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A BIT ABOUT COMMAS

February 13, 2013

             The lowly comma is an essential part of your writing. It separates the smallest part of your sentences, designates the pauses, the clauses and the places where you might want to take a breath. Most writers either tend to use too many or too few commas in their work. Or, like me, even though I have all this editing experience, I tend to go either way. When my writer’s group critiques my pages at the meetings, they’ll find the random comma I’ve either left out or added in where it shouldn’t be.

            How do you know where to place one? The good old Chicago Manual of Style has quite a few rules for special cases regarding commas, especially when other punctuation is involved. However, their basic definition boils down to my second sentence above.

            The one rule the Manual cites that I disagree with is for commas in a series. See the example below:

            Lexie had three forks, two spoons, one knife and a napkin.

            Notice there is no comma after knife and right before the and. The Manual says there should be. A lot of writers in my group add one in there. Technically they are right, especially for going by the Manual and probably a lot of English teachers.

            However, I learned from technical writing and the Air Force’s old 50-34 Pen and Quill manual. The standard is to not use a comma after the last object in the series because the and takes the place of the last comma, rendering it unnecessary. No need to clutter up the sentence with extra commas!

            I’ve used that standard consistently throughout my writing. The worst thing I can do, or you for that matter, is to vary the rule throughout your writing.

            I know that either method is technically correct. Many people go strictly by the Chicago Manual of Style. For almost everything else, I certainly do. However, in this case, I go the other way and choose the comma-less method.

            How about general use of a comma? Examle:

            Meleena turned to the voice and spotted the short lithe figure of Vaaaven an annoying but useful associate.

            Where would you put a comma or commas?

            The sentence doesn’t read quite right as is, does it? It would take an easy fix with a simple little squiggly mark.

            Meleena turned to the voice and spotted the short lithe figure of Vaaaven, an annoying but useful associate.

            Notice how the comma signifies a pause in the sentence, where you might take a breath? It also separates the clauses.

            A lot of times, commas come by feel. That’s why writers tend to use either too many or too few. The final say will be with your line editor, but the more chops you gain as a writer, the better your instincts.

            That’s it for this stanza.

            Happy writing.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2013 2:51 pm

    Really useful post here. Sometimes I get so confused with grammar – and even more confused when I try to read stuff explaining it. Your writing is clear, and the examples you used make real sense to me. Thanks!

    • February 15, 2013 5:03 am

      Gabriella,

      Thank you so much! Yeah, commas can really confuse. I’m glad my little piece helped.

      Fred

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