Thursday, August 4, 2011

Commas question - writing tip

Question from my e-mail: A friend keeps telling me I use too many commas. I learned when to use commas in English 101, so I'm not completely ignorant. I don't just throw one in every time I stop to think. She says most of them are unnecessary and to just "ignore the rules" and leave them out. Should I follow her advice?

Answer: NO. I know there is a whole school of thought about this that says to leave them out, but commas in sentences are like stop signs when you're driving. Maybe you can ignore them, but not always. Sometimes a behemoth of a truck is coming your way and disaster lies in wait.

Here's my best very basic advice about commas. Put them where you'd pause for breath or effect. There's a world of difference between:

"Shoot John!" and

"Shoot, John!

In one sentence John gets shot, in the other he is instructed to shoot. That can make a big difference to your reader, as well as to John.

1 comment:

  1. I always remember a couple of Benny Hill lines when he was directing a movie.
    In the first the actress said: "What's that in the road, a head?" and the director yelled, "No no dear, it's 'What's that in the road ahead'." and in the next, the actress says (in closeup), "What is this thing called, love?" and Benny the director, yells, "No no my dear. It's: "What is this thing called love?"
    There'll never be another Benny Hill, and he could teach grammar too!