The importance of punctuation (hilarious 9-second video)

I love this. I’m a bit of a stickler for certain aspects of punctuation – commas, especially (though in this vid, the problem is a missing “period”). It’s funny how a lot of people who can write, still can’t handle commas. They just don’t use them.

It’s always amazed me, because I can hear the pause in my head as I write a sentence that’s begging for a comma. But I’m not sure everyone can. (And I intentionally left the comma off after the “but.” I don’t believe in absolute rules on these things. I do, however, believe that commas are necessary when they’re needed to avoid confusion, or to simply make a sentence sound less of a run-on.)


The video below is what happens when you don’t pay attention to your punctuation, or read the script before your broadcast. I hope every English teacher in America, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand (and wherever else) saves a copy of this for every class in the future.  (I’d be curious if people for whom English isn’t a native language can hear the incorrect nuance in this video.)

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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65 Responses to “The importance of punctuation (hilarious 9-second video)”

  1. Burney Marsh says:

    Let’s eat Grandma. Let’s eat, Grandma.

  2. Tatts says:

    Ummm. English doesn’t have silly genders for inanimate objects (masculine table, feminine chair, etc.) and all the different articles that go with them. And–we have the Possessive case, which many languages lack.

    I’m not sure people really think it through when they claim English is difficult. They certainly downplay the weirdness built into most other languages when they fixate on exceptions. Every language has words that serve as both noun and verb, for instance; English is not unique in that regard.

    But don’t get me started on casual relationship/causal relationship! Sheesh!

  3. rmthunter says:

    Yeah, but that one sort of leaped out at me — did you mean Walter?

    And don’t forget “tow the line.”

  4. 4th Turning says:

    Please say you caught my other bits of silliness, too…

  5. rmthunter says:

    It’s actually “pidgin.”

  6. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I don’t think locals would have thought twice about this since Dana King is a she.

  7. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    As a retired teacher, I find it difficult to ignore certain things. Did you leave a word out of your comment?

  8. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    It depends if you’re talking about written English or oral English. You seldom see “ain’t” in written English unless it’s in a quote. I suppose if someone can spell “ain’t”, they know not to use it. However, you can’t tell “alot” from “a lot” in oral English.

  9. The_Fixer says:

    This is an rather confusing bit of news copy writing. I see a lot of that these days. In an effort to make the report sound more current, or to make the people reporting it sound hip and action oriented (not orientated), parts of a sentence are left out. The sentence following the notice that Dana was off tonight should have read something like: “In a tragic turn of events, an east-side man is dead tonight after being set on fire – murdered while celebrating his birthday.”

    I see a lot of those kinds of things on our local newscasts. They often change the tense of a sentence to make it seem like the report in question is happening at the moment. Instead of “A North Side man fell into a well last night”, it comes out as “A North Side man falls into a well.” It’s one of those things that irritates me when I hear it.

    It may be called “News”, but only because it is new to the person hearing it. We all safely assume that something already happened if it’s being presented on your 10 O’Clock news. To report it as currently happening when it really happened several hours ago is sloppy English composition. People who write news copy for a living should know better.

  10. AnthonyLook says:

    It’s all good, never to stoned, I mean old to learn. I should also slow down when I comment as well as check what I have written, before I hit enter.

  11. AnthonyLook says:

    Is ain’t acceptable?

  12. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    It’s “alot” that drives me bonkers.

  13. Tatts says:

    Ha! Just to be clear, I don’t generally correct comments errors, due to their nature. I just couldn’t resist that one. ;-)

    The one exception I do make is “could of” if I’m already setting some moron straight about a larger point (usually some Tea Party troll).

  14. malibujd44 says:

    should have read…dana is off tonight…pause and change camera angle…then go on.

  15. FLL says:

    Using German word order (common among German immigrants in the Midwest):

    Throw mama from the train a kiss, a kiss.
    Wave mama from the train a goodbye.
    Throw mama from the train a kiss, a kiss,
    And don’t cry my baby, don’t cry.

  16. AnthonyLook says:

    I somewhat agree with your apt critique. I myself am horribly guilty of what you speak of and I acknowledge that I am flagrant with my rushing through my comments. The fact though is that as a medium, comments on blogs is more akin to texting—and the rules of grammar and punctuation aren’t readily acknowledged by the masses.

  17. Naja pallida says:

    There is a distinct difference between complaining about a missing comma or hyphen, or a few typos, and complaining about those people who write with no, or little, capitalization or punctuation at all.

  18. Naja pallida says:

    Maybe I’m weird, but I constantly re-read my own posts, because I’m worried about being unclear or confusing. I’ve never had much actual schooling in proper writing, aside from high school English classes, and I write off the top of my head. So I always want to make sure it reads the way I intend. Not always successfully, mind you, but going back an hour later and re-reading something I wrote gives a perspective that sometimes encourages me to rephrase things. In a conversational environment like a comments section, it’s important to get your point across clearly, because someone is bound to jump down your throat if they misinterpret you. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be actually writing the articles. It must be so frustrating to write something, and have the conversation in the comments section veer away from the topic because of a misunderstanding of the syntax. I’m sure it’s hard enough to keep people on focus.

  19. AnthonyLook says:

    That wasn’t the worse of it, I was meaning to say: Those commenters with that self-righteous grammar gene, so PETTY and gross man.

  20. FLL says:

    On the first reading, it sounds horrifying, but on the second reading, it sounds curiously like Dana’s employer only gave him the one night off, and they certainly expect him to rise from the dead after his murder and show up for work as usual.

  21. 4th Turning says:

    I’m pretty sure we’ve lost the (“Him and me are getting married.”) and (“Your always wrong if you
    don’t agree with everything I say.”) battles? Next rung on the evolutionary latter: pidgeon English?

  22. Lawerence Collins says:

    I wonder how many people contacted the station after this.

  23. 2patricius2 says:

    Is Dana coming back tomorrow night?

  24. Indigo says:

    That’s a new one on me. I like it.

  25. Tatts says:

    Ahem…the term is self-righteous. “Self” as a prefix always requires a hyphen.

    You’re welcome. ;-)

  26. Tatts says:

    After he dies, who gets the house, the kids, the wife?
    After he dies, who gets the house? The kids? The wife?

  27. rmthunter says:

    I used to be a stickler for commas, but I’ve evolved, as they say: if the writing is decent, the logic of the sentence will indicate the pauses and the commas aren’t really necessary. They can actually clutter up the text. Sometimes, of course, there’s no escaping the need for a comma, but on the whole I’d rather not if the text is clear.

    Oh, and as far as the clip is concerned, that’s a matter of delivery, not punctuation.

  28. alannah mcgrowdie says:

    my Aunty Sienna recently got a stunning red
    Nissan Maxima by working part time online… find out here now C­a­s­h­D­u­t­i­e­s­.­ℂ­o­m

  29. emjayay says:

    I heard the joke before the book came out and it’s a pretty good one. If you haven’t heard it it’s the kind of a long story type joke.

    Another word joke:

    Guy walks into a bar in a western town. It’s empty. He asks the bartender where everyone is.

    “They’re all out at the hangin’.”

    “Really? Who’s being hanged?”

    “Brown Paper Pete.”

    “Why do they call him that?”

    “He always wore a brown paper hat, a brown paper shirt, and brown paper pants.”

    What are they hanging him for?


  30. emjayay says:

    Like I always say, read some Yahoo! News comments, conveniently located right there on my home page.

  31. emjayay says:

    How anyone learns English, particularly those whose first language is one like Chinese, is beyond me. But they do.

    For example, In Becca’s comment, the word “constructs” is a noun, but it would usually be a verb. And spelling and pronunciation, fahgeddibaudit. But for literate English as a first language people it’s another story, and a continually appalling one.

  32. emjayay says:

    Unnecessary parentheses (brackets in England, as seen here) usage (the first use only and maybe the third one too), which I also like to do all the time.

  33. emjayay says:

    I’m guessing that writing for a newsreader isn’t the same style as for print. He should have had a big pause then a complete change of tone to that one they all use to read news that no one in real life speaks with when he started the next sentence.

  34. BeccaM says:

    As soon as someone says, “Pardon me, English is not my first language” — I forgive much.

    I’m talking about the mouth-breathers who yawp that English is the only language people are supposed to be allowed to speak in America, but do so in near gibberish. Like the sub-literate morons a couple weeks ago who bitched about ‘America the Beautiful’ being sung in non-English languages.

  35. GarySFBCN says:

    Keep in mind that there are many more people in the world who communicate in English and whose ‘first language’ is NOT English than people whose first language is English. This leads to many errors in spelling and grammar that we see today.

    Language is a medium for imparting information. If the information is received and interpreted as intended, grammar and spelling are not really important.

    In my situation is that there were 5 different languages in my childhood home. And for 10 years, I spoke Italian every day. And for the last 15 years, I’ve spoken Spanish every day and there are months when I only speak Spanish. This leads to many errors in what I post – especially adjectives placement.

    Anyway, to borrow from Evelyn Waugh, grammar and spelling are virtues of the bored.

  36. Mark_in_MN says:

    Actually, I don’t know that this is a punctuation matter. It’s a matter of writing clearly, and possibly delivery. Even correctly punctuated, the connotation of Dana’s unfortunate end would have come through. The problem is that a pronoun was used without the necessary clarity as to its antecedent. The closest reference for “he” is Dana. (This is especially true for those of us who don’t watch this particular local news or haven’t done some googling to find out that Dana King is a woman.) Having finished the quick announcement that Dana has the evening off, the anchor simply, and a bit to quickly, gets down to the business of reading the news. A longer pause or a better written introduction to the first story would have adverted the problem. A comma or period wouldn’t have made much of a difference, and for all we know, it was there.

  37. AnthonyLook says:

    Those commenters with that self righteous grammar gene, so and gross man.

  38. Bomer says:

    Yeah, it’s one thing to have the occasional minor punctuation or spelling error; that happens to all of us. Same with the occasional missing word, however, with some people it’s either pure laziness or ignorance (or willful stupidity). I mean they are on the internet and are one tab and a dictionary search away when it comes to spelling issues and word usage. Hell, most browsers have some form of auto-correct now.

    Yes, this is one of my pet peeves.

  39. Tatts says:

    Eats Shoots and Leaves is a horrid book–infuriating. The author argues against claims that no one but her is making, she makes unsupported generalizations about usage, she misstates rules, and she uses examples that are irrelevant to her hypotheses. She does all that because she pictures herself as a latter-day grammatical Erma Bombeck–more interested in being cutesy than correct. Much of the book seems to be filler, as though she is being paid by the word.

    To be clear, I hated, hated that book ;-) Someone gave it to me thinking I’d enjoy it because I taught high-level grammar for many years–to court reporters.

    My reference on grammar is the geekiest book on the subject–The Gregg Reference Manual. It includes 53 rules on the various uses of commas and lots of great examples. And according to Gregg, one may NOT write “I love ya John,” Rule 145 (in the Eighth Edition): “Names and titles used in direct address must be set off by commas.” There is no question about grammar that isn’t addressed in that book.

  40. Indigo says:

    Agreed. I’m also a fan of paragraphing. Topic sentence. Development. Next paragraph. Fresh topic sentence.

  41. 2karmanot says:

    Comma on to my house, comma on.

  42. Indigo says:

    What are we having for dinner, grandma?
    What are we having for dinner? Grandma?

  43. Exactly, I think the rules are a necessary starting point. But then, once you become expert at the language, you can start playing with clichés and punctuation. So long as there’s a rationale, and it’s a good one, and what you end up doing works, it’s all good. But that’s the trick, as you note – with all good writing, even drama, scripts, poetry, fiction. A) There has to be a reason for every word, every idea, every character you inject, every odd point you throw into a fictional tale, and B) it has to work. As an English teacher you’ll appreciate how frustrating it is when someone throws some bizarre additional detail in a TV show, or a fictional story, and when I ask “why is it in there,” they’ll tell me, well in real life those things can sometimes be there. And I have to remind them that in a fictonal tale, for example, the viewer assumed you added that thing in for a reason, and you end up confusing people by adding it, or it ends up not being credible (the old “killing someone” in your story problem – yes, real people die too, but if you’re going to kill someone off in a piece of fiction, you’d better do it well :)

    As for the others on this site, we do have a few who are no friend to the comma ;-) I just happen to jump in and fix the posts : )

  44. I don’t think so. The news starts that way a lot…

    He was just a boy walking his dog. Little did he know he was about the become the richest kid in America….

    The intros are all like UpWorthy headlines : )

  45. It pretty much a given that I’d have a typo in a post about grammar :)

  46. gene grossman says:


    Please tell me what language you were confusing with English when writing this sentence and adding the comma and then the second word “your” in this sentence:

    “The video below is what happens when you don’t pay attention to your punctuation, or your read the script before your broadcast.”

  47. BeccaM says:

    I’ve been on the receiving end of the same, when I’ve indulged my Inner Grammar Scold.

    Everybody makes mistakes, and I can deal with that. Heck, in my own long posts on the blog here, it’s rare not to have at least one spelling or grammar error missed during the edit pass.

    However, when reading some people’s incoherent comments, I find myself wondering if in fact we’re simply being shown a raw, unfiltered view of their actual thinking processes and cognition.

    Well, not to mention clear evidence of the sorry state of our education system…

  48. Bomer says:

    According to some people I’ve met on the interwebs, yes, it’s all optional. Their defense is usually along the lines of “Well, you obviously knew what I meant so shut up.” Never mind that it might have taken 3 mins or so, and a decoder ring, to figure it out.

  49. pappyvet says:

    I’m very guilty of that. I oft times tend to write in an attempt to display emotion or garner an emotional response. This does not always lend itself to good punctuation.
    But basically,” ] I aint got no any probim whiff it/.,

  50. MichaelS says:

    Is it just me? I’m completely missing the point… Where’s the missing period? It sounds like a gag being played either on Dana, or on the fill-in announcer…

  51. asj1253 says:

    You’re right about that comma after “write”–it does assist with clarity. Not a “rule” so much as a well considered choice to assist with clarity. I’m an English teacher who doesn’t insist on absolutes with punctuation so much as I insist on a rationale. Still (in the age of accountability with our students through standardized testing), we have to teach them certain rules nevertheless. For example, I didn’t want to pile on above, but I would have to insist to my students that the comma in your sentence above (“It’s always amazed me, because I can hear the pause in my head as a write a sentence that’s begging for a comma.”) is incorrect because we don’t need a comma to add a dependent clause onto an independent clause. But, again, I understand your comma there is more a style choice to enforce the pause you hear rather what the ACT college test would allow… In either case, you and your contributors on this site are obviously well spoken and articulate (not to mention political kindred spirits) which is why I visit every day.

  52. I don’t think it’s “bothered,” I think people really don’t “hear” it in their head a they write it.

  53. Fast writing, online especially, lends itself to homonyms and other weird errors. In writing this above I used some other word that was similar to one of the words I wanted – it wasn’t a misspelling, rather it was a word that, in a messed up poetry kind of way, could sound similar to the word in question. I love when those mistakes happen – it’s as if your mind hears the word as you’re typing it.

  54. jomicur says:

    I love this clip. It seems like more and more local news people (and not a few national reporters as well) have no concept of punctuation, either written or oral. I call it “Delanosis” after John Delano, a reporter on KDKA here, who is far and away the worst; the random pauses and run-ons in his reports make the whole quite incomprehensible at times. I used to think it had something to do with him reading a teleprompter, but I recently heard him deliver a live speech, and he was just as bad reading from his prepared text. (He’s a lawyer and a relation of the Roosevelt family, so he’s presumably well enough educated that he ought to know better). Creeping Delanosis is infecting all of broadcast journalism, it seems (not that there’s much real journalism being done these days).

  55. Henry Owen says:

    Let’s eat, Grandma!
    Let’s eat Grandma!

  56. No, I’m suggesting a comma is needed when a comma is needed. I don’t believe there’s an actual rule that covers much of anything 100%. For example, you could have written “I love ya John,” and left out the comma, and I still wouldn’t have find it fine, as it just doesn’t need the comma for clariy’s sake. I also vehemently, but lovingly, disagree about no comma after “write.” Otherwise, the sentence suggests that people ‘write still” – and then I’d ask if they use on L or when they write it :)

  57. asj1253 says:

    Yikes, I love ya, John, but this comment is begging me to write it… Your third sentence in your post above has a totally unnecessary comma after “who can write.” And in your second paragraph, you claim to have “intentionally” left off the comma after “But,” but in that case, there would be no need at all for a comma. You seem to be suggesting that commas are required when one might pause–yet there’s no “rule” about pauses. A pause in your syntax doesn’t require a comma (although a pause certainly may indicate that a comma is warranted for other reasons, like separating introductory phrases or clauses, or inserting nonessential words or expressions mid-clause).

  58. nicho says:

    Send me a man who reads!

    Send me a man. Who reads?

  59. RepubAnon says:

    A panda eats shoots and leaves.

    A panda eats, shoots, and leaves. (These would be Florida pandas.)

  60. I no!!!!!! it gotten 2 cra-z

  61. BeccaM says:

    He reminds me of Ron Burgundy, ‘famous’ for reading absolutely anything put on his teleprompter.

  62. iamlegion says:

    He seems awfully damn chipper about that, regardless of who was set on fire…

  63. BeccaM says:

    I’m a stickler for proper punctuation, too, as well as spelling, capitalization, and grammar. Within reason, of course, since most of us know that constructs such as sentence fragments, split infinitives and the like are considered acceptable in casual writing these days.

    But I can’t abide walls of incoherent text, replete with misspellings and misused homonyms, random punctuation, run-on sentences, and an apparent belief that if one exclamation point is good, six or eight must be better. Now, with the advent of texting? It seems like spelling itself has been deemed purely optional.

  64. Naja pallida says:

    Proper punctuation and capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle, Jack, off a horse, and helping your uncle jack off a horse. When people can’t be bothered to use them, I find myself skipping their posts. In a text-based medium, I believe it is always best to try and be as clear as possible. People already misinterpret enough. Writing like a lazy fool helps no one.

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