Monday 17 February 2014

DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE? (#6) Topic: Comma rules are ridiculous.

Please don't get me wrong, I am not naive. I have been an editor of English Language Teaching materials for ten years. I know my grammar and punctuation.

But I HATE the comma. DESPISE the comma.

The comma causes so many p,r,o,b,l,e,m,s. <<<< [link = Sex Pistols song]

Because there are too many "rules".

Before I tell you how I think the comma should be used, I would like you to see a brief list of comma rules according to The Chicago Manual of Style:

  • Commas with “not” phrases
  • Comma following main clause
  • Comma in index entries
  • Comma between digits
  • Comma with city plus state
  • Comma preceding a quotation
  • Comma preceding main clause
  • Commas relative to parentheses and brackets
  • Commas with question marks or exclamation points
  • Commas with quotations
  • Commas with introductory adverbial phrases
  • Commas with questions
  • Commas with addresses and place-names in text
  • Commas with “that is,” “namely,” “for example ...
  • Commas with “etc.” and “et al.”
  • Commas to indicate elision
  • Commas in pairs
  • Commas with “oh” and “ah”
  • Commas with independent clauses joined by conjunctions
  • Commas with compound predicates
  • Commas with dates
  • Commas with “not . . . but,” “not only . . . but ...
  • Commas between homonyms
  • Commas with “the more,” “the less,” and so on

Um ... there are probably more, but I'm tired ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

So what say you? New universal rule for commas?

"When a pause (or clause separation) is necessary, insert a comma."

Viola. P,r,o,b,l,e,m,s solved.

What do you think?

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  1. Even though the comma annoys, I don't think there are too many rules. Without these rules, sentences would lose the nuances not found in other languages. The larger problem is that the English-speaking countries have varied rules that can prove problematic. For example, in American English "too" must be preceded by a comma if "also" can be substituted for the word; if not, the sentence's meaning changes.

    1. "The larger problem is that the English-speaking countries have varied rules that can prove problematic."

      I think this is exactly why there should be a more universal rule :-) Do you really think there aren't too many rules? Just look at that list!

  2. I agree. Commas have too many rules!

  3. I can't not know the rules now. Curse of the day job. I still break the rules sometimes in my own writing, but that usually requires one part of my brain to slap another part around a little.

    1. Hehe, yes, that is often a problem on my end too. But with commas, I choose to ignore.

  4. all my comma knowledge is self taught. So sometimes i get it wrong, but not as often as you would think, considering i'm doing 98% of it by feel. So i think your new rule would work pretty well

  5. When you read aloud, the comma usually comes at that nature point when you would take a breath.

  6. That's a scary amount of rules. I agree with Bish - just insert a comma where you naturally pause.

  7. Hahaha. You don't want me to answer that question. :P
    -Grammar Goddess (Carrie said so) and evil copy editor person.

    1. Hehe! I'm an editor too, but I guess my hate of commas is a bit like wanting to avoid walking into a smelly toilet.

  8. Commas are like rabbits, they proliferate if we let them. One of my crit partners is a comma Nazi, so I have been made aware of my tendency to use too many. Yes, too many rules, like too many commas are unnecessary. I have that Chicago Manual - one teacher told me it was good for use as a doorstop. . .I'd go for simplicity in rules.

  9. It looks like I might be in the minority on this, but I, for one, like commas. I don't find the rules overbearing, and in fact I get confused more when prose has a lack of commas rather than an abundance. Yet, just as with adverbs and alcohol, they're always better in moderation. (Yeah, I'm still working on that part.)

  10. Commas definitely at natural pauses and/or to eliminate ambiguity (à la Eats, Shoots & Leaves). I actually abhor the Oxford comma unless it's necessary to clarify meaning, but I use it because so many writers are anal about it.

    VR Barkowski

  11. When I first started writing fiction, I made a bunch of comma mistakes. I actually took a series of classes to learn the rules. I'm not perfect, but I'm so much better. There are so many rules that seem archaic. The English language is a mess!

  12. I like the pause rule! There are so many comma rules that I am constantly looking them up and double checking. Usually most of them just go where you naturally pause. :) Thanks for sharing.

  13. See, I LUUUURVE commas... and em-dashes and ellipses... Pretty much any pause in speech. Know why? I speak slowly and like to make my reader do the same... hear it as I hear it. But then you know me on rules... Rules schmules, I say. I want to put them where I pause, not where I'm told. So there.

  14. Comma use is more an art than a science. I say this as someone who's been a professional editor since 1991. Every editor develops his/her own rhythmic style and will tend to edit to it. I deal all the time with both comma minimalists whose sentences have no indications of pauses to maximalists who put commas around every freaking adverb. I always go for a middle ground, and make sure there are commas only where they seem necessary for clarity and flow. I could go either way on the Oxford comma--it's nice to have a style book that decides for you. Most of the "rules" exist, from what I can tell, to make the art more of a science. Sometimes you've gotta flex to not create a choppy sounding product.

  15. I'm kind of torn on this one mostly because I've seen people overuse commas to the point that it bludgeons me over the head.


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