Sadly enough, punctuation is a neglected aspect of language. It’s been overlooked, scorned and deemed unnecessary. But it strikes back in sentences where it’s badly needed. Have a look at the following phrase:
three year old children
The ambiguity resides in this: Are we talking about three children that are one year old (three year-old children) or about children of an unspecified number that are three years old (three-year-old children)? A hyphen or two would solve the mystery.
However, the hyphen is not the only punctuation mark that we need to start paying attention to. The comma has long been in a coma for many careless speakers and there’s something we need to do about it.
In speech, of course, we make many pauses. But the comma is the embodiment of a pause in writing and can help us read the text as if it was spoken. We need the comma to help us maintain the natural flow of reading and lead us through the text smoothly.
Not to mention the fact that it greatly aids comprehension. Try leaving out the comma from the following sentences:
Let’s eat grandpa.
We’re going to learn to cut and paste kids.
Jane finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dog.
Without a comma, these sentences are appallingly cannibalistic, which probably isn’t what we want to say. The only thing we need to do is add pauses wherever natural. With the help of a comma, we can disambiguate the sentences and save innocent humans:
Let’s eat, grandpa.
We’re going to learn to cut and paste, kids.
Jane finds inspiration in cooking, her family and her dog.
And the last comma-less sentence that you need to figure out yourself:
This toilet is only for disabled elderly pregnant children.