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Printed from http://www.writing.com/main/newsletters/action/archives/id/9353-To-Comma-or-Not-to-Comma.html
For Authors: January 30, 2019 Issue [#9353]




 This week: To Comma or Not to Comma
  Edited by: Vivian
                             More Newsletters By This Editor  

Table of Contents

1. About this Newsletter
2. A Word from our Sponsor
3. Letter from the Editor
4. Editor's Picks
5. A Word from Writing.Com
6. Ask & Answer
7. Removal instructions

About This Newsletter

         Many writers believe grammar isn't important, but correct grammar is important if writing is to be clear and coherent. This issue will deal with the use of commas. Some people never use them, and others scatter them throughout a manuscript as if rose petals in front of a bride.

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Letter from the editor

To Comma or Not to Comma, That Is the Question


         Commas really are not living entities that reproduce and decide where to live and where not to live. Neither are they snow flakes that land wherever the wind may take them. They are not decorations to be used or not as a person’s fancy may decide. Commas actually have a vital and exact use in writing stories, poetry, essays, or articles. Let’s visit Comma World and see if we can discover when and where commas should be used.

         We should use a comma to separate words in a series, and use a comma before the conjunction, too, unless we’re writing a journalistic article. In a newspaper article, no comma is used before the conjunction. In literary writing, such as essays, stories, and poetry, one is.

Error: Wolves are found in Alaska Canada and Minnesota.
Correct: Wolves are found in Alaska, Canada, and Minnesota.

          Names directly addressed need to be set off by commas.

Error: Be careful Mary, or you’ll fall.
Correct: Be careful, Mary, or you’ll fall.

         Commas should be used to set off conjunctive adverbs that introduce a clause or sentence. However, internal or final conjunctive adverbs should be set off by commas only when they interrupt the flow of a sentence.

Error: Meanwhile the Everly Brothers introduced country harmonies to rock-and-roll.
Correct: Meanwhile, the Everly Brothers introduced country harmonies to rock-and-roll.

         Mild interjections not needing exclamation points will need to be set off by commas. These interjections include words such as yes, no, well, okay, and oh.

Error: Well I don’t understand what you mean.
Correct: Well, I don’t understand what you mean.

Error: When I saw the hole in the offensive line wow I knew the safety would sack the quarterback.
Correct: When I saw the hole in the offensive line, wow, I knew the safety would sack the quarterback.

         Another place commas are used would be between main clauses unless they are extremely short clauses. The comma comes before the conjunction (and, or, nor, but, yet, sometimes for) joining the main clauses in a compound sentence.

Error: Rabbits usually run when sensing danger but sometimes they freeze in place.
Correct: Rabbits usually run when sensing danger, but sometimes they freeze in place.

         Equal adjectives should be separated with a comma. One test is to see if the word and could be used between the adjectives. If so, then a comma is needed.

Error: The velvet skirt fell in soft flowing folds.
Correct: The velvet skirt fell in soft, flowing folds. (Test: The velvet skirt fell in long and flowing folds.)

         Adjectives that must be in a specific order are not separated by commas.

Error: They have many, clever ways of surviving.
Correct: They have many clever ways of surviving.

         A phrase adding nonessential information should be set off by commas.

Error: Wolves in pairs or sometimes in packs hunt animals such as deer and caribou.
Correct: Wolves, in pairs or sometimes in packs, hunt animals such as deer and caribou.

         A comma is needed after introductory words.

Error: To be sure smaller animals can make fierce pets.
Correct: To be sure, smaller animals can make fierce pets.

         A phrase that is essential to the meaning of sentence should not be set off by commas.

Error: Animals, falling into this category, include rodents and rabbits.
Correct: Animals falling into this category include rodents and rabbits.

         A clause which doesn’t add essential information in a sentence should be set off by commas. (A clause has a subject and verb that go together.)

Error: Clowns who usually cause people to laugh instill fear in some people.
Correct: Clowns, who usually cause people to laugh, instill fear in some people.

{indent]One should not set off essential clauses with commas.

Error: The wolf, that is found in Alaska, is called the gray wolf.
Correct: The wolf that is found in Alaska is called the gray wolf.

         Non-essential appositives should be set off by commas. (An appositive is a noun or pronoun - word, phrase, or clause - placed after another noun or pronoun to provide more information or rename the first.)

Error: The gray wolf a wild species of dog is also called the timber wolf.
Correct: The gray wolf, a wild species of dog, is also called the timber wolf.

         But an appositive essential to the meaning of the sentence should not be set off by commas.

Error: The writer, Mark Twain, writes about a young man who runs away.
Correct: The writer Mark Twain writes about a young man who runs away.

         Sometimes a name can be non-essential, and sometimes it can be essential. If a person has only one brother, then the brother’s name would be non-essential. If he has more than one brother, then the brother’s name would be essential.

Examples: My brother, Bob, lives in New York. (“I” have only one brother.)
                   My brother Bob lives in New York. (“I” have two brothers.)

         Punctuation in poetry is the same as in other types of writing. Commas add to the meaning of poetry and allows the reader to better understand what the poet tries to say.

         Therefore, the answer to the original question is one should comma when and where needed.



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When to use the semicolon
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Ask & Answer

Words from Readers


         The following comments are about the issue on plot or character driven works:

Lucinda Lynx
You wrote this very well.

         Thank you.

Max Griffin 🏳️‍🌈
I found your newsletter's essay interesting. In general, I agree that both character and plot are elements of an engaging story. But I also agree with Hitchcock who said the audience, or the reader in our case, cares about the characters. The plot, he continued, is there to give the characters something to care about. That gives a viewpoint that can help to craft a more compelling story and which fuses character and plot and part of an artistic whole.

Write 2 Publish 2020
I'm inclined to agree with William Bernhardt. Everyone knows you need both good characters and plot, but how do you tell when you write more one way or the other? I've looked at my work and I have no idea what I am. Maybe I write evenly both ways. If so it's a good thing. I just write stories about people in situations trying to get through them.

Glynis Jolly
Vivian, I agree completely with Jeni Cappelle. A novel needs both. If the plot is humdrum, the character no matter how engaging is wasted. The character needs to have a life of some sort. If the character is boring, the plot is just a series of events without the perception a stimulating character.

I'm not so sure about Bernhardt's theory of no separation between the two. There are novels more character driven and others that are more plot driven.



Thank you for joining me this issue. Now, a question for you: What are your writing goals for 2019?


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