating a few commas you could change your college program. Instead of signing up for Chinese, art, English, history, Spanish, literature, reduce your load by taking Chinese art, English history, and Spanish literature. What a difference the absence of that little symbol makes!

A comma, of course, is a pause, so I hope you will, and reflect on all of this profound information. That is comme il faut.m

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