Comma yes, comma, no? Which is correct?
I’ll say this right out from the get-go: I am a comma lover.
A comma is for clarity. A comma has a purpose.
And all too often, I see a whole lot of neglect for commas. And it begets so much confusion and frustration on my part when I read writing that has minimal use of commas. I know I cannot be alone on this. I say that it’s better to have more commas than not. That’s what an Oxford comma is all about (placing the comma after the second to last item in a list).
Someone I don’t know recently said that commas are going out of fashion. Another someone that I don’t know recently said that commas are not necessarily meant to be interpreted as a “pause” in a sentence. I’m sorry, I just don’t understand either of those statements. For me, a comma represents the natural pause in speech. When I read, I “hear” the sentence in my head. Like music, a comma is a half-step pause, and a period is a full pause.
In my critique group, I see more no-comma writing than yes-comma writing, for lack of a better term. So what is it with the lack of commas! Are people not learning this in school anymore? Isn’t the whole point of writing to communicate? And how is a sentence communication if it has to be read more than once because it was hard to understand the first time due to lack of commas? Do folks not process the comma when they read anymore?
Common Comma Rules
- A comma is to separate words and phrases in a series, unless they are connected by conjunctions (and, or).
- A comma is used to separate parenthetical (transition) or contrasting statements. This error I see much too often and is the number one cause of confusion for me.
Example: Students, I fear, are not learning proper comma usage nowadays; nevertheless, we must always strive to do better!
- Another common error I see: a lack of a comma to indicate a nonrestrictive adjective clause — or in layman’s terms, a clause that isn’t necessary to make a complete sentence.
Example: Students, and you with the green hair, pay attention!
- And then the errors with dialogue tags:
She said, “Use a comma before opening the dialogue.”
“Depending on the dialogue, it will usually end with a comma,” he replied.
The key is that commas are for clarity. This is why reading your writing out loud is important. Unless you don’t read punctuation marks while you read. Then I suppose reading out loud isn’t very helpful.
I read classic fiction and “older” fantasy books so I don’t see comma errors in these books. But I was wondering if there are published works out there that have this “modern comma” usage (i.e., the lack thereof)? Is this why folks aren’t using commas anymore?
Bonus content: Here’s an easy semicolon rule: connect two related clauses (that are complete sentences) with a semicolon, not a comma.