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Let’s eat, grandma! Why comma placement matters

by | Business writing, Fun stuff, Grammar

You may not believe this but erroneous comma placement can send the police straight to your door…

Here’s a short lesson for you, about how erroneous comma placement can mislead your reader, affect your credibility and result in embarrassment.

But that’s not all. In a worst-case scenario, incorrect comma placement can lead the police straight to your door.

Can this really be true?

Let me explain using this well-known example.

Hungry? Let’s eat grandma!

What are you? A cannibal? You want to eat your grandma? I must send for the police… ‘Nee-nah, nee-nah!’

Fortunately, there is a way you can save poor old grandma.

And the rescue operation is easier than you think. With the insertion of a well-placed comma, you can change the meaning of the sentence.

Let me show you how.

Hungry? Let’s eat, grandma!

See the difference? When correctly placed, the reader understands the writer has established that grandma is hungry, and is instructing her to eat.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. The internet, in particular, social media, has changed the way we write.

Consequently, to satisfy character counts, there is an unwritten agreement that writers can ignore grammar rules, shorten sentences, and strip out punctuation to get their message across.

But consider this. The next time you strip down a social media update to its bare minimum or decide to skip a final proofread, as it takes up too much time, you do so at your peril.

The simple truth is this. We have grammar and punctuation rules for a reason. Not only do they make our communications easier to read, but also and most importantly, they clarify meaning.

With this in mind, the purpose of the comma is to:

  • Provide the reader with an opportunity to pause for breath
  • Divide words in a sentence to make the meaning clear

Here are some more examples:


Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog

Magazine Cover featuring comma placement fail: Rachel Ray finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog

My goodness… another cannibal! Actually, this magazine cover is a hoax. But it perfectly illustrates why it’s essential to use a comma to separate items. When the sentence is punctuated correctly with commas, the meaning changes:

Rachael Ray finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dog

Stop clubbing, baby seals

Comma placement fails: Stop clubbing, baby seals

See how a misplaced comma renders an important message lost in translation?


Caution Pedestrians Slippery When Wet

Comma placement fails | Road Sign | Caution pedestrians slippery when wet

When you need to pack a lot of information into a small space, read it over and over to make sure your reader cannot misinterpret your message. Otherwise, you end up with ‘slippery pedestrians’.

In this example, inserting a comma isn’t strong enough to make this sentence work. You end up with a ‘comma splice’.

To join two independent clauses, either use a full stop or a semi-colon.

  • Caution pedestrians; slippery when wet
  • Caution pedestrians. Slippery when wet


To recap

To ensure your credibility, avoid embarrassment, and more importantly avoid having policemen turn up at your door, pay attention to your comma placement.

Because, at the end of the day, commas can save lives.


And finally

If you’d like help with writing copy that’s free from grammatical errors, or editing existing copy, drop me a line, and we’ll set up a time to chat.

Claire Hawes, Copywriter and owner of The Content Boutique

About Claire Hawes

Claire Hawes is a marketing communications copywriter. She enjoys writing engaging copy that helps businesses to get noticed and attract enquiries. Claire’s experience mainly lies in the business to business sector. Her clients include both businesses and digital marketing agencies.

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