Adding or moving a comma in a sentence can completely change its meaning, resulting in some hilarious, or devastating, consequences, as the title of Lynne Truss' bestselling book Eats, Shoots and Leaves (cf. Eats Shoots and Leaves) suggests. Truss' light-hearted linguistic read delves into the use (and misuse) of punctuation marks and provides thought-provoking examples throughout.
If we compare the two paragraphs below, we can see just how important punctuation marks are in conveying the particular meaning of a text:
Dear John, I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can forever be happy—will you let me be yours? Mary
Dear John, I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can forever be happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Mary
For children who are beginning to take an interest in the English language, Truss has also written a series of books for the younger generation, covering commas, apostrophes, and punctuation in general, all of which feature hilarious illustrations to demonstrate the perils of poor punctuation.
So if stuffy grammar guides aren't for you, it's worth giving Truss a go. Why not use your coffee break this week to put your punctuation skills to the test, or at least bask in the grammatical mishaps of others!
If you're interested in the wider topic of languages and linguistics, stay tuned for our review of various English and foreign language resources coming soon!
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