Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Snow White and the Seven Million Comma Rules

A few posts back, Shelly from the blog La Tejana wrote in my comments section, "If you've got anything in your bag of tricks to rid 8th graders of their fear of commas, I'd love hear it." In response, I'd like to share the story of how I overcame my fear of commas:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was like Belle from Beauty in the Beast. By comparing herself to Belle, she doesn’t mean to be stuck-up and imply that she was beautiful and kind; she just means that she was brunette, attracted to hairy men, and always had her nose in a book. In college, she was one of those nerdy students who loved listening to her English professors’ lectures about symbolism, language, and character development. She couldn’t wait to be an English professor herself so she could share all the valuable knowledge she had accumulated about literature.

And then one day it happened. She heard the clop clop of horses’ hooves and saw a sparkly coach pull up outside of her house. From the coach emerged a man in tights carrying a satin pillow with a scroll on top of it. He presented her with the scroll, which was a job offer to teach college English. Her wish had been granted!

Well, not exactly.

She had not been hired to teach literature; she had been hired to teach a remedial English class—a class on basic grammar and writing skills. She had never officially studied such material, but since she was an avid reader and had a good memory, she had always gotten by grammatically. Sure, there had been times when she wasn’t sure whether or not a sentence required a comma and would consequently rewrite the whole entire sentence so she didn’t have to deal with it. And there were other times when she would find commas written in red ink on her college essays, but since she had received A’s on the essays, she didn’t pay those comma errors any attention. But she figured that as a teacher she would just rely on the text book and everything would be okay.

Accordingly, on the day that she was to teach commas, she glanced over the text before class. She would have the students read the lessons, do the accompanying exercises, and then they would go over them together. But something happened that she had not anticipated: a student raised his hand and asked her a question. The book had said that a comma follows introductory phrases and then gave these two examples:

By four in the afternoon, everybody wanted to go home.

After the game on Saturday, we all went dancing.

Because that was the extent of the book’s lesson, the student asked her what an introductory phrase was. She knew an introductory phrase when she saw it, but she didn’t know how to explain it. And that, she realized, was how she was with all the comma rules: she had but a vague understanding of them.

She was so embarrassed that she wanted to turn into a pumpkin. She even thought about throwing in the towel and shacking up with seven little men. But what she actually did was put her nose back in the books and studied commas. It took studying many books and websites until she fully understood them. But all the time and effort was worth it because not only could she better help her students; she never had to rewrite a sentence again due to comma insecurity.

So the moral of the story is that comma rules are to us like the Seven Dwarfs were to Snow White. Because there are so many of them, they can be a little overwhelming at first. But once we accept them and really get to know them, we realize just how helpful they are.

And they all lived grammatically ever after!

20 comments:

Mary Aalgaard, Play off the Page said...

Delightful.

Shelly said...

I LOVE THIS!!! I am sharing it first thing tomorrow morning! You are a grammar goddess.

Mark said...

Haha that is a delightful little story. I take pride in my ability to spell and word placement and sentence structure, but there I'm times I'm not too great on my punctuation.

Tere Kirkland said...

Oh, how embarrassing! Wait, are all my commas in the right, place?

Thanks, for sharing. ;)

DWei said...

I need to learn this lesson, I don't use commas nearly enough.

Crystal Pistol said...

I agree with Shelly. You ARE a grammar goddess. :)

I might have shacked up with the seven little men.

Theresa Milstein said...

Perfect timing. I'm tackling introductory phrases with my students next week. HELP!

By the way, nice way to spin a tale from your own life. I think you have some fiction in you too.

Terra Shield said...

An enjoyable post, no doubt. I use commas but I think I may have been using them wrongly all this while.

Dylan Fitzgerald said...

I always find it very disorienting when I know how or why something works but not how to explain it. I tend to scrunch up my face and flap my hands around a lot in an effort to explain. It very seldom helps.

Also: "grammatically ever after" has to be my favorite phrase of the month.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Love a good comma story.
Wagging Tales

anthony stemke said...

This was, without a doubt, a most interesting tale; I really, really enjoyed reading it.
I think of reading aloud when I think of commas. You know, so the reader can breathe smoothly. Do you, the exalted grammarian, mean to say there are other rules? Oy!

Felt Family said...

Great post!! I was nearly giddy to finally understand the oxford comma. To think that I could have that rush over and over again!

Kelly Polark said...

Ha! Lovely story!

Question: If the introductory phrase is brief like In spring I like to plant flowers. (wondering because our kindergarteners wrote this this week & I looked up commas and said not to use comma if brief intro).
Use or no use if brief intro? Thanks!

Jo-Ann said...

So an introductory phrase is....?

Janette Dolores said...

I need to brush up on the comma rules. Commas are pesky!

Nice read. You have a way with imagery.

cestlavie22 said...

Hey a comma rule I actually knew! That is saying something because my college professors always made fun of me for NEVER using commas. I never used them because I was never sure when it was needed.

JDC said...

Fortunately no one really seems to notice if you make mistakes with commas =)

Shutterbug said...

fun, little story!! :)

Wendy Ramer said...

Oh, if simply studing the rules were that easy. For my second-language learners (ESL), the comma is the bane of their existence. Not to mention comma splices in sentences...argh!!!!!!!!!

Shelley Sly said...

New follower here. :) I love this little story! You have such an entertaining voice. I'll be back to read more from you. :)