Re: RE: Comma, or no comma? “He walked across it, feeling invincible.”

Home Forums Writer’s Digest Forum Tips and Advice Comma, or no comma? “He walked across it, feeling invincible.” Re: RE: Comma, or no comma? “He walked across it, feeling invincible.”

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Mikala Engel
Participant

kabuda – 2007-01-20 1:30 PMI always find the best way to find a pause is to read it outloud and find if you need it or not. You are the writer, so you are the one who decides if you want the reader to pause or not. You don’t always have to follow the rules! Hope this helps. Kim 😉

But you should know and follow the rules of proper usage.  There’s a saying in the editorial world.  “Those who use commas wherever they think a read should pause have a name.  They’re called unpublished writers.”

Just because you pause when reading something does not mean a comma should go there, and just because you do not pause does not mean a comma shouldn’t go there.

Few things kill writing faster than incorrect use of the comma.

Proper comma usage separates a sentence into its proper components, and actually gives the sentence proper meaning.  Incorrect comma usage very often changes the very meaning of a sentence, and gives editors nightmares.

We all make mistakes, but the worst thing any writer can do is put in a comma because he wants the reader to pause at a given spot.

The opening pages of Strunk & White cover basic comma useage.

1. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

2. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.

3. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clasue.

4. Do not join independent clauses with a comma.

But comma usage isn’t really this simple.  The Elements of Grammar, by Margaret Shertzer, gives all the rules.

1. Use a comma to separate words and phrases in a series.

2. Use a comma between adjectives preceeding a noun when  they are coordinate qualifying words.

3. Use a comma to separate pairs of words in a series.

4. Use a comma to separate the name of a person addressed or his title from the rest of the sentence.

5. Use a comma to set off words in apposition.

6. Do not separate compound personal pronouns from the words they emphasize.

7. Do not use commas when a word or phrase is in italics or enclosed in quotation marks.

8.  Omit the comma when an apossitive has become part of the proper name.

9. Omit the comma when teh connection is unusually close between an appositive  and teh word it modifies.

10. Use a commas to set off inverted names in bibliographies, indexes, directories, or other reference lists.

11. Use a comma to set off a name from a title or degree that follows it.

12. Use a comma to set off a contrasted  word, phrase, or clause.

13. Use a comma to set off a transitional word or expression such as nevertheless, then, indeed, moreover,  of course, etc.

14, Use a comma to indicate the ommision of a word, usually a word that has been used before in the sentence.

15.  A comma should follow yes, no, why,  well, when one of these words is used at the beginning of a sentence.

16. Use a comma to set of light exclamations.

17. Use a comma to set off a phrase denoting residence or position but not before ZIP code numbers.

18. Use a comma in dates.

19. Use a comma to set off figures in groups of more than four digits.

20. Use a comma to set off two figures or words indicating figures to make their meaning clear.

21. If such introductory words as as, for example, for instance, namely, viz., that is and the terms following form parenthetical expressions and do not introduce enumerations, a comma precedes and follows the introductory word. 

22. The use of a comma after phrases and clauses at the beginning of a sentence is not an arbitrary requirement.

23. When a dependent adverbial clause precedes a main clause, a comma is used.

24. Use a comma between the parts of a short compound sentence when punctuation is need for clearness, or to give an additional idea.

25. Use a comma to separate similar or identical words standing next to each other, even when the sense or continuity does not seem to require it.

26. Use a comma to set off a nonrestrictive adjective clause.  Such a clause is one that is not needed to make the meaning clear.

27. Do not use a comma to set off a restrictive adjective clause.  Such a clause is one that is needed to make the meaning clear.

28. Use a comma to set off informal direct quotations.

29. Use a comma to set off words, phrases, and clauses that would otherwise be unclear. 


At any rate, wanting the reader to pause has pretty much nothing to do with comma usage, and there simply is no way to use commas properly by trying to look for pauses, and certainly not by wanting the reader to pause at a given spot.

As an editor, I’ve found that writers who know, understand, and use the rules of comma usage also get everything else right, and I’m going to like their stories.  On the other hand, writers who do not know, understand, and use these rules properly will, at least 90% of the time, get everything else wrong, as well.  I almost certainly will not like their stories.

The rules, while numerous, are all pretty darned simple, and there’s no reason not to learn them.  I suspect it’s the language, phrases such as adjective clauses, restrictive and nonrestrictive clause, etc., that frighten many writers. 

But you can’t just stick a comma in where you think a reader should pause, or omit a comma where you don’t think a reader should pause.  This simply does not work.