Where, Should I Put the Comma?

Comma placement is a confusing, much debated subject. Many feel as though this little mark should be limited in its use, while others, many of whom are well-written, feel like it should be thrown in like herbs, from a garden, into a recipe, newly-found and loved.

I recently told a colleague, who admitted she didn’t have a clue about comma placement, that when there is a prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence, she should put one after the object of that preposition: “Before the sun sets, the lesson will be learned.”

That’s a general rule I use, but sometimes even then comma placement is a little baffling. But I think of punctuation, and commas in particular, as instruments which help the written word be understood as it was/is meant to be spoken.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, tosses commas around in her sentences as if there were no tomorrow. Nothing against Rowling, or Harry for that matter, but sometimes the sentences, with all those commas, become difficult to follow.

Personally, I use commas to show where the reader should slow down. In Eats, Shoots and Leaves Lynne Truss says they are often considered to be roadsigns by which the reader may find his or her way. I like that analogy.

By the use of proper, or improper, comma placement, you, the writer, can change the meaning of sentences. Typically, I use commas on a limited basis. My writings usually have short sentences and paragraphs, which are a result of my study of journalism. Hemingway used short sentences, so, I ask you, why can’t I?

How ’bout it?

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