Some comma mistakes are real killers


Comma mistakes happen all the time, but serious comma mistakes — errors that change your meaning or mislead your reader — are rare.

It seems like every day I see a comma placed after a quotation mark, as when someone writes about a specific “word,” but writes it “word”, which is wrong according to American punctuation rules.

Another mistake I see a lot is unneeded commas between adjectives. A gaudy Hawaiian shirt should have no comma because you only put commas between adjectives when the word “and” would make sense there. It’s not a gaudy and Hawaiian shirt. It’s a Hawaiian shirt that is gaudy. People who don’t know that write gaudy, Hawaiian shirt and I even see gaudy, Hawaiian, shirt, with a comma before the noun. (Tip: If you can’t swap the order of the adjectives, don’t put commas between them. It’s not a Hawaiian gaudy shirt, so no commas in gaudy Hawaiian shirt.)

These mistakes are harmless. No one is going to misunderstand what you’re saying about the shirt or the word “word.”

But other comma flubs are bad. None more so than leaving out the comma before someone’s name when speaking to them directly: Let’s eat Grandma. Add a comma and you have a warm invitation to break bread with a loved one. Without a comma, you’re Hannibal Lecter.

Here are some more examples of comma errors that can change your meaning.

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