Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today's Writing Tip Is on Comma Placement

Lynne Truss said it best with the title of her blockbuster hit Eats, Shoots & Leaves. That sentence can have two meanings depending on where we place the comma. If we omit the comma after the word Eats, we may think that someone eats bamboo shoots and takes off. But if we keep the comma, we know that a person ate, shot something and left. (Sarah Palin targeting moose in Alaska?)

Likewise with the following example: my aunt believed the babysitter and John and I were unfairly punished. What happens if I change the comma to this: My aunt believed the babysitter, and John and I were unfairly punished.

The first sentence could mean that the aunt thought that three people were unfairly punished -- the babysitter, John and the writer of the sentence. But it could also mean that the aunt believed a story that the babysitter relayed, thus, the aunt thought John and the writer were unfairly punished. The first sentence is ambiguous. If the writer wants to say that he and John were wrongly accused and reprimanded, the best way to write that would be: “My aunt believed the babysitter, and John and I were unfairly punished.”

Read more about punctuation in my third book, Be Your Own Editor, available in print ( and now a bestseller on Kindle ( Or get 20% off the regular price by writing directly to me at sigridmac at

*Please note that writing tips are nonpartisan and I already made fun of a Democrat last time!


  1. Hi Sigrid,
    Loved the fun tip on the comma. I hate how it can be such a pain sometimes. I do my best to use it correctly, but it is hard to get it right all the time.
    And yes, your third book does help a lot. :)

    p.s. I think it has one of the best non-fiction titles ever.

  2. Hey Zoey/Pinar!

    Thanks for the kind words. Commas are *definitely* a pain in the butt, but adverbs are even worse :-) I use them automatically -- no pun intended -- and then I have to go back and take them out since they've fallen out of favor.


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