For a long time, the comma has been venerated as some mystical, magical creation. Writers routinely employed then fired the standard sentence structure tool with little understanding of the base uses. A thorough perusal from the Chicago Manual of Style reveals twenty-plus pages that lead mere human writers to believe the sneaky comma defies simplistic explanation. Hold on. Assist is on the way. Broken down in mouthful sizes, the comma can be realized and effectively utilized.
According to the Freedom Edition, English Grammar and Structure, “The comma – the most commonly used mark of punctuation – is used mainly to group words that belong together and to separate those that do not. ”
Wow! That sounds basic. Could it really be so simple?
Based on the above definition, the particular comma’s nutshell purpose is to separate or to group. Think of the very out dated bra commercial – to raise and separate. It’s an old term, but on-point for the comma debate. If words can be lifted, or removed, from a sentence without upsetting the meaning, taking them out totally, then a comma is used to counter those very words. NOTE the prior sentence.
More common examples of lifting out are:
1) John, the preacher’s son, was always in trouble with school. Being the preacher’s child might be important to John and his father, but the phrase ‘the preacher’s son’ can be removed from this sentence. The particular casual reader will still understand who’s in hot water with the college.
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2) On the night in question, June 18th, 2008, the preacher’s boy ran away from home. The specific date might be important in a court of law proceeding, yet it can be completely lifted from this sentence without disturbing the primary meaning. So employment of the commas around the date will add clearness to the writing.
The second fundamental use for a comma is to separately list items. The Jones ate crimson beans and rice, spicy blackened grouper, and cream pudding. TAKE NOTE the previous sentence. However , there are 2 issues any writer must consider when forming a list.
First, you have the common journalism thought that the last comma is not needed when separating the list, as the ‘and’ may serve the main function as the final comma. For example: Sally ate red, yellow and glowing blue jelly beans. As opposed to Sally ate red, yellow, and blue jello beans. The dilemma is one of clarity. By employing only the ‘and’ to serve as the comma will the reader determine the three separate colors associated with jelly beans Sally enjoyed? Or even does the solitary ‘and’ seem to make the jelly beans a combination colour? As all aspiring writers understand, getting the words RIGHT for the reader can be tough. If utilizing this comma, the OXFORD comma as really known in literary circles, provides clarity to the sentence, then employ a final comma in the list.
Second, phrases that are commonly thought of together are usually listed together and separated just by the conjunction ‘and’. The above example is red beans and rice. As red beans and rice pair together the way bread plus butter, Bonnie and Clyde, essential oil and vinegar do, then the mixture should be grouped together. Two items that are intimately related in thought processes should be listed together but not separated with a comma.
The comma certainly holds other intrinsic, plus oftentimes, complicated purposes for creating. One search on any Internet engine will result in several million hits, several from universities and institutions of higher learning, for comma explanation. The comma is an ubiquitous form of punctuation with multiple and varied uses. However , when writers follow the basic rules concerning ‘lifting and separating’ and ‘listing’ then their function will be on more solid comma ground.