Over 30 years ago, when I was new to Britain (I’m Polish), I was mightily chuffed to receive this message:
Having never doubted my brilliance (joke), I was nevertheless gratified to have this quality unequivocally confirmed by an independent third party. It was only later, when I started getting to grips with the natives’ idiosyncratic ways of using their language, that I realised that what the sender was trying to say was:
Still not bad, of course, but the alleged brilliance was being attributed to my actions rather than to me myself. Oh well, so that’s another illusion shattered then.
The little comma has many uses – 17 main ones at the last count, although there are plenty of others – one being preventing misinterpretation when we address people and other living creatures. Compare the two sentences in each pair below.
These are good, folk.
These are good folk.
Follow them, guys.
Follow them guys.
They are attacking, Pete.
They are attacking Pete.
Let’s eat, granny.
Let’s eat granny. (This one, I believe, is doing the rounds in the Twitter-sphere.)
In other words, a comma is ALWAYS used when we address somebody. Or, rather, not always (in fact, it often isn’t) – but it should be.
I’m happy to reveal the 17 main uses of the comma – but only if somebody actually asks. No point in foisting all this grammar (yep, punctuation is governed largely by grammar) on readers who aren’t particularly interested. Those of you who have read my political and grammatical satire An Alien in a Madhouse will be aware that the list is given in Chapter 16. In any case, I am going to write a book on punctuation – one day.