Commas don’t bite

As someone who has always loved the sound of words, the shape of them, their meanings and origins, I am regularly surprised when people baulk at the idea of learning how to put them together properly.

The perception is that we either learnt Grammar and Punctuation at school (note the capital letters) or we didn’t. And there’s no going back.

Well I’m here to tell you that that perception is wrong.

I was one of the lucky (and very ancient, obviously) few who were taught some grammar and punctuation at primary school, and I loved it so much I kept the text book! That old battered blue book is wildly prescriptive – there are whole pages devoted to which nouns best describe groups of people or animals and which verbs should be used to express motion and sound. For example, you can have a ‘group’ or ‘bevy’ of women (I told you the book is outdated). Similarly, apes ‘gibber’ when they make a noise, ‘swing’ when they move and are generally ‘ungainly’.

I think the book was created to give new speakers to English a taste of what the Empire considered proper. But it also gave me explanations as to why certain expressions sound right and how words work.

I was also lucky enough to learn other languages at school, and so learnt a little more about how English works by default. When you learn that the ‘imperfect’ is ‘a continuous action in the past’ or that to create a past tense you may need to use a past participle, you can extrapolate that to English and thereby come to some greater understanding of our language. That’s what I did, at least.

So, at an early age I was given a glimpse into how English comes together in a way that connected with me, and I was able to reinforce some of that with my language studies. Sadly, I know many others who were taught by teachers who made them feel stupid, or they missed out completely.

But that doesn’t have to be the end of it. You CAN go back to learn that stuff as an adult. It doesn’t have to remain a mystery forever.

As it happens I teach grammar and punctuation at RMIT several times a year and we’ve got a course coming up in a couple of weeks. This isn’t a covert (or even an overt) ad for RMIT. I truly believe it’s a worthwhile thing to do.

If you’ve ever wanted to finally get a handle on how this crazy English language of ours works, and want to learn in a fun environment where no-one is made to feel small, please consider coming to one of my courses. I’d love to help you through the maze of grammar and punctuation and come out with a greater understanding. It’s a hard slog and your mind will explode with information, but I promise that you’ll have fun too.

Details about the RMIT course can be found here:

And the book I so loved as a child is STILL IN PRINT, has been updated and now includes answers to all the exercises. It can be found here:

Go on, check out the course. And remember, commas don’t bite.

Happy writing!