Do We Really Need Commas? Part 1
In this age of texting, tweeting, and voice-to-text messages, the lowly comma has all but been forgotten. Is it really necessary? Will our message lack clarity if we don’t put the commas in the right places or ignore them completely? Many people might say, “Well, I know what you mean” or “I don’t really pay attention to punctuation anymore.” I have read many Facebook posts and texts with no punctuation at all or maybe a period at the end of a long string of run-on sentences. This is a problem for several reasons: it takes longer for the reader to figure out the writer’s message; the real meaning may not be clear; or the writer appears to be illiterate, careless, or lazy.
On the lighter side, using a comma correctly can save lives!
Jan Venolia, author of Write Right!, has this to say about commas:
“In their search for an all-purpose rule, some writers place a comma wherever they would pause or take a breath when speaking. This heavy-breathing school of punctuation may leave readers feeling somewhat winded. On the other hand, too few commas create misunderstandings. You need to chart a course between those extremes, placing commas where they help readers grasp your meaning” (p. 54).
A Few Rules to Keep in Mind from Write Right!
Use commas when needed for clarity:
- To separate identical or similar words
“Whatever you’re going to do, do it right.”
- To provide a pause or avoid confusion
“Fashion passes, style remains.” Coco Chanel
- To indicate omission of a word or words
“When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, a hundred.” Thomas Jefferson
Be careful not to use too many commas or your writing will become tiresome. Unless the comma is needed for clarity, you may omit it between short, closely related clauses. Here are a few examples from Write Right! (p. 55):
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” Helen Keller
“I saw the angel in the marble and I just chiseled till I set him free.” Michelangelo
“Give a little love to a child and you get a great deal back.” John Ruskin
This is only the beginning of a discussion of the rules for using commas. I will return to the subject in a later blog, titled “Do We Really Need Commas? – Part Two.” Stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!
Venolia, Jan. Write Right! A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style. 4th Edition. Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.
Karen Schuster, April 10, 2020
#commas, #editing, #Eagle-Eye-Editing, #correctuseofcommas