1. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    Comma or no comma

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Rumwriter, Apr 21, 2013.

    In general I find that the comma is the most difficult punctuation to use. In my mind there are a lot of instances where it seems like you could either use or not use it. I remember growing up I always thought there were specific rules on when you should start a new paragraph, and now that I'm older, I realize that while there are general guidelines, it's sort of up to the writer to decide where they want to put a new paragraph. I was wondering if that was ever the case with the comma. Sure there are instances where it is definitely either right or wrong, but are there also times when the comma could either be used or not, and it's up to the writer to decide how they want to use it to help the flow or their writing?

    -Rum
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    There are rules.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There are certain comma rules that I think you should follow, like using commas to separate items in a list. It just makes reading and writing a lot easier.

    In fiction, the rules aren't set in stone, and writers may use commas for dramatic pauses. They may also exclude commas to speed up the pace. It all depends on the effect the writer is going for. That being said, it's a good idea to learn the rules and know when and when not to break them.
     
  4. Sue Almond
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    Sue Almond Member

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    Commas

    I agree, there are times when it just is not obvious whether you need a comma or not and I am sure that they are used less often than they used to be when I was in school, learning the rules. There are rules and the book Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss is a marvelous guide as well as being very entertaining. The examples of how the meaning of a sentence can be, not just altered but made to mean completely the opposite, just because of the positioning of commas, are amazing and therefore memorable.
     
  5. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    I understand there are rules. My point was more along the lines of what thirdwind mentioned, about being allowed some flexibility with them to create pauses or eliminate pauses to help with the pacing of the story.
     
  6. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    I think you should always follow the rules. As far as pacing of a story goes, there's no reason that you can't vary the pace a story using proper sentence construction. When a writer attempt to use commas 'creatively', they just look like they don't know what they're doing.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Obviously there are some cases in which commas should definitely be used and others in which they definitely should not be used. However, there are many cases in which comma use is optional, and the writer may choose to include a comma or not depending on how he "hears" the sentence. I often omit commas others would include if I'm writing something that should be read without taking a breath. (It is important to read your work aloud - you'll see how commas affect the pace at which you read, and you'll find you're able to control the mood of the reader to some extent by including or excluding commas in appropriate places.)

    If you assume there is a specific set of never-to-be-broken rules for comma use, you'll suffer because of that for the rest of your writing life. If you understand that commas are great tools for controlling the pace of sentences and paragraphs, you'll enjoy your writing much more. Your readers will, too.
     
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  8. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    Well said, minstrel. I probably sounded too draconian with my advice, but I've seen too many writers use commas irresponsibly, in detriment to the meaning they were trying to convey. Also, I've been on the forum long enough to know how well you write and I'll bet that your use of commas doesn't violate any of the rules of accepted usage.:)
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That means a lot, coming from a published writer. Thanks!
    :)
     
  10. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    This exactly. I definitely use more commas than some people think I should, and in my rough drafts, I sometimes use more than even I think I should. The purpose of punctuation is to set up your words so that there's clarity. That's the reason they exist. Not so that we can take the rule book and smack it upside someone's head when they try to get a bit creative. Frankly, I'm shocked at certain individual's responses given other subjects where I've seen them press for their own, individual creative license to do as they please with the tools that are given to them. Just saying.
     
  11. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    I guess you're referring to me and my use of semicolons in another thread. Well, I did backpedal on my advice on commas and I agree with minstrel as well. To quote Walt Whitman, "I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." (I should probably put that in my sig.:))
     
  12. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    XD Actually, I wasn't referring to you. But I greatly appreciate that you owned up to it.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    skillful writers often exercise their 'creative license' to selectively minimize the use of commas... to insert a comma in every single place the 'rules' say to do so can result in so many that the reader's flow is interrupted more than it's aided...

    the trick is in knowing which ones you can do without and get away with it...
     
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  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You really can't go wrong if you read it out loud. Or, better yet, get somebody ELSE to read it out loud! YOU know what you're trying to say, but they don't. If their tang gets all tongueled up, you'll know you need to rework wording and/or punctuation.
     
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  15. billywhizz100
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    billywhizz100 Member

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    Jannert is spot on. Sure, there are many rules whereby comma use is called for and, without them, sense gets mangled. But that's what Jannert is getting at. If you read the sentence aloud and something doesn't seem to make sense, or else the rhythm of the piece gets skewed, or you just end up running out of breath mid-sentence, then something isn't right. There's no need to get into the specifics of apposite phrases, dependent clauses and the like. Rather, just use your ear and listen out for unnatural pauses that a particular comma might bring to the piece, or else you may be pining for a pause that doesn't come. One point of note is that native English speakers will have a more natural ear for this type of thing — even the less scholarly among us are experts in English usage, though they may not think so! If something "just doesn't sound right", it's likely that a rule has been broken.
     
  16. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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