The power of punctuation

So, dear readers, read and write carefully. (I want our dear readers to read and write carefully.) Now remove the comma after ‘readers’, and see the difference: Dear readers read and write carefully. (Our dear reads are very careful readers and writers.)

In Letter and Spirit – 1

Pempem Wants to Eat Her Dad

“Let’s eat, dad,” said Pempem. Now remove the comma after ‘eat’.

“Let’s eat dad,” said Pempem.

In the first sentence, ‘dad’ is a noun, who is being addressed. Pempem wants her dad to come and eat. So a noun, usually a proper noun, used to directly address the person spoken to (here, dad) is in Vocative Case.

However, in the former, it is an object. Pempem is a cannibal who wants to eat her dad! Here, ‘dad’ is the object of the verb ‘eat’, so it is in Objective Case. Look at the change in the sense of a sentence with or without a comma!

Let’s look at some common errors, which abound in messages and greetings posted on Instagram, Facebook or WhatsApp.

Vipunii: How are you doing?

Pempem: I am good Angam.

Apparently Pempem’s reply to Vipunii is easy to conjecture. She tells Vipunii that she is doing good. It seems alright. However, grammatically analysed, it is not correct to put it that way.

Pempem’s reply can also be put in this way:

“I am good Vipunii,” says Pempem.

Interestingly, as per the rules of grammar, this sentence means that Pempem is a good person called Vipunii.

In fact, Pempem wants to say:

I am good, Vipunii. (A comma should be placed after ‘good’. Now, Pempem is telling Vipunii that she is doing just fine.)

We get a better expression when we change the narration of the direct sentence:

Pempem says that she is good Vipunii. (Pempem introduces herself as Vipunii who is basically a good person.)

It is easier said than done. Exactly! The significance of punctuation is often ignored and hard to identify when spoken, which is not so in writing. Writing involves the correct use of all the do’s and don’ts of the language in use, which we call grammar. That’s how we get the idiom ‘in letter and spirit’.

In speech, the presence or use of a comma (,) in a sentence is identified by a short pause while verbalizing the sequence of the words of that sentence.

More examples:

Hi Vipunii! (Incorrect)

Hello Pempem. (Incorrect)

Hi, Vipunii! (Correct)

Hello, Pempem. (Correct)

Interviewer: What is your name?

Interviewee: I am Alex sir. (Incorrect) Here, the interviewee is sir Alex (Indian use)

Interviewee: I am Alex, sir. (Correct)

Principal: Let’s ask her mother. (The Principal wants to ask something to the mother of a student.)

Principal: Let’s ask her, mother. (The principal suggests to his mother that they ask something to his wife or a certain lady.)

So, dear readers, read and write carefully. (I want our dear readers to read and write carefully.) Now remove the comma after ‘readers’, and see the difference: Dear readers read and write carefully. (Our dear readers are very careful readers and writers.)

Readers can send their queries to the Associate Editor, Ningchihan K Hungyo or mail at


LitWeekend invites short stories, folklores, poems and anecdotes, with objectives of instilling reading culture, promoting literary and aesthetic creativity, besides honing aspiring writers of our region.

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