“The fewer commas you use,” Nicholas Baker once wrote, “the more of a tyrant you would be if placed in a position of power.”
Baker compared commas to expressive hand gestures in friendly conversations. People who use a lot of commas, he wrote, are generally “accommodating, deferential, clement.”
(Memo from Attila the Hun: “Dis guy Baker is ignorant incompetent fatuous superficial and presumptuous.)
So, are you a conciliatory putter-inner or a despotic leaver-outer? Where would you insert — or delete — commas in these sentences?
1. Punctuation is a window on the soul but it’s not the sole window. 2. Commas can chop up sentences, and slow down readers. 3. Like counting pennies counting other people’s commas can leave you “comma-tose.” 4. Some books include comma rules, devised during the 19th century. 5. Don’t insert a comma, unless it’s necessary.
6. A punctuation mark that’s seemingly innocuous, casual and unimportant, can actually make a big difference. 7. Robert Frost’s first book of poems “A Boy’s Will” contains many commas. 8. Robert Frost’s book of poems, “A Boy’s Will,” contains many commas. 9. I’m always struggling with semicolons and commas and I have been battling for decades. 10. George won prizes including a restaurant meal, a spa treatment for himself and a dog.
1. comma after “soul” (Use a comma before a word joining two independent clauses.) 2. no comma after “and” (“And slow down readers” is not an independent clause, so no comma is needed before it.) 3. comma after “pennies” (Use a comma after an introductory word group.) 4. no comma after “rules” (“Devised during the 19th century” is restrictive; it indicates which rules.) 5. no comma after “comma.” (“Unless you’re sure it’s necessary” is essential, not parenthetical, to the meaning of the sentence.)
6. no comma after “unimportant.” (Don’t use a comma after the last item in a series.) 7. commas before and after “A Boy’s Will.”(The word “first” clearly specifies which book, so “A Boy’s Will” is parenthetical.) 8. no comma before or after “A Boy’s Will.” (Frost wrote several books of poems. “A Boy’s Will” tells which of Frost’s book is meant, thus it’s not parenthetical.) 9. If you mean that you and commas have been battling for decades, place a comma after “semicolons.” If you mean that you have been struggling with commas AND semicolons for decades, place a comma after “commas.” 10. comma after “himself” — unless that pooch received a spa treatment!
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His new book, “Mark My Words,” is available for $9.99 on Amazon.com. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.