Jump to content

[Grammar] Comma madness


Tiger

Recommended Posts

There are so many who misuse commas. They are confusing at times, but some of us are cursed. I happen to be cursed, because it irks me when they are not used properly. I realize that people like to create pauses in their writing and to have a certain flow, but is that really what the audience wants? You may want to write stories in which comma rules are not followed tightly, but they should be at times to avoid confusion. The most important rule is not to overuse commas. In other words, you do not use a comma just because you want to do so. The rules for comma usage are not simple, so having a reference point is good. The CCC (City Colleges of Chicago) website has a good list of comma rules. I will post the rules below. Keep in mind that I already mentioned not overusing commas. :)

 

1. Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two.

 

This is the most common use for commas. Notice what I underlined. So many people do not follow the rule correctly. There is supposed to be a comma before the conjunction (usually and). If other commas are already in use, you should use semi-colons. Example: This summer I'm going to Paris, France; Berlin, Germany; and Madrid, Spain.

 

2. Use a comma + a little conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) to connect two independent clauses, as in "He hit the ball well, but he ran toward third base."

 

This applies only to coordinate conjunctions like the ones above. The alternatives are to make separate sentences or to use a semi-colon.

 

3. Use a comma to set off introductory elements, as in "Running toward third base, he suddenly realized how stupid he looked."

 

I use this one a lot in my writing. It's part of my "voice". It can be difficult to remember, but it is still a comma rule.

 

4. Use a comma to set off parenthetical elements, as in "The Founders Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River, is falling down." By "parenthetical element," we mean a part of a sentence that can be removed without changing the essential meaning of that sentence.

 

People sometimes, through wanting to avoid overusing commas, miss the comma rule. Notice that I just used it properly myself.

 

5. Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives.

 

This can be confusing. "He wore a silky purple shirt." It would not make sense to put and or but between silky and purple. "I shivered on that cold, rainy night." You could easily add and between cold and rainy.

 

6. Use a comma to set off quoted elements.

 

Most people understand this rule. As we have discussed in other threads, you need to understand the context in order to understand whether or not we must use a comma or a period at the end of a quote. Example: "I wanted to give this to you." Marcus blushed.

 

If I had said, "Marcus squeaked," then there would need to be a comma instead of a period.

 

7. Use commas to set off phrases that express contrast.

 

"He is a pig, not a gentleman."

 

That one would hurt. I just wanted to show contrast. This is not as common as some of the other rules, but it a rule in which we all need awareness.

 

8. Use a comma to avoid confusion.

 

Example:

 

For most the year is already finished.

For most, the year is already finished.

 

9. Grammar English's Famous Rule of Punctuation: Never use only one comma between a subject and its verb.

 

Example: "Believing completely and positively in oneself is essential for success."

 

This one can be confusing, but it is true. A writer may want to add a comma between oneself and is, but that is incorrect.

 

10. Typographical reasons

 

That basically means to use commas for names of cities, dates, names and titles, and long numbers.

 

Examples:

 

Toronto, Ontario

September 4, 2008

Madison Knightly, Attorney General

5,493,506,321

Link to comment
  • Site Administrator

My understanding on point one is that the part about a comma between the last two elements is known as an Oxford comma, and that it's optional (though recommended).

 

That's the part with commas that always confuses me -- while some rules are clear cut, others are optional or personal taste. The rule I was taught when I went through school (back just after the dark ages :P ) was that you used a comma when you would have a pause in speaking. That rule is still followed by a lot of older writers, but younger writers are taught that that is no longer correct.

 

In other words, the 'rules' for comma use are changing over time.

 

PS: Can someone who knows what they are talking about please check the above post for correct comma use? :P

Link to comment

This is a great reference list, Tiger. Thanks!

 

Graeme, the rule about the serial or Oxford comma, to the best of my understanding, is that it is optional. I was taught not to use it when I was in grade school, but my college profs later said that the rule isn't hard or fast. I don't know, in other words. I think it's more common in American English, and less in British (and Canadian) English. When I write, I tend to decide whether or not to use it on a case-by-case basis, usually for stylistic reasons. I don't know whether that's correct or not, but it works for me.

Link to comment
My understanding on point one is that the part about a comma between the last two elements is known as an Oxford comma, and that it's optional (though recommended).

I hereby strongly recommend the Oxford comma.

 

Graeme, the rule about the serial or Oxford comma, to the best of my understanding, is that it is optional.

There it's now been officially recommended :boy:

 

I was taught not to use it when I was in grade school, but my college profs later said that the rule isn't hard or fast. I don't know, in other words. I think it's more common in American English, and less in British (and Canadian) English.

I'm not positive, but I think that's backwards. I've always understood it to be more common in British English and less so in American English (I'm not sure either way about Canadian but I would have guessed it would have been more common).

 

As I said, I personally strongly endorse it. I can't stand it when people leave out an Oxford comma.

 

 

Take care all, have a great day, and be safe!

-Kevin

Link to comment
  • 3 months later...

The Oxford comma is also called the "serial" comma. The comma after the last element before the conjunction is generally required in American English and frequently not used in UK/Commonwealth English. (I'm hedging, here, since as was pointed out, comma use is changing. Further, we are writing for an international audience. I strongly recommend using the serial comma.)

 

American: John, Mary, and Sam went to town.

UK: John, Mary and Sam went to town.

 

Using a comma to show a pause in speaking seems (hedging, again) appropriate for dialogue but less so for narration. I find, more and more, that ellipses are used to show pauses in dialogue. Which do you prefer:

 

"Uh...John, I uh...really dont want..." OR

 

"Uh, John, I uh, really don't want,"

 

If you've not read, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss, I heartily recommend it.

 

On the other hand, I could have gone the rest of my life without knowing the definition of coordinate adjectives--even that they existed. Just kidding. Thanks for pointing us to a great resource.

Link to comment
  • 2 weeks later...

I was happy to see the specific rule cited for coordinate adjectives. I've had a devil of a time convincing authors that there's a difference between "cold, blustery day" and "big red ball" in terms of comma use, and have even had authors request that their manuscripts be transferred to another editor because of my insistence on this distinction. (But then again, I've angered authors by my insistence on the difference between "it's" and "its," so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.)

 

When I was a proofreader at Princeton University Press (in antediluvian times), the serial comma was referred to as the "Princeton comma," and was required in all books we published. So the commas in "Mary, Nancy, Pansy, and I" were mandatory, not optional.

Link to comment
  • Site Moderator

When it comes to it's vs. its, I've told my authors to use this trick when trying to decide which to use. Since it's the contraction for it is, say to yourself it is, if it works, then use it's . If it doesn't work, then use its.

Link to comment
  • 1 month later...

So, here's a test of comma usage that helps me in my editing. Both of the sentences below are correct, but what is the difference between them?

 

1. My sister Flicka rode off into the sunset.

 

2. My sister, Flicka, rode off into the sunset.

Link to comment
  • Site Moderator
So, here's a test of comma usage that helps me in my editing. Both of the sentences below are correct, but what is the difference between them?

 

1. My sister Flicka rode off into the sunset.

 

2. My sister, Flicka, rode off into the sunset.

I think there's a couple of ways to go here.

1. You can use two commas to set off any expression that explains a preceding word. In the case of #2, Flicka is introduced as the sister.

 

2. It can also be an interruption in thought to introduce the sister.

Link to comment
So, here's a test of comma usage that helps me in my editing. Both of the sentences below are correct, but what is the difference between them?

 

1. My sister Flicka rode off into the sunset.

 

2. My sister, Flicka, rode off into the sunset.

 

 

1. You have more than one sister; the one named Flicka rode away. Her name is essential to the correct understanding of the sentence.

2. You have one sister, and her name is irrelevant, or at least not needed for the sentence to be understood correctly.

 

Good example. Thanks.

Edited by David McLeod
Link to comment

Bingo, David.

 

The rule on independent clauses (which require commas) and dependent clauses is, I find, the hardest part of writing and editing.

 

Consider:

 

1. I left early so that he couldn't see the tears in my eyes.

 

2. I left early, so I was hungry long before noon.

 

The first correctly has no comma because the meaning of "I left early" is clarified by the dependent clause. The second correctly has no comma because the independent clause simply adds noncrucial information.

Link to comment
My understanding on point one is that the part about a comma between the last two elements is known as an Oxford comma, and that it's optional (though recommended).

Yes, it's the Oxford Comma, and those who know me, realize it's something I go ballistic over. I am vehemently for it in all cases. However the rules pretty much say it's optional in most cases. There is a specific except for a series of series in which case it's NEVER options.

 

I read Book A and Book B, Book C and Book D, and Book E and Book F. (Horribly contrived example but you get the idea -- it's NOT optional here.)

 

That being said when I edit, it ALWAYS gets corrected. People who edit me often uncorrect it.

 

I (as always) direct everyone to Lynne Truss' excellent tome Eats, Shoots, and Leaves which I take as second only to her Majesty on the proper use of Queen's English.

 

I hereby challenge anyone here to a duel to the death to anyone who wishes to challenge the Oxford Comma. Use it. It doesn't cost anything and makes it much more clear when you write.

Link to comment
  • 2 weeks later...

Oh, I can't get involved here. I abuse and overuse commas, and not because I don't know the rules. I do the same thing with apostrophes. My finger has a habit of straying to that button on the keyboard when I, personally, am pausing to think. I overuse ellipses when I actually want a pause in the story.

Link to comment
  • 1 month later...
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here: Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..