12 Jul 2013, 1:00am
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  • Comma

    commas2 Comma


    The comma is one of the most important punctuation marks in Vietnamese. Here is a story which shows us the importance of the comma. Once upon a time in Vietnam, there was a young couple who had loved each other for many years. Because of a lack of money, the man decided to work abroad to earn enough money to marry his lover. Several months passed by without receiving news from the boyfriend, the girl made up her mind to write him a letter and said that she did not have enough patience to wait until he came back. After receiving the letter, the man hastily wrote in reply to his girlfriend’s letter with only three words: ‘Đừng chờ anh!” (Don’t wait for me!). And thus the girl got married with another man. Coming back to Vietnam six months later, the man accused her of having a change of heart. The girl then took out the old letter, gave it to him. He was too shocked to remain conscious. He had missed a comma in his letter while of unsound mind. Actually, he meant to say, ‘Đừng, chờ anh!’ (Please, wait for me!).

    Missing a comma has changed meaning of the sentence in the letter, which cause the biggest regret of the man’s life in the story. Therefore, it is essential that we have to be careful in our writing, and put a comma in the right place. Putting a comma in a suitable place will make it clear for readers. Here are some simple rules.

    - Firstly, the comma is normally used to divide a sentence into elements, or to separate the main elements of a sentence from each other.

    Ex:      Ba đi làm, mẹ đi mua sắm, còn con đi học.

    Daddy goes to work, mommy goes shopping, and I go to school.

    Nam, Hoa, Lan sắp hoàn thành bài thuyết trình.

    (Nam, Hoa, and Lan are going to finish the presentation.)

    - Commas can be used to separate elements in a series.

    Ex:      Tôi thích nhiều món ăn vặt như hột vịt lộn, bò bía, gỏi cuốn, v.v…

    (I like a lot of snack foods such as half-hatched eggs, bo bia spring rolls, fresh salad rolls, etc.)

    - We can also use a comma to separate the adverbial phrase or clause from the main clause of a sentence.

    Ex:      Ngày mai, tôi đi xem phim. (I will go to the cinema tomorrow.)

    Hàng năm, cứ vào cuối thu, lá ngoài đường rụng nhiều. (Every year, in late autumn, leaves fall a lot in the street.)

    In spoken Vietnamese, commas are important for creating pause time. A pause in the right place at the right time gives you: time to breathe, time to consider what it is you’re going to say next, time to receive, and digest the feedback you’re getting from your audience. You should remember that the pause of a comma a bit shorter than a full stop.

    Below are some more interesting examples which will show you that moving the position of a comma could change the meaning of the sentence completely.

    Khi uống bia, không được cho đường. (Drink beer, do not add sugar.)

    Khi uống bia không được, cho đường. (Can’t drink beer, add sugar.)

    Khi uống bia không, được cho đường. (Drink beer without ice, can add sugar.)

    In conclusion, if commas are used properly, they will help the readers to be aware of the writing’s intended meaning. Don’t forget: ‘First think, then put a comma.’

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