Comma Sense #1


People who fail to use commas correctly in their writings are selfish. Oooooo, those are fighting words, you might say, if you are one of the ones who once learned the proper use of commas but ignore the lesson.

Commas are markers that writers use to help readers understand what they are trying to convey with their written words. Without commas, readers are left to either misunderstand the message or are forced into spending time trying to figure out what the writer is trying to say. Either way, the writer has been selfishly thinking only of his own convenience in whipping out a message without regard for the reader’s need to read and understand the message accurately and quickly.

Example:
Libertarians say the Green Party should not be permitted on the ballot.
Libertarians, say the Green Party, should not be permitted on the ballot.

Well, which is it? Clearly, only one of these is what the writer intended.

Try this one:
A man, who had just come off the boat, fell into a drainage tunnel.
A man who had just come off the boat fell into a drainage tunnel.

Does the meaning change with or without the commas? If not, take your pick. Either one could be used.

The rules of punctuation can get a bit complex in the hands of a purist, but what we simple folks need to know first and foremost is this: Is our meaning clear? Can the reader, even at a glance, understand our message?

Therefore, when we go back and proofread our work (and we ALL do this, don’t we?), we should make the attempt to proofread from the viewpoint of our selected audience for this piece. This will help us to punctuate for clarity even if we don’t take the time to study the rules.

Oh, one more thing: Once we learn a rule of punctuation, we must use it all the time whether in writing a formal paper for submission to a literary journal or in texting a message on our iPhone. That’s the only way that it can become an integral part of our writing lives. It just makes life so much easier in the long run.

About R. Z. Halleson

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