:::: MENU ::::

The Power of a Comma

By Diego Nascimento

Last week, as I walked the streets of the city, I was struck by a profound blow of disappointment: near the most traditional center of commerce was a poster promoting a particular product, but that was not the problem. The absence of a comma in the text showed an affront to the correct (and basic) use of the Portuguese language. Immediately I recalled a teacher I had while in elementary school, who was so zealous with grammar that she would have had to be taken to the hospital (ha, ha) after seeing this innocent propaganda.

What few people realize in professional, relational and academic everyday life is that spoken and written communication has a direct and indirect impact on everything that is done. I know of cases where a badly written note stuck on the refrigerator almost resulted in a divorce. All because of a great character: the comma. Friend of some, enemy of others, this punctuation mark carries out three basic missions when it appears: prevent the vice of language, separate or even emphasize sentences / phrases, and offer a meaningful reading when spoken aloud.

Renowned author of textbooks on grammar and composition, Professor Richard Nordquist* once told in one of his articles that the Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper in the August 6, 2006 edition brought a story that spoke of a mistake in the partnership agreement of a renowned Canadian company. A comma placed in the wrong place of the document opened the door to legal action that could result in a $2 million loss to the corporation. All because of a comma. Do you understand how serious this is?

To protect the integrity of the shop where I witnessed the fact, I will offer a fictitious example of how the comma owner can change everything. Look:

Carlos Antonio and his neighbors are talking about the city hall.
Carlos, Antonio and his neighbors are talking about the city hall.

In the first sentence, we have the idea that Carlos Antonio is just one person. In the second, punctuated correctly, we understand that Carlos is in the company of Antonio (they are actually two people).

The next example is classic on Messenger:

We do not want to pay.
No, we want to pay.

In the first alternative, the caller receives an affirmation that the payment will not be made. When we insert the comma in the right place, we realize that the intention is contrary, that is, to remove the debt.

These situations are recurrent in written communication (manual tickets, emails, typed texts, postings in social networks, etc.), bring a lot of confusion to relationships. It becomes dangerous. So, I want to invite you to keep your eyes open when you communicate. The world is already very troubled, and we need to make a difference in everything. The next time you send a text message, read and reread the content. You do not always write the same way you speak.


So, what do you think ?