Can a comma break a sentence

Lessons (45-90 min) school year 5-10

Stephanie Schönenberg | editorial staff

Comma in the right place

Change the meaning with a comma

The picture shows how tricky the punctuation is in German - not only the students have their problems with it. We turn our gaze around and focus on what punctuation can do while reading. The students discover through examples that the position of the comma can change the meaning of a sentence.

Change the meaning with a comma

The comma controls the language processing when reading

Peter will soon marry Vera. creates a different sense than Peter is getting married soon, Vera.

In this respect, a missing or differently positioned comma creates ambiguity or changes the meaning. With examples like these, your students will recognize “that missing symbols make it difficult to understand texts and that you have to set symbols in your own texts if you want to be understood by others without problems” (Eisenberg et al. 2005, p. 12).

Commas: teaching material

You can use three different sentence types to work with this “crazy” comma as teaching material. You will find a module for each type in the lesson ideas in the booklet. Your students will first assess the effect of a missing or misplaced comma. You will then reflect on the connection between the setting of commas and the way of reading and transfer this to other examples.

We'll show you three types of sentences in which missing or misplaced commas change the meaning.

Record type 1: insert or not?

The comma makes it clear which elements belong to which verb.

  • The teacher, says Bart, be naughty.

If the reader encounters the comma here, they intuitively interrupt their grammatical sentence structure and recognize that a new unit has slipped into it. Versus:

  • The teacher says, beard be naughty

Sentence type 2: extended infinitives

  • Jana advises, not always everything to her friend to tell.
  • Jana advises her friend, not always everything to tell.
  • Jana advises not her friend, always everything to tell.
  • Jana advises her friend not always everything to tell.

The comma signals to the reader when the first verb-containing group is finished and a new unit begins.

Construction type: Verb that requires an optional dative object. The word group that follows the predicate is perceived as a dative object, depending on the comma, or as part of the infinitive construction (object sentence in the accusative).

(Alternatively: the predicate is followed by an adverb that modifies either the first or the second part)

  • He hopes, a text message from her every day to get.
  • He hopes Every day, a text message from her to get.

Sentence type 3: salutation or not?

a. "Peter breaks straight on Vera. ”versus“ Peter breaks just on, Vera.“

b. "Ben eats still Jule. ”versus“ Ben eats still, Jule.“

The variant without a comma shows that the respective name is grammatically integrated into the sentence. It is either part of an adverbial determination (a.) Or as a predicate-dependent object (b.).

At a. two-part verbs are used. In the first case is on Part of the adverbial provision (on Vera), in the second case it is on Part of the two-part predicate and Vera the syntactically separated salutation.

At b. verbs are used that govern an optional object. In the first case, the name occupies the object position, in the second case it does not (salutation).

Lessons (45-90 min) school year 5-10