14 November 2010

Care with women and punctuation.

I received this item from my friend Javi Nava and I thought it might be a good warning as well as a lesson in about misplacing the comma in Spanish that I can share with my fellow students.

In Spanish, the personal pronoun is often omitted because it is carried by the verb ending and the gender is derived from the context. However, a problem can arise with the placement of a simple coma that will drastically change the meaning of the sentence.

Note the difference in the meaning of the following two sentences that are written identically except for the placement of the coma:

Si el hombre supiera realmente el valor que tiene la mujer, andaría en cuatro patas pidiéndole perdón.
If the man really knew the value of the woman, he would crawl on hands and knees asking her forgiveness.

(Translation note: "en cuatro patas"...literally "on four paws")

Now remove the coma from behind the word "mujer" and place it behind the word "tiene".

Si el hombre supiera realmente el valor que tiene, la mujer andaría en cuatro patas pidiéndole perdón.
If the man really knew his value, the woman would crawl on hands and knees asking her forgiveness.

Be careful. It's a jungle out there!


Anonymous said...

although i am fluent in spanish, i rarely have the need to write it. i see what a big difference the correct placement of the comma can make. i will keep that in mind when i need to write something en espanol.

teresa in lake stevens

Judy said...

When I was taking Spanish in college we were to write a letter to someone about what we had done for the week-end. I hauled around my dead in-laws in the back of a trailer with their stuff. The professor and I had a good laugh about literal translations from the dictionary.

Don Cuevas said...

Gee, Bob, that's great. It was just the other day, I was wanting to say that exact thing, but couldn't form the sentence. :-)

Don Cuevas

Mergatroyd said...

I had to start the first sentence three or so times because I thought it was about an unconscious person, but it made no sense.

I think you meant to use the word "comma," which is a punctuation instead of the word "coma," which is when someone lays in bed for a long time without opening their eyes.

Bob Mrotek said...


You are absolutely right! I used the Spanish spelling of "comma" in the English sentence. How silly of me and how observant of you. Thank you. I have corrected it. I don't know what I was thinking. I must have been in a coma :)

Alice said...

good example. i've noticed the rules for using commas here are very different. in fact, sometimes where i might place a period someone writing in spanish might just place a comma. do you know what that's about?

here's an example from an email i received: "OK Alice me parece perfecto, te confirmo mañana si podemos vernos en la tarde, si no tendra que ser el viernes para ya tener todo ok cualquier duda nos hablamos."

Bob Mrotek said...

I have wondered about the same thing and made a study of it and my conclusion is that many people here are not as constricted to the rules of grammar and spelling as we are and so they place the punctuation "más o menos" where they see fit. The same thing with diacritical marks (accent marks). I try to be very fastidious about them and my wife hardly uses them at all in her e-mails and her commas seem to me to be haphazard. I think that for informal communication as long as the meaning is understood then anything goes. Formal writing, however, is different and many times it is left to specialists like a notary for example. They need to be right on.

Greg Hahn said...

Good one, Bob, and perhaps an excuse to use a few more personal pronouns than one might normally use.

However, the second version of the sentence seems pretty far-fetched if you ask me. If the man knew his own worth, the woman would come crawling? I know lots of men that think very highly of themselves who don't get that at home.


Cassie said...

This reminds me of a similar expression in English. It's not just in Spanish where you have to be careful of grammar marks like commas!

The test goes something along these lines. Here is a sentence that needs grammatical markings. Please add them.

woman without her man is nothing

This could be:
Woman, without her man, is nothing.

Or...it could be:

Woman! Without her, man is nothing.

It's been fun reading along about your adventures. We are looking forward to moving to Puerto Rico, but I've lived in Mexico (in Queretaro) for a summer about 10 years ago. You can check out our blog at: http://www.lifetransplanet.com

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.