Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A to Z Challenge: C is for Comma - Plus the IWSG



Welcome to the 2013 A to Z Challenge!

This year, I’m focusing on two themes:  Emotions and grammar,
depending on which letter we’re on each day.

I’ll be sharing mostly what I’ve learned about writing emotion into a novel, but I’ll also be throwing in a few key grammar lessons, pet peeves I’ve picked up while working as an editor.

Today’s a grammar day!


Plus, it the first Wednesday of the month, time for
Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
So I'm going to kill two birds with one stone and
post about the one thing I feel totally secure about:
the use of the comma!

__________

C is for comma:  a mark of punctuation used for indicating a division in a sentence

As an editor, this is probably the one thing I see used incorrectly most often, or, more accurately, not used effectively or even at all.  A comma is used to set off words, phrases, or clauses from the rest of the sentence, especially where there needs to be a slight pause.  When we speak, we do so in fragments or clauses, and we naturally include small pauses in between these clauses.  Every where there is a pause, imagine a comma, as well.  And did you see how I added a comma before as well in the last sentence?  Well, ditto when you use the word too, too.       

They’re also used to separate items in a series or list of three items or more, even with the use of the word “and” in between.  This way, each item is given equal purpose and is not meant to be combined with the item before it.  Many do not think it’s necessary to use a comma between the second-to-last item in a list and the last, that a conjunction such as “and”, “but”, or ‘or” are all that is required.  While this is common, it’s also incorrect, as not using the comma between is like making the last two items one in conjunction with each other instead of being separate but equal.

Another place people often forget to include a comma is when two complete sentences are joined together, most often by the word “and”.  If each segment of the sentence can stand alone, then use a comma to separate them.  Also, as in this sentence, use a comma to separate or attach words in the beginning or end to the rest of the sentence.  You often see this with the use of time such as “Now” or “Later” or “Today”, but also with adverbs like “Frequently” or “Certainly” or words like “Nevertheless”.

Lastly, if you stick a dependent clause in the middle of an independent one or complete sentence, you divide it with commas on both ends. 

Commas aren’t properly taught in school these days, and we seem to have entire generations of writers who don’t understand the proper placement of commas, but if you listen to the way you speak and hear the pauses in between the clauses, then you know where to put a comma.  A good trick to find missing commas is to use the text-to-speech feature included in most word processing software.        

   

41 comments:

T. Drecker said...

I gulped when I saw the title. Ug! The dreaded comma monster! I've been trying to get a better handle on it, but sometimes it seems as if commas are a 4 year degree in themselves.

Rhonda said...

Thank you. I have debated a few of these in the past as hubby tends to proof read for me and is forever removing commas I think belong.

Rhonda @Laugh-Quotes.com
AtoZ #42

Annalisa Crawford said...

I love punctuation, I use it the way I feel works best. As long as they convey the thoughts you have, I'm not sure there are fixed rules any more. :-) (Although, I'm going to duck now, because I have a feeling you're going to disagree!)

Annalisa Crawford, One of April's IWSG Co-Hosts

Grover said...

I'm fairly comfortable with using commas, it's colons and semicolons that confuse me!

(Grover at Inane Ramblings)

Susan Roebuck said...

Oh commas :-( I tend to pick up a handful and throw them down on the page, hoping they land in the same place. Great post - and very useful.

Nick Wilford said...

I do use the comma before "and" in a list. The Oxford comma. I love all those little things, semi-colons and all, even if I worry I don't always get them in the right place.

JeffO said...

"Eats, Shoots and Leaves" has a great chapter on the comma. And it's a fun read, too!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Andrew at Strange Pegs bemoans the misuse of commas as well. I try to use them correctly without over-using them.
And it's early, so at first I read that you felt secure about the use of a coma...

C.M.Brown said...

The English language is bizarre in itself!

Damyanti said...

A good trick to find missing commas is to use the text-to-speech feature included in most word processing software.

--never thought of that!

Damyanti @Daily(w)rite
Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2013

Twitter: @AprilA2Z
#atozchallenge

Dani said...

It's hit or miss for me. Sometimes I'm placing commas everywhere and sometimes I'm not. It depends on how focused I am.
Dani @ Entertaining Interests
#warriorminion

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for all the comma tips. I've been wondering about if I'm using it right.

mooderino said...

Life would be a lot easier if grammar software (like in Word) actually worked. One day...

mood
Moody Writing

Clare said...

I struggle with commas, so I will be repeating the phrase "pauses in clauses" whenever I'm writing now. I love the text-to-speech feature in Adobe Reader; so useful.

Great post Nancy! :D

John Wiswell said...

Are they improperly taught in schools? I guess they must be in some schools, just as everything else, but I hadn't read about widespread miseducation about them. I figured the greatest source of misuse among the young was texting and the internet, with kids not paying much attention to lessons, not particularly caring and simply winging it. Apathy towards grammar can drive me batty.

Melissa said...

It also doesn't help when the rules allow for more than one choice - like 'if an introductory phrase contains less than three words, a comma is optional.' I can tell you that most of these phrases, unless they are only one word, stumble me when the author leaves the comma out.

I disagree about the Oxford comma, though. I find many sentences read better without it. I only include one if it improves cadence or if leaving it out would make the meaning unclear.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Comma's make me sweat. I dread seeing all the corections my editor makes.

nutschell said...

A wonderful reminder of how to properly use the comma!
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Rob Z Tobor said...

I must admit I sort of guess this sort of thing, I also cant spell or type that well so rely on my faithful stream powered PC to safe me.

Good luck with the A to Z

Man O' Clay said...

Thank you, for the post, on commas. I, a teacher struggle to, get the idea across to my, students.

Amy Jarecki said...

Hi Nancy, thanks for visiting my blog! I agree, commas are misused, sometimes overused, and sometimes I'm sure the writer hadn't realized they'd been invented!

buddhakat said...

Howdy... saw your blog theme and decided this is one I want to follow through the alphabet, at least! I like the mix of emotion and grammer, since I love grammar and have basically no writing skills to speak of.
Nice to meetcha!

:)

Tasha Seegmiller said...

My day job turns me into a comma nut - my students don't know how to use them, and I'm constantly marking commas on everything. They think if they take a breath when writing, surely that is where a comma should go.

Nikki Godwin said...

I'm a full supporter of the Oxford comma. I'm SO glad you pointed out that it is incorrect not to use it! :)

Andrew Leon said...

Using speech as a comma indicator is a bad idea. That leads to tons of inaccurate commas based on how people want you to read. Commas are for meaning not for breathing. So the pause in speech can be an indication, but it's not reliable.

I did a post on commas a while back dealing with that topic in particular.

Michael Abayomi said...

Great post. Love your theme for this year's challenge. Would definitely be checking in often. :D

petedenton said...

Yay! The good old comma. Often misused and underused. Well done for championing its cause. :)

Kate said...

The problem with commas is that sometimes their use is a bit subjective. It's exactly those pauses in speech that make it a little bit tricky to hammer down. Maybe someday it will be easy, but until then, I'll just hope for a great editor who knows all the tricks :)

Heather M. Gardner said...

I love that song!

Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma-chameleon! You come and go! You come and go-oh-oh-oh!

Sorry. Couldn't help it.

Thanks for the important comma tips!
HMG

Marta Szemik said...

Thank you for the useful post. I'm sure it's one I'll refer to often. I struggle with the comma all the time.

Jo said...

Thank you for the coma lesson! I frequently forget the coma after and in a sequence. I needed the reminder. Jo

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I'm no comma-queen, but I'm always surprised how many talented writers forget the comma in addresses or tags.

Hi, Jack, how goes it? Or: Yo, David, may I bug you?

Or: Whatever is wrong, Nancy?

I guess the more important question is, why does it bug me, Joylene, so much?

Shawn Yankey said...

I know my English teachers, and my Grandmother who was a teacher, would tear my blog apart if they saw it. Very helpful post.

Nancy Thompson said...

Actually, Andrew, it’s a very good idea, and the pause in speech is an accurate indicator, because it’s used for inflection, not to breathe, and yes, the author has a very particular way in which he or she’d prefer to have the reader read. The problem isn’t misplaced commas. It’s missing ones.

The majority of writers don’t have a firm grasp on the proper use of commas and are unable to remember all the rules for its use, so I advise using the pause for inflection.

As an editor, I was spending so much of my time simply replacing missing commas, but once I instructed my authors how to proof their manuscripts, their work came back at least eighty percent cleaner.

So for those who don’t know the rules, Oxford or otherwise, the pause is a “quick and dirty trick.” And the text-to-speech tool is an effective way to find the missing pauses.

Carrie Butler said...

Rules, especially those applying to fiction, have loosened considerably since most of us were in school. I gravitate toward what sounds best when read aloud. :)

Rebecca Green Gasper said...

Agh...the comma...that dreaded comma. Great to meet you! Happy A-Z <3

Chuck said...

I love the comma and use it copiously, all the time, and when it suits me, too.

I like this post Nancy. I am always speaking in my head everything I am writing to get the commas in place.

Chuck at Apocalypse Now

Jennee Thompson said...

I've been told I don't use enough commas, and, that I use too many. Maybe one of these days I'll use the right amount!

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Guilty as charged. The comma is NOT my friend. We have a love/hate relationship, but I'm trying to fix that. Great post!

Jenn @Scribbles From Jenn

Al Penwasser said...

Your comments about including the correct number of commas in a series is also a pet peeve of mine. I remember (a long time ago), editing a report from my boss. I had corrected his initial draft by including all the necessary commas. I can't remember what he wrote exactly, but it went something like: I changed "apples, peaches and pumpkin pie" to "apples, peaches, and pumpkin pie." I gently (I hope) reminded him that it was incorrect grammar to write the sentence the way he did. He looked at me and asked (I'll never forget this), "Who's the man in charge here, Chief?" With that we had "apples, peaches and pumpkin pie."

Ashlee said...

Oh commas...the bane of my existence.

Ashlee / Ramblings of a Silly Girl