Monday, 17 February 2014

DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE? (#6) Topic: Comma rules are ridiculous.

Please don't get me wrong, I am not naive. I have been an editor of English Language Teaching materials for ten years. I know my grammar and punctuation.

But I HATE the comma. DESPISE the comma.

The comma causes so many p,r,o,b,l,e,m,s. <<<< [link = Sex Pistols song]

Because there are too many "rules".

Before I tell you how I think the comma should be used, I would like you to see a brief list of comma rules according to The Chicago Manual of Style:

  • Commas with “not” phrases
  • Comma following main clause
  • Comma in index entries
  • Comma between digits
  • Comma with city plus state
  • Comma preceding a quotation
  • Comma preceding main clause
  • Commas relative to parentheses and brackets
  • Commas with question marks or exclamation points
  • Commas with quotations
  • Commas with introductory adverbial phrases
  • Commas with questions
  • Commas with addresses and place-names in text
  • Commas with “that is,” “namely,” “for example ...
  • Commas with “etc.” and “et al.”
  • Commas to indicate elision
  • Commas in pairs
  • Commas with “oh” and “ah”
  • Commas with independent clauses joined by conjunctions
  • Commas with compound predicates
  • Commas with dates
  • Commas with “not . . . but,” “not only . . . but ...
  • Commas between homonyms
  • Commas with “the more,” “the less,” and so on

Um ... there are probably more, but I'm tired ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

So what say you? New universal rule for commas?

"When a pause (or clause separation) is necessary, insert a comma."

Viola. P,r,o,b,l,e,m,s solved.

What do you think?
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21 comments:

  1. Even though the comma annoys, I don't think there are too many rules. Without these rules, sentences would lose the nuances not found in other languages. The larger problem is that the English-speaking countries have varied rules that can prove problematic. For example, in American English "too" must be preceded by a comma if "also" can be substituted for the word; if not, the sentence's meaning changes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The larger problem is that the English-speaking countries have varied rules that can prove problematic."

      I think this is exactly why there should be a more universal rule :-) Do you really think there aren't too many rules? Just look at that list!

      Delete
  2. I agree. Commas have too many rules!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I can't not know the rules now. Curse of the day job. I still break the rules sometimes in my own writing, but that usually requires one part of my brain to slap another part around a little.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hehe, yes, that is often a problem on my end too. But with commas, I choose to ignore.

      Delete
  4. all my comma knowledge is self taught. So sometimes i get it wrong, but not as often as you would think, considering i'm doing 98% of it by feel. So i think your new rule would work pretty well

    ReplyDelete
  5. When you read aloud, the comma usually comes at that nature point when you would take a breath.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Totally agree with you on this one.

    ReplyDelete
  7. That's a scary amount of rules. I agree with Bish - just insert a comma where you naturally pause.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hahaha. You don't want me to answer that question. :P
    -Grammar Goddess (Carrie said so) and evil copy editor person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hehe! I'm an editor too, but I guess my hate of commas is a bit like wanting to avoid walking into a smelly toilet.

      Delete
  9. Commas are like rabbits, they proliferate if we let them. One of my crit partners is a comma Nazi, so I have been made aware of my tendency to use too many. Yes, too many rules, like too many commas are unnecessary. I have that Chicago Manual - one teacher told me it was good for use as a doorstop. . .I'd go for simplicity in rules.

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  10. It looks like I might be in the minority on this, but I, for one, like commas. I don't find the rules overbearing, and in fact I get confused more when prose has a lack of commas rather than an abundance. Yet, just as with adverbs and alcohol, they're always better in moderation. (Yeah, I'm still working on that part.)

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  11. Commas definitely at natural pauses and/or to eliminate ambiguity (à la Eats, Shoots & Leaves). I actually abhor the Oxford comma unless it's necessary to clarify meaning, but I use it because so many writers are anal about it.

    VR Barkowski

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  12. When I first started writing fiction, I made a bunch of comma mistakes. I actually took a series of classes to learn the rules. I'm not perfect, but I'm so much better. There are so many rules that seem archaic. The English language is a mess!

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  13. I like the pause rule! There are so many comma rules that I am constantly looking them up and double checking. Usually most of them just go where you naturally pause. :) Thanks for sharing.
    ~Jess

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  14. See, I LUUUURVE commas... and em-dashes and ellipses... Pretty much any pause in speech. Know why? I speak slowly and like to make my reader do the same... hear it as I hear it. But then you know me on rules... Rules schmules, I say. I want to put them where I pause, not where I'm told. So there.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Comma use is more an art than a science. I say this as someone who's been a professional editor since 1991. Every editor develops his/her own rhythmic style and will tend to edit to it. I deal all the time with both comma minimalists whose sentences have no indications of pauses to maximalists who put commas around every freaking adverb. I always go for a middle ground, and make sure there are commas only where they seem necessary for clarity and flow. I could go either way on the Oxford comma--it's nice to have a style book that decides for you. Most of the "rules" exist, from what I can tell, to make the art more of a science. Sometimes you've gotta flex to not create a choppy sounding product.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm kind of torn on this one mostly because I've seen people overuse commas to the point that it bludgeons me over the head.

    ReplyDelete
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