The word comma only means the mark ",", but why does everyone say it as a comma or commas not the comma; likewise a question mark not the question mark only indicating the mark "?".

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    a refers to any instance of the thing.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 17:19
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    Your entire question is based on a false premise. The phrase the comma is used often enough. But it makes sense that instances of a comma or commas would be more common.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 17:53
  • So, "put a definite article in the sentence" can be used? Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 17:54
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    There is negligible difference in meaning. Either one means that the writer needs to include the word "the" somewhere in the sentence. We can say, "Put a definite article in" because we are talking about one instance of the definite article. We can also say, "Put the definite article in" because we are talking about a specific word (i.e., the word "the"). The two sentences may get interpreted a little bit differently, but the underlying meaning is essentially the same for both.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 18:01
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    Sorry, this discussion is straying too far from your original question, so this will be my last comment here. That said, this is not a question about, "Which is more natural?" or even, "Which is more common?" – the answers to those questions are irrelevant. You must be able to tell when one should be used, the other should be used, or either one can be used, That is entirely dependent on context, not some three- or four-word snippet.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 18:19

1 Answer 1


As JR pointed out, the confusion seems to be coming from the very first statement you make:

The word comma only means the mark ","

I believe you are saying the comma is always used to refer to a specific instance of a comma. This may be true, but it doesn't preclude a comma from referring to any instance of a comma.

I think a more accurate and complete statement is this:

The word comma can mean any mark ","

This allows a comma and the comma to have separate usages and still live in peaceful harmony in the same universe.

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