Costly commas

September 8, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: grammar, journalism.

God save the Queen!

God, save the Queen!

The presence or absence of punctuation — particularly the ubiquitous comma — can change the meaning of a sentence. And it can have massive consequences.

This BBC website article,  Pocket: The commas that cost companies millions tells about how the absence of a comma in a contract cost a dairy company in Portland, Maine, $5 million earlier this year. And this is not an isolated story.

“Punctuation matters,” says Ken Adams, author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting. But not all punctuation is made equal: contractual minefields are not seeded with semicolons or em-dashes (here’s one: – ) waiting to explode when tripped over. “It boils down to commas,” says Adams. “They matter, and exactly how depends on the context.”

Learning and applying the standard and well-evolved rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation is the key to effective communication. Despite the many changes that our modern lives have witnessed, the importance of the rules of the language still rules.

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