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I read this well-known book “Eats, shoots, and leaves,” and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. For those of you who might not be aware of the joke on which the title of the book is based, here it goes — A panda walks into a nightclub and eats shoots and leaves. Now look at what a few extra commas do to this sentence — A panda walks into a nightclub and eats, shoots, and leaves.

This is exactly what happens when extra commas are put in or missed in the places required or when apostrophes are just added without any reason. The meaning of what is to be conveyed is radically transformed. There are so many such examples given in the book, which can be hilarious or even tragic sometimes.

If you pick up any newspaper or magazine today, you would be struck by the low levels of proofreading. Even a child conversant with the basic rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation will be able to do a better job than them. Some common bloopers that I notice all the time are the wrong usage of its and it’s, the terrible usage of apostrophes where not required (door’s), apostrophes used to make plurals (i’s instead of ies), you’re instead of your, the use of the word anyways (it is anyway), interchangeably use homophones (pair and pare, bear and bare), and so on. Sometimes, the spell check actually misguides you, so beware.

What could be causing this general decline in English language, notably grammar and punctuation? Is it because the grammar being taught in schools is low grade. I remember, I had to study a huge volume of Wren and Martin in school; whereas, my son has some cursory grammar. Most of the times, the teachers themselves are not very good at English. We face this even more in the South. My son’s English teacher pronounces clown as clone and expects him to follow suit. I have to tell my son that your pronunciation is correct; just ignore your teacher. One advice to my son is to read! Reading improves vocabulary, grammar, and exposure. But make sure that you choose a good author. I was reading one of the Indian chick-lit authors and was shocked to find “site” for sore eyes used in a sentence. My eyes definitely turned sore :). This was a published book! How much does it take to hire a professional proofreader?

Another reason could be the explosion in writing due to the spread of the internet. It is hip to abbreviate and use wrong spellings due to the ease of texting or emailing. And, not everyone who writes is a good writer when it comes to accuracy of language and grammar. Always, recheck spellings or punctuation rules from reliable sources.

Don’t even get me started about how poor Hindi has become — the lingo is astonishingly grammatically incorrect most of the time, and there hardly seems to be any punctuation. I see textbooks replacing the Hindi purnaviraam with the English period. Even the numbers used are in English. Basic pronunciation is wrong. Most Hindi-speaking people mispronounce phool as fool. Fa has actually come from Urdu, and the Hindi alphabet is pha. Since there is not much scope of reading good Hindi writing, I don’t see how one can improve the written Hindi standards. I subscribed to Champak in Hindi for my son, and it really was a load of garbage, so I discontinued it in a hurry.

Many of you might not feel as aggrieved as I do, because as my husband says — I am a language Nazi :). But seriously, it makes me cringe when I see such bad usage so often. This way all languages are headed towards a coma! Just a word of advice for professional writers — please proofread whatever you write (even a mundane email) and be aware of American and British English differences. In my line of work, I regularly work with American and Australian clients. The other day an American client was telling me apologetically that many people just disregard writers from India because many of them really do shoddy writing. As sad as I feel, I have to agree because I’ve seen really low standards of writing with a few myself. Will English continue to be an advantage for Indian workers in the long run with such dramatically varying levels of proficiency? Will the pedestrian prevail? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, take pride in speaking and writing correct language. It is an asset. I am leaving you with some hilarious errors that Girish, one of my blog readers, provided me:

Capitalization is the difference between “helping your Uncle Jack off a horse” and “helping your uncle jack off a horse”!

“Let’s eat, Grandma” versus “Let’s eat Grandma.” Punctuation saves the lives of the elderly!”

As I was undressing, Mary, my wife, walked into the bedroom.” “As I was undressing Mary, my wife walked into the bedroom.” Punctuation saves marriages!”

Coming down the stairs, I smelled the oysters that were for dinner.” or “I smelled the oysters coming down the stairs for dinner.” Misplaced modifiers turn harmless scenes into sci-fi horror movies!

“Goat Cheese Salad … tomato, onions, goat cheese” turns into something else entirely with a couple of extra s’s and an additional comma: “Goats Cheese Salad … tomatoes, onions, goats, cheese.” Grammar saves lunches!

This is a re-post.

Image courtesy: Vlado /



93 Thoughts on “Commas go into coma, and apostrophes hang themselves!

  1. I take all of your comments on board – I know I am guilty of a number of grammar crimes; in my defence spell-check is shocking. I am horrified by the spelling, punctuation, grammar etc of many of the young people I deal with – and text (txt) speak leaves me baffled, searching on-line in the urban dictionary to find out what is they are trying to say to me. Keep up your standards!

    • Yes Jane, spell check is pretty bad, and I have to keep clicking ignore all the time. Or, one has to follow the long-drawn method of adding it to dictionary. Yes, it is definitely becoming worse with the youngsters. My recipe is read more to my son. He picks up good vocabulary, usage and of course, correct punctuation too i.e. if the quality of author is not bad.

  2. //”Let’s eat, Grandma” versus “Let’s eat Grandma.” Punctuation saves the lives of the elderly!//-Hilarious.

    Every word you said is true. There is no love for the language now a days. Even I make lot of mistakes in grammar. But I am willing to learn. I fail to see even that in lot of people around me. A colleague at office pronounces ‘print’ as ‘preent’, data as ‘Da-ta’ like you pronounce ‘bata. Well, I understand a little bit of mother tongue influence would always be there but unwillingness to improve irritates me.

    Well written. Keep writing. 🙂

    • Thank you, Aditya for your comment and for being candid :). I am sure, we all make mistakes including me. But, at least I will not repeat the same mistake for sure. Once one is aware, it is not too tough.

  3. A king ordered his aides on what to do with the culprit,

    ‘Hang him, not leave him.’

    But in the written format, a comma got misplaced, and that comma saved the life of the culprit.

  4. I remember my teacher writing these words on the board in my grammar class – “I saw an elephant climbing up the hill” We were then asked to punctuate. Can you believe how it turned out?

    I, saw an elephant climbing up the hill

    I saw an elephant; climbing up the hill

    Thats when I understood the importance of punctuation and have been following it religiously! Its sad to see the decline of English having been used as a chat lingo. The apostrophe is dropped like a hot potato. I wonder how many child today would know what a tittle is?

    • That’s nice to know, Insignia. We need more people to not feel cool that they are using bad language. You are absolutely right! No mention of tittle in my son’s books this far.

  5. Truly enjoyed the post and the comments. Nice, write up! Oops! I meant to say ‘Nice write up!’ 🙂

  6. Agree with your each and every sentence Rachna. Yes, I too aggrieve at the standard of the language that is generally used these days all over. You have said everything that hadn’t found utterance in any of my writing, although I have always felt it.
    Wonderful reading.

  7. Rachna, its about time someone wrote a piece on the plague that has come to haunt us. I don’t want to add to your amply illustrated post, but an old, famous story of a king does come to my mind where he wanted one of his prisoners executed. He duly sent a written dictat to the prison saying, “Kill him, not spare him.” One shrewd courtier who was a friend of the prisoner, managed to tinker and shift the comma one word to the right. The message now read, “”Kill him not, spare him!” Before the king got to learn about it, the lucky man had crossed a sea.

    I is my unfaltering belief that using a language incorrectly, whether written or spoken, is a curse. Since no one is born with languages preloaded onto their brains complete with grammatical constructs and the endless cultural nuances, it is best for everyone to keep learning and improving, wherever possible.

    • I am enjoying these examples that all of you are quoting. Tomz above gave something similar. That was lucky for the lucky man.

      And totally agree with what you say in the last paragraph. We all are learning and will continue to do so till we die. But, if we are aware, we can keep enriching and correcting the language that we use.

  8. Rachna, great blog! Fun too 🙂 However, even a grammatically correct sentence may sound confusing…for example (true story), I found this note on my dorm door (long time ago):
    ‘iliana, Paul and Maria are getting married next month.’ Needless to say, I was not part of the wedding 🙂 I find abbreviations helpful for texting and such, but they are a poor excuse to start slacking on grammar and spelling.

    • Thanks Iliana :). hehe, You surely were not getting married to the other two ;-). Yes, we all use abbreviations while texting or in informal emails. But imagine using them in official mails or writing. Some people feel so helpless without them. Glad you liked the post.

  9. wowww learned a lot reading at this post hopefully will keep in mind while writing a post.U r just amazing!!

  10. Interesting post!! 🙂
    I recently read 2 books by Indian Authors, and almost every alternate page had error. It left a bad taste in mouth, had to literally drag myself to finish the books! 😐

    • Thank you, Shilpa. So, you experienced the same. Isn’t it disgusting that Indian authors are not even bothering with such details. Me too,I feel terrible too. I left a feedback on this author’s website, which she apparently did not take well. I guess if one does not wish to improve, kya bolen.

    • There’s an error in my comment too!! 😛

    • hehe And I had left a couple of errors in my blog post, which a helpful blogger pointed out ). Imagine the magnanimity of my faux pas ;-). It’s okay yaar, this kind of informal conversation, it is excusable.

  11. I am guilty of many things pointed out by you, am still trying to write better.

    • I am sure you are trying. My pet peeve is with newspapers, magazines and published books. They have no business making such mistakes.