The comma was developed by the ancient Greeks in order to insert a pause between clauses in a sentence where the orator could take a breath. It was coined the comma in modern usage in the 1500s and distinguished from the colon which invites a longer pause.
It’s reassuring to know nothing has changed: one still uses the comma to instal a breathing spot in a sentence between clauses as well as to ensure there is a clear demarkation between two ideas that are so similar they could be inadvertently lumped together if not for the comma separating them.
In this video, I explain why we have commas and how to make sure you use them in your own sentences correctly, so your writing is clear, authoritative, and comes across as smart as you.
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As you can see from the video, while all commas do essentially the same work, we now have different names for them depending on their specific function in a sentence.
For the grammar nerds in the house, you’ll find it interesting that one of the most argued-over marks in the punctuation family—the Oxford comma—also known as the serial or series comma, the latter used by Benjamin Dreyer, a copy editor at The New York Times and author of Dreyer’s English simply because he associates serial with killers, has murky origins not in use but in title. It could have come in as early as the 1500s; it possibly was coined in the late 1800s/early 1900s, or its name could have come in as late as 1978.
While it is unclear as to why some people would eschew this comma given that without it, a misreading could result whereas with it, a misreading is impossible, for some reason people have strong opinions as to whether it should be used when separating a list of items prior to the last.
Don’t you love it when people get hopped up over punctuation?