Three important contexts you mishandle commas


The comma is a very important punctuation mark. It helps in sanitising sentence structures, while also helping in achieving clarity. Commas are so important that failure to properly place them in clauses could not only cause ambiguity, but could also engender communication breakdown.

Among other functions they perform, commas are useful when we want to separate items on a list, while they are also strategic in separating a main clause from the subordinate.

LISTING ITEMS: She bought a pair of shoes, a towel, two beautiful cups and a big bag.
SEPARATING CLAUSES: Because he came late, the meeting started behind schedule.

Below, however, are three critical areas a lot of people mishandle commas. You need to convince me you are not one of them!

Misplacing Commas in Direct Speech
Many indiscriminately place commas in direct speech. They, for instance, either wrongly put it after the quotation mark or they don’t put it at all. Note that when the quoted item comes first in the clause, the comma comes before the second quotation mark:

WRONG: “I won’t come tomorrow”, the woman said.
WRONG: “I won’t come tomorrow” the woman said.
CORRECT: “I won’t come tomorrow,” the woman said.

ALSO READ: How you mispronounce Access Bank, Zenith Bank, First Bank

Leaving out the Second Comma in Apposition

Apposition is a grammatical construction in which two elements are placed side by side in such a way that one identifies the other. Both elements are usually noun phrases. Some may find the term, ‘apposition’, too ‘big’ or strange but we all use the concept in speech and writing. In English, we often separate the appositive (the phrase involved) with commas. The problem here, however, is that two commas are required – but a lot of people do not bother to include the second:

WRONG: The Managing Director, Mr Oluwole Glory has just left.
CORRECT: The Managing Director, Mr Oluwole Glory, has just left.
WRONG: Dr Afam Ojigi who is the first Nigerian to teach at Karine University, has written many books.
CORRECT: Dr Afam Ojigi, who is the first Nigerian to teach at Karine University, has written many books.

Leaving out Commas in Vocatives
The vocative voice explains a situation you first call someone before addressing them. You address the person directly, but you first call the name or title. This is also a common phenomenon but the name or title should be separated from the message with a comma. Unfortunately, again, many leave out the punctuation mark:

WRONG: Ben let’s meet later.
CORRECT: Ben, let’s meet later.
WRONG: Sir can I go now?
CORRECT: Sir, can I go now?