The disappearing comma . . .

One of the things I have noticed over the years is that today’s writers have an aversion to using commas.  Think about it: how often have you been reading a book when, all of a sudden, you lose track of the meaning of a sentence and have to re-read it?  It happens to me all the time.  Yes, it could be that my ADHD is partially to blame, but, more often than not, it’s usually because there wasn’t a comma where one ought to have been.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: The plane landed with a bump and Jerry heard the roar of the engines when they were slammed into reverse.  The sentence ought to read: The plane landed with a bump, and Jerry heard the roar of the engines when they were slammed into reverse.  The rule that governs this is: Use a comma before any coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) that links two independent clauses.

The same rule applies in this next sentence: A women in her late twenties sat alone within the waiting room and in her left hand she held a keychain of pink rabbit fur.  The sentence should read: A women in her late twenties sat alone within the waiting room, and, in her left hand, she held a keychain of pink rabbit fur.  The comma after the word and is used to separate the two independent clauses.  However, the comma after the word, hand, is governed by another rule: Use commas to offset appositives from the rest of the sentence.  In this example, in her left hand is an appositive, a phrase that offers additional information about the second independent clause, she held a keychain of pink rabbit fur.  

Another comma that has been eliminated (incorrectly, I might add) is the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma.  This is the last comma in a series.  Example: They spotted two prostitutes, an Asian man, and an Italian woman.  There are four individuals alluded to in the sentence.  However, when the final comma is eliminated, the meaning of the sentence becomes quite different.  They spotted two prostitutes, an Asian man and an Italian woman.  In this sentence, there are only two individuals—an Asian man and an Italian woman—and both are prostitutes.  The rule goes like this: Use commas to separate items in a series.

In my opinion, these examples are the ones that lead to the most confusion.  For a complete list of “comma rules,” see A Guide to Proper Comma Use – Business Insider.


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About AuthorJoePerroneJr

I am a former professional fly-fishing guide, and I write the Matt Davis Mystery Series, which presently consists of five books: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day, Twice Bitten, Broken Promises and Deadly Ransom. The series is set in the real town of Roscoe, NY, in the Catskill Mountains, where I guided for ten years. I love fly fishing, movies, cooking (and eating), and music. To learn more about me and my writing, please visit my website at: http://www.joeperronejr.com.
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12 Responses to The disappearing comma . . .

  1. allenrizzi says:

    Very good points. I have the same problems reading verything from fiction to news articles. Personally, I use the comma where I WANT the reader to pause, not necessarily where the MLA Style Sheet tells me where to put it. (Ma, poi di nuovo, sono un ribelle!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Joe! 🙂 Sharing…

    Like

  3. Joe, when we first started working on my two books for you to publish, the very first thing you said was, “Don’t indent paragraphs!”. The second thing you said was, “Don’t be afraid to use commas!” I’ve followed both of those words of guidance. I don’t look at grammar rules for commas. I use them to allow the reader to enter the thoughts that are being presented. We talk with commas (pauses) to help bring emotion and presence to what we wish to express. Happy commas, everyone! Use them to convey, more explicitly, your desired meanings through written words! Smiles!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bruce Pfeffer says:

    Hi Joe,
    Thanks for the tutorial. I remember an exercise in Mr.Tarrant’s English class, where we looked at a newspaper headline, all caps, and no punctuation. There were multiple meanings, some of them hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bill Ramsey says:

    Rules of grammar are being violated just like every other rule that used to guide our society. I try to use a separate sentence to make for ease of reading without loss of meaning. If perfect adherence to the rules was necessary before posting one of my quick blogs, I would never write again.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jane Raffo Nocella says:

    I think you are a secret member of the Grammar Police! It is an elite squad composed of people like us, who can’t help but correct the grammar mistakes of others. I’ve been told by family members, it’s a very annoying habit. I use commas way too often. I’m pretty sure they are often unnecessary, but I can’t help myself. Phrases, such as “due to” instead of “because of”, bother me too. Is it really incorrect? There is only so much my 72 year old brain can remember from school that ended in 1968. My BA in English was supposed to place me in a classroom. Alas, I discovered I really don’t have the patience to deal with other people’s children on a daily basis. It was a good thing to discover before I traumatized thousands of children.
    I will now share your blog with my English major friends who did enter classrooms. They will be happy to know their is another member of the squad!

    Liked by 1 person

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