Tuesday, November 19, 2013

To Comma or Not To Comma...That Is the Question

It seems that the rules for proper use of commas always seem to be changing. I learned back in the 60's where and when to place commas in my sentences. Since then the 'rules' keep fluctuating. So I got the thinking, who makes up these rules and if they are rules why do they keep changing?

The serial comma is a good example. I was taught not to place a comma before the and in a series such as red, white and blue. Others were taught to put one in. In college, a million years ago I was marked down because I didn't put one in. This illustrates the problem with 'rules' in some instances in punctuation. There are varying schools of thought as to when the comma is to be used.

There isn't even consensus amongst the supposed arbitrators of proper punctuation. Oxford University Press indicates you should place one but the Associated Press does not. So who do you believe? What way were you taught? Are you writing in England or the USA?

The criticism authors get from editors and readers may or may not be valid depending on what you were taught. Is either way truly wrong? Does it really matter if the meaning of the sentence is clear?

I am going to continue to use, not only serial commas but commas in general as I was taught way back in the 1960's. I'm going to be consistent, or at least as I can be, with their use. I am not going to worry about someone else's method of where I should or should not place commas. If the universities and press can't agree on what the rule should be in my humble opinion it's not a very good rule.
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5 comments:

  1. Hi,
    Thank you for this very encouraging article, and I do mean encouraging. I am presently living in Europe, and I cannot tell you how many times I have been hit by certain editors in the U.S. because I was using the punctuation rules according to good old Oxford. Especially when writing an article for Textbroker, the customer would give me an outstanding rating, but the rating that counts is the one from Textbroker. My excellent written article that also met the needs of the customer above all that the customer expected, was downgraded to 3 stars. The validation was always my commas.
    Now, I am finishing up my first book, and you can probably guess what my main worry is, commas. So, it is nice to hear someone whom I respect highly say what you have said.
    Once again, thanks.
    Ciao,
    Patti

    ReplyDelete
  2. On whether or not to use the Oxford comma:

    http://thebookloversmusings.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/121/

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree! It gets so confusing as to who to listen to. So, I guess we listen to our old English teachers and how the sentence reads. As you state, clarity is the most important rule.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Editing course I took follows strictly Chicago Manual of Style and it insists on the serial comma. Personally, I prefer to use them.

    I'm Canadian, and was taught British spelling and grammar, but I mingle with a lot of Americans online, and find that frustrating when they want to correct me. One instructor of an online course wanted me to change "cheque" to "check" on my website blurb example. She scolded, "Unless you'll be working with UK clients, it must be changed." (Dah, had she any clue I, her student, was Canadian and maybe I was right? That scolding was very alienating.)

    See the example of the importance of serial commas for clarity with these sentences: Her favourite sandwiches are turkey and bacon, peanut butter and salmon. (Does she like peanut butter with salmon mixed?)

    At the zoo I met Sarah, Tom, a zookeeper and a pastor. (Did I meet 2 people, or 4?)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Editing course I took follows strictly Chicago Manual of Style and it insists on the serial comma. Personally, I prefer to use them.

    I'm Canadian, and was taught British spelling and grammar, but I mingle with a lot of Americans online, and find that frustrating when they want to correct me. One instructor of an online course wanted me to change "cheque" to "check" on my website blurb example. She scolded, "Unless you'll be working with UK clients, it must be changed." (Dah, had she any clue I, her student, was Canadian and maybe I was right? That scolding was very alienating.)

    See the example of the importance of serial commas for clarity with these sentences: Her favourite sandwiches are turkey and bacon, peanut butter and salmon. (Does she like peanut butter with salmon mixed?)

    At the zoo I met Sarah, Tom, a zookeeper and a pastor. (Did I meet 2 people, or 4?)

    ReplyDelete