Far from being an insignificant and sometimes wholly optional blip on a page, the humble comma can wield great power when it comes to conveying and interpreting precise meaning. A simple example of the importance of a comma can be seen in the difference between the following two sentences:
· I’m off to buy some cake, flour and sugar.
· I’m off to buy some cake flour and sugar.
The next pair of sentences shows that the comma before “by” is essential – its omission makes the statement inaccurate/nonsensical:
· Fringe attendance at the festival showed an increase of 27,54%, and the main programme attendance also increased, by 7,71%.
· Fringe attendance at the festival showed an increase of 27,54%, and the main programme attendance also increased by 7,71%.
What is the difference in meaning between the following two sentence fragments?
· The six suspects, who were apprehended yesterday, …
· The six suspects who were apprehended yesterday …
Simply this: the former restricts the total number of suspects to only (those) six, while the latter carries the clear implication that there were more than six and could be completed as follows: “… may be able to reveal the whereabouts of the others” (which cannot be done in the case of the first example).
Also note the difference here:
· Doug Trench’s book, War in the ditches …
· Doug Trench’s book War in the ditches …
The former restricts Trench’s literary offerings (at least as far as books are concerned) to (this) one book, while the latter leaves the question of the number of books written by Doug Trench open. Again, it’s the comma that makes the difference. –ws–