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!