1. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    Commas...My number 1 demon I must slay

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Infinitytruth, Apr 4, 2011.

    Any tips, tricks for remembering how to place commas? I always get comma splices and run on sentences in my writing. :(
     
  2. aimi_aiko
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    aimi_aiko Contributing Member

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    I understand exactly what you're going through. This happens to me quite often actually. I believe that all writers have a moment of misplacing commas, etc. When I use commas, I usually re-read the sentence (or paragraph) and I make sure the sentence is a correct complete sentence.

    My best advice to you is just read your sentences and make sure they look like complete sentences. Run-ons and fragments are a pain, but you just have to teach yourself when to place a comma and where.
     
  3. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I don't know if there's a simple lsit anyone could run down since commas are used and misused in any number of ways. My best advice is to get a guide book, go through each rule, and write some practice sentences that focus on each point the book makes.
     
  4. Omega14
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    Omega14 Member

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    Situations requiring commas can be broken down into just a few main categories:

    1. Joining three or more words in a list.
    2. Joining two complete sentences as long as the comma is followed by a suitable connecting word (eg. and, or, but, yet, while). Without the connecting word you end up with a splice, or run-on sentence.
    3. To replace missing words that might otherwise have been repetitive.
    4. Bracketing commas mark off a weak interruption in a sentence. They should come in pairs, unless the weak interruption occurs either at the beginning or at the end of the sentence (in which case use only one). If you cannot remove the material contained within the bracketing commas without destroying the sentence, then the commas are in the wrong place.
    5. Introducing speech, or joining speech to a dialogue tag.

    Examples:

    1. I went shopping and bought carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and beans.

    2. I would grow my own vegetables, but my garden is not big enough.

    3. Harry wanted to learn French and Bill, German. (Harry wanted to learn French and Bill wanted to learn (repetitive) German)

    4. Strawberry jam, in my opinion, is much nicer than raspberry. (interruption in middle)
    Or: In my opinion, strawberry jam is much nicer than raspberry. (interruption at beginning)
    Or: Strawberry jam is much nicer than raspberry, in my opinion. (interruption at end)

    Another example:

    The babies, who were all dressed in white (weak interruption), were eating ice cream, and the chocolate, which was dripping down their chins (weak interruption), was staining their clothes brown.

    Take out the interruptions and you're left with: The babies were eating ice cream, and the chocolate was staining their clothes brown.

    5. "Hello," he said. She replied, "Hello."

    For longer sentences, break them up: start by putting commas before your joining words and work out where the bracketing commas go by looking for the parts of the sentence that could be removed without destroying the rest of the sentence.

    Hope that helps.

    Rachel
     
  5. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    This is a run-on-sentence and it is very subtle. For the trained eyes, it hurts. Place a comma before the coordinating conjunction to separate the independent clause from the other. Corrected: This is a run-on-sentence, and it is very subtle.

    This is a comma-splice, you could be hanged for this if the succeeding independent clause is too long. If the next independent clause doesn't have a conjunction, use a semi-colon instead of a comma to separate the independent clauses.

    For further reading, pick-up "Eats, Shoots and Leaves."
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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  7. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    Okay, thanks guys.
     
  8. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you read widely you will see inconsistent comma usage. There are a number of issues:
    • Some commas are optional, based on the judgement of the writer;
    • Different style guides give different rules for the use of commas (see the "Oxford comma", for example); and
    • US and UK rules are not the same.
    Comma splices are a particular problem to look out for, and the advice is pretty consistently to avoid them, but a lot of other uses (not all!) of the comma are tricky because there's no overall rule for them.
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Oxford Style Manual says that the comma there is optional "when the clauses are short and closely linked" (as they are in that case), so it won't hurt British trained eyes.

    There's the problem. Somebody can get a good guide to punctuation and work to it, and some folks will still flag what they do as "wrong" because they're working to a different guide and the guides don't agree.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    guides aside, much of comma use is optional, only a style issue, anyway...
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    For anyone interested in comma usage the master is Lewis Grassic Gibbon - he uses it to capture the Scots dialect whilst trying to make it more accessible to non Scots ears. He is marginally easier to follow than Burns or McGonagall but not as easy Byron.

    If you can get through it Sunset Song - and the rest of the Scots Quair is one of the most amazing stories I have ever read. One of the best examples of what literary fiction can be when the author has immense talent.

    He tends to start a paragraph with a capital letter and ends with a fullstop - making liberal use of commas in between.
     
  12. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    Hey guys, kind of an update(Thanks for recent posters its helping me figure my comma problem out!). I just started seemingly to be making some progress with it again, and now I have another question.

    So, I figured out that you should put commas after 'for, and, nor, but, or yet so.' But does that rule HAVE to be there for the longer sentences? I was writing like that earlier, and it seemed to have a good flow to it. But there were parts that felt like they needed a comma.

    But lets say I write a (It doesn't have to be long, I guess.) sentence without one of the transitional words. For example 'The dog is spotted, his name is spot, the dog barks every night keeping the neighbors awake.' Would the commas there be proper commas? Since it doesn't have a transitional word?

    I AM making some progress on it, I think.
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    The clue is that you could use full stops instead of commas. 'The dog is spotted. his name is spot. the dog barks every night keeping the neighbors awake.' They are comma splices, which Fowler (3rd ed) describes as the work of "less literate" writers but notes that they're "not uncommon" in published fiction (giving an example from Iris Murdoch).
     
  14. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    Thanks man. The only problem I have with periods like that is that they don't seem to flow with the words as naturally. I suppose though thats my fault for overusing them. Thats the problem I'm having with this short story I wrote. I put in a bunch of full stops like that, and looking at the overall work it looks horrible. It doesn't have good flow at all.
    It's got a very original storyline for it(like most of my stories), but it just doesn't flow very well.
     
  15. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    And once again, I find some english that tries to tell me otherwise. :mad:

    This came from - http://www.kentlaw.edu/academics/lrw/grinker/LwtaCommas.htm Not promoting the site. Just studying comma usage, and finding an example where you don't need transitional words.

    Incorrect: After many years as a criminal prosecutor she ascended to the bench.
    Correct: After many years as a criminal prosecutor, she ascended to the bench.

    How can that be correct? There's no transitional 'and' or other word. What and the hell am I missing?

    Incorrect: Because the witness was unavailable the judge allowed the introduction of the testimony pursuant to an exception to the hearsay rule.

    Correct: Because the witness was unavailable, the judge allowed the introduction of the testimony pursuant to an exception to the hearsay rule.
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Changing commas to full stops in run on sentences fixes the grammar, but as you've noticed it can mess up the style. Alternatives include putting in a joining word, as Omega14 suggested, or using semicolons (in rare cases colons) instead of commas.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    infinity...
    those qualifying prepositional phrases that need a comma before or after them describe when or why something happened and can go either at the beginning, or the end of the sentence... wherever they're placed, they need to be set off by a comma...
     
  18. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    You are missing that that's a completely different use of the comma, nothing to do with a comma splice. "After many years as a criminal prosecutor" isn't a sentence in it's own right.

    I should mention that comma splices are not always considered wrong. The Oxford Style Manual says that they're appropriate when the clauses are very short and the writer wants to stress their close connection or strong opposition. The sub editor who requires the commas in "I came, I saw, I conquered" to be replaced with full stops is stepping over the mark.
     
  19. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    Okay, thank you.
     

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