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The Comma

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Old 12-16-2005, 06:41 AM
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Default The Comma


This is just another informative post for those of you who don't always know when to use the comma. I am going to try to pull together all the rules for comma usage here, so if I miss one, please let me know.

The Mighty Comma

Rule 1 - Use a comma to separate the elements in a series of three or more things.
He got out of bed, took a shower, brushed his teeth, and went to work.
There are many people out there who do not use the last comma (the "Serial" comma) when completing their list and that is grammatically acceptable, but can sometimes cause confusion if it is a long list. It is totally your discretion.

Rule 2 - Use a comma to separate an independent clause when it is joined with any of the conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.
We wanted to start a fire, but we didn't have any wood.
His parents' anniversary was Friday, so he took them out to dinner.
Rule 3 - Use the comma after an introductory element or a prepositional phrase of four words or more.
After reading his story, he realized it needed a lot of work.
This comma can be left out if the introductory element is short and it will not cause any confusion. When in doubt, use the comma.

Rule 4 - Use a comma to set off a parenthetical reference - a non-essential modifier that doesn't affect the reader's ability to identify a particular person, place, or thing.
The lead administrator of this site, who has a serious drinking problem, had put in long hours to make this place great.

OK, so I'm kidding about the drinking problem, but as you can see, that particular modifier could be taken out and we wouldn't miss it. The commas kind of help it fade into the background.

Rule 5 - Use commas to set apart adjectives of the same rank.
Juice is a calm, cool, distinguished gentleman.
Like I'd know, since I've never met him, but the example serves the purpose. If you could put the word 'and" between all of them and the sentence still makes sense, then you can use commas. If you are talking about a beautiful ming vase, you can't use commas because the sentence does not make sense when read, "The beautiful and ming vase."

Rule 6 - Use commas to set off quoted elements. This is a very important rule for you writers who use a lot of dialogue in your writing.
Arachn1d said, "I want this to be the best writing forum on the net."
Notice that in the above example, you place the comma before the quote to set it off.
"I want this to be the best writing forum on the net," Arachn1d said.
Notice in the above example that the comma is inserted inside the quotation marks. The comma always goes inside the quotation marks. If it is just a paraphrase, then you do not need a comma.

Rule 7 - Use a comma for basic typographical reasons. This means that there are basic rules for commas in ages, geographical locations, names of states and nations used with city names, dates, affiliations, titles, and most large numbers.
Dalton, 28, had yet to experience life before his untimely death.
Does anyone remember that groundhog's name from Punxsutawney, PA?
The woman gave birth on January 22, 2006 to a beautiful baby girl.
Death Dragon, Global Moderator of Writersbeat.com, has just won the lottery and decided to give all of his winnings to Dalton, Administrator of Writersbeat.com.
OK, I know there are more, but these are the basics. I have taken all of this information off three different websites to make sure I got it all right for you. If you would like to read more rules on comma usage, I would suggest going to:
Purdue Univ. Online Writing Lab
Guide to Writing and Grammar - Rules for Comma Usage
10 Simple Rules for Using Commas

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Old 12-16-2005, 12:28 PM
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I have a quick question about rule number six.
Notice in the above example that the comma is inserted inside the quotation marks. The comma always goes inside the quotation marks.
Does it really? I was always taught that commas or elipses should NOT be in quotations unless they are actually in that exact location from which you are citing. For example, I should not put an elipses in this Bible verse: "In the beginning... the earth was formless and void". Why is this not a correct citation? Because the quote has no "..." in it. Thus I should say, "In the beginning [...] the earth was formless and void". The hard brackets denote that I have edited the text that I am citing, and that in fact no such elipsis is actually there.

Similarily, you shouldn't end a quote with the comma in the quotation: "'I want this to be the best writing forum on the net,' Arachn1d said" implies that Arachn1d spoke a comma, which is literally nonsense. I believe it should be "I want this to be the best writing forum on the net", Arachn1d said. Why would you say that that is wrong?
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Old 12-16-2005, 12:42 PM
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I took that from here as I was in agreement with you until I read it.
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Old 12-31-2005, 02:07 PM
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I have always been taught to place the comma inside the quotation marks at the end of a statement, and outside them before the statement, just as the rule states.

By your reasoning, uber, if

"I want this to be the best writing forum on the net," Jake said.

means that he spoke with a comma, then

"I want this to be the best writing forum on the net", Jake said.

means that he never finished his sentence and should end with a period before the end quotation marks. It just wouldn't be correct.

"I want this to be the best writing forum on the net.", Jake said.



What about addressing someone? I think that rule should be included in your post. Don't you agree, Dalton?
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Old 03-06-2006, 06:16 AM
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Hi,
I think when one addresses another directly, a comma is used. For example: "Joe, what time is it?" or "Do you want another meaty bone, Fido?" Or in my case: "Hey, stupid, what are you lookin' at?"
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Old 03-30-2006, 04:58 AM
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Okay, in dialogue or when you quote another person, you place the comma inside the quote: "I want this to be the best writing forum on the net," Arachn1d said.

When you're writing a paper or an article, for example, and you quote another author, you put the comma outside the quote: In the line, "Lovely lilacs scent the air", it's clear that the poet is speaking of springtime.

The same holds true for periods and other punctuation: What time of year is it when the poet wrote, "Lovely purple lilacs scent the air"?

The punctuation goes inside if it's part of the quote: She wrote, "Do lovely lilacs scent the purple air?"

Unless you're writing an article or paper, most writers will only ever have to put commas and other punctuation INSIDE the quotes, during dialogue.

Hope this helps clear things up.
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Old 03-30-2006, 09:59 AM
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My rule of thumb: only use commas where absolutely necessary (meaning as few as possible.)

This comes from my training in journalism. Newspaper editors hate superfluous commas (although I have recently noticed ", and" rather than "and" in news service articles.
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Old 04-01-2006, 04:40 AM
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Starrwriter,

I suppose it all depends on what you're working on, which style book you use, and how the newspaper/magazine/publisher/academic forum adapts that particular style to create their own uniform style. We learn one style in grade school, another style in college, and have to periodically adjust depending who we're writing/copy editing for.

Unfortunately, in American English, there is no one RIGHT way. But as writers, we have to decide for ourselves which style is proper, then use it consistently. On our own, the best source to consult for most grammar and punctuation pickles is Strunk and White. You can't go wrong there.
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Old 04-23-2006, 12:27 PM
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This is getting a bit difficult at times for me. I have recently edited a novel for an author and have noticed his americanisms with commas.

Rule 1 in the first post, some people will put a comma before "and" in a sentence of multiple parts but being from England I'd personally never use a comma and then the word "and".

Plus, whilst I may have just placed a full stop after the last word in the last sentence I wrote, when it comes to speech there is absolutely no way any punctuation moves outside of the apostrophes.

Extra rule needs to be mentioned as help. If there are two blocks of speech with the speaker mentioned in between then the narrrative ends with a full stop.

ie.

"It is very important to use full stops correcly in the English language," said Tim. "As otherwise our language will be butchered."

There is currently officially English and American English. Unnoficially there is also Hingrish, plus lesser known versions of English and it is very probable that we are likely to see the emergence of Global English. There are 50 odd sounds in the English language, some nations weren't brought up to make some of these sounds and their language has very specific words for items that mean that a combined version of English is better suited for use which is where Hingrish comes from. The situation with companies exporting their telephone help desks to India because of lower costs over there turned up an interesting documentary I watched where Indians had extreme difficulty learning a couple of our sounds. Some Indians never were able to say them.
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Old 04-24-2006, 12:32 AM
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That troublesome comma

TimD,

Yes, there are distinct differences between English and American English. I think it's a difficult thing for an American to edit for a Brit, and vice versa, unless there's a thorough understanding of the general rules of thumb for the other side. It would be so much easier if there were a standard rulebook for all English-speaking writers. Especially in America where writers often learn several different styles.

In my preivous post, I mentioned that we learn the general style in grammar school. But we will probably learn a slightly different or updated version of that style in college. If we're in journalism school, still different rules apply, especially when it comes to commas. The Associated Press (AP) style, for example, does not put a comma before "and" in a series. In grade school, and according to the standard styles in non-journalistic courses in college, there is definitely a comma before "and" in a series.

In novels and other works of fiction, no punctuation appears outside of the quotes. When writing academic papers or academic articles, the rule changes in a very specific way according to what is being stated or quoted.

When it comes to novel writing--and editing novels or any other piece of written work--the standard rule of thumb is this: Be consistent. Make sure all those commas go inside the quotes. Make sure that when a line of dialogue ends and is not followed by "he said" or "she said", the period/full stop also goes inside the quotes. Whether or not a comma is used before "and" in a series is up to the writer. But make sure the usage is consistent throughout the body of the manuscript.

Unless you're writing for newpapers or magazines, the safest bet is to pick up a copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. It's small and inexpensive and is an essential survival manual on punctuation. On Bartleby.com, you can even read it for free on the Internet or copy-and-paste it, chapter by chapter, into Word, if you wanted.

If you're feeling ambitious and have a wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket, you can pick up a hefty copy of the Chicago Manual of Style at a hefty price at your local bookstore, or at a somewhat cheaper price in Amazon.com's Marketplace.

For writing newspaper and magazine articles, get yourself a copy of the AP Stylebook.

All of this, of course, is from the American perspective.
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Old 04-24-2006, 03:47 AM
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By the way, TimD,
I love York. It's a great place.
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Old 05-21-2006, 02:31 PM
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TimD: How would you have punctuated Tim's words in your example without the narrative?
"It is very important to use full stops correctly in the English language," said Tim. "As otherwise our language will be butchered."
It seems to me it would read:
It is very important to use full stops correctly in the English language; as, otherwise, our language will be butchered.

If that is the case, the narrative form would read as follows:

"It is very important to use full stops correctly in the English language," said Tim; "as, otherwise, our language will be butchered."

I think for stylistic reasons I would prefer to write the sentence without "as": that makes the point clearer.


"It is very important to use full stops correctly in the English language," said Tim; "otherwise, our language will be butchered."
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