Can Commas, Change Meaning
One of the most difficult punctuation marks to teach, almost certainly, is the comma. Just like anything else, the more one forces his/her brain to think about these rules, the easier it becomes to pull them out of the dusty recesses of the mind when needed.
Below are listed some of the “main comma uses,” as provided in the Third Edition of The Bedford Handbook for Writers.
1. Before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses: No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but many foolish ideas have died there.Basically, a good rule to follow is when one has a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet), try to replace it with a period and form two sentences. Does it make sense? If it does, then replace the conjunction with a comma immediately preceding it.
My mother sent me to the store to buy milk, and it was on sale.
In the above example, the coordinating conjunction, “and,” can be removed, which forms two independent sentences. My mother sent me to the store is the first independent clause, and it was on sale is the second independent clause. Therefore, there MUST be a comma before the conjunction.
2. After an introductory clause or phrase: If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. Clauses or phrases which require a comma immediately afterusually tell when, where, how, why, or under what conditions the main action of the sentence occurred. For example, if one were to write, In the summer, the weather is quite warm, a comma after summer is needed. The only time a comma is not required is when there can be no confusion by the reader in the sentence. When John was ready to eat, his cat jumped on the table. Omitting the comma could leave the reader with the impression of a cat-eating man named John.
3. Between all items in a series: All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening. Sometimes, however, the final comma is omitted. We, who major in Journalism, are taught often that the conjunction (i.e. and, or or but) takes the place of the comma, and therefore it is not needed. You may notice in newspapers that this tends to be the case.
4. Between Coordinate Adjectives: There is a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good. Our school of thought in this case is that the comma actually can be replaced by the word “and,” and the sentence doesn’t change its meaning. Good and sound are the reasons. Another example is “The bride was blonde, slender and altogether stunning.
5. To set off Nonrestrictive Elements: Silence, which will save me from shame, will also deprive me of fame. When we are adding a phrase of a several words, we need to encapsulate it with commas. If the meaning does not change with the omission of the words within the pair of commas, then it is nonrestrictive. Writing of your only son, his name needs to be surrounded by commas. However, if we write, “social networking strategist Jay Deragon…” we do not need a pair of commas surrounding the name. Why? Because, out of all the people in the world, Jay is not the only social networking strategist.
These are but five rules which guide us to correct comma usage. When in doubt, read the sentence aloud, and put commas where you pause naturally – in most cases. Another option is to hire a professional copywriter or English or Journalism major to proofread what you’ve written.
How ’bout it?
This entry was posted on February 4, 2008 at 9:09 am and is filed under grammar, relationship economy, social networking, The Communications Factors. You can subscribe via RSS 2.0 feed to this post's comments.comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.