Wednesday 11 January 2017

COMMA - Where art thou?

The simple answer? Here, there and everywhere. And often where it shouldn’t be.

Such fun going over your manuscript looking for those sneaky ones … NOT! At least our full stop (US ‘period’) does exactly what it says it does.

Examples with no stops or commas: 'Time flies you can't they fly too fast'  and
Let's eat Daddy.'  Oh dear....

Despite  the ‘comma’ being a tricky piece of punctuation, I have to admit it is a very useful little mark. Especially in wills, so I’m told. It’s funny how older books sprinkled them like a sower sows seed. Nowadays they’re not quite as popular, but still necessary to help a reader make sense of what the author wants to convey.

Maybe the difficulty lies in Australian authors swinging between the US and the UK market. A pity we can’t just make up our own rules & use both. Ah well, maybe the dear editors among us would have a fit.  I am quoting the University of Bristol as sometimes Grammarly confuses me as to whether they’re using US or UK grammar. Without appearing to be a crashing bore, I’ll list a few instances just to jog our memories.

1.      To separate a list of three or more items. And wait for it, the Oxford comma.
There is some debate about whether or not to include a comma to separate the last two items.
eg: His favourite desserts were apple pie, rhubarb crumble, and jelly and ice cream. 

The comma after ‘crumble’ indicates that jelly and ice cream is considered a single item in the series. Phew! 

On some occasions using the Oxford comma definitely avoids confusion.                                                             eg: I dedicate this work to my parents, Marie Smith, and God. Without using that Oxford comma, it would mean her parents were Marie and God. Hmm.

2.      Before certain conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, yet, or. These are separate independent clauses. So they are called coordinating conjunctions.
               eg: She was a great cook, but she would never be as good as her mother-in-law.

3.      Separating introductory elements in a sentence. (Except when the introductory element is very short.) Ex: After his nap Sam felt a lot better. But: After a deliciously long nap, Sam felt a lot better.

4.      Separating elements in a sentence expressing contrast.                                            
        eg: He was first attracted by her money, not her stunning looks.

There are many other obvious uses, but these are probably ones we may forget. And I have. I suppose if I sometimes puzzle over where to place that punctuation mark, maybe others might also.
So we may as well keep calm & not panic. (Still it's nice to have some control over the little blighters, isn't it?)

Author Rita Stella Galieh is an indie publisher of her Victorian trilogy;
Signed Sealed delivered, The Tie That Binds & A Parcel of Promises.
At present she is excited about preparing to publish Miss Kate's Great Expectations. Her heroine has some issues, especially as Kate can handle a pistol, but can she hit her target in matters of the heart?
She teams up with her friend, Margaret Lepke, who has all the technical expertise needed in publishing. And our fellow member, Iola Goulton, has both edited and assessed the original manuscript.
And a Happy & Blessed New Year to you dear ACWs!


  1. Thanks, Rita. It often exasperates me when I have to go back and read a sentence twice in a book to get its meaning, all because the author didn't bother to use a comma or doesn't understand how and where to use one. Then again, I probably use them too liberally because I'm a bit 'old school' when it comes to commas!

    1. Hah!Better to be accused of being 'old school', Jo, than having your poor reader unsure of your meaning.

  2. I tend to do the same too, Jo-Anne. I've always being pulled up for using too many commas.

    1. I guess it's just a matter of asking yourself 'is it really needed here?' Well, Hazel, we have to admit our editors really earn their keep, don't they?

  3. Great post on a problem I encountered as a beginner years ago. I asked a multi-published author friend for advice. She laughed and told me she had recently spent a lot of time changing her use of commas for an editor at her large, international publisher then located in England. When the proofs for her book arrived from that publisher, the commas she had taken out had been put back in. And yes, I still have problems with commas! Oh, and exclamation marks!

  4. Hah! A case of the comma in 'the eye of the beholder', eh Mary?

  5. Great post, Rita. For such a small mark, they can cause a lot of hooha :)

  6. Rita, great post! I struggle at times with the differences in US and Australian English grammar. Commas can drive me crazy, lol :)


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