1. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    Grammar Should commas come in pairs?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by barcelonic, Nov 17, 2013.

    In prose?

    And is this considered ideal or essential?
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Wait.. what?

    Like that? A parenthetical separation?
    Or am I completely way off?
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2013
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  3. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    No. There is no "ideal" number of commas to use. The number of commas to use is fixed for every usage. I suggest reading up on proper usage of commas.
     
  4. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    No A.M.P. that's exactly it. I read somewhere of a renowned author (can't remember who now) who swore that no writer should ever use commas unless in pairs, as you've neatly illustrated. I'd never heard it before so I thought I'd ask.

    Nilfiry has it occured to you that a part of living in the modern world is accepting that sometimes people seek advice online sometimes? And that sometimes this can be a very useful way of learning, and far more social and precise than reading from a book, given mostly that a book does not have the faculty of expanding on anything on the page or indeed answering a simple question?

    Were I to take your advice I'd then be left with nothing to write about but grammar (zzzzz). I'm currently reading Hiroshima and also a detailed examination of North Korea's political ideology. Would you pass that up to read a book about the use of commas? I'd not think that a practical use of my time.

    Thankfully there is an A.M.P. in the thread to further resolve my belief in the awesome power of the online forum! :)
     
  5. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I have a very hard time believing that.
    @JayG might give a valid reason as to why or why not but I have seen the most amazing of today's writers use every sort comma out there.
    Pretty sure it's a grammar thing, no matter what style of narrative you use.
     
  6. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    I suspect it is perhaps a preference - you know how some of these old writers were lol. Poe was vehement in his perceived superiority over other writers and wrote about his methods as being analytical and that any poet who says otherwise (that poetry flows from the imagination onto the paper) is telling lies. :)
     
  7. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    It's incorrect. It's used for a number of reasons:

    I would like apples, oranges and a pineapple.

    Strunk and White would probably be good for this, but you could also pick up more modern books on this. I have "It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer's Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences," and another. The first chapter of "It was the best of sentences..." goes into the concept of conjunctions and subordination, where there is heavy use of commas.
     
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  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    a good punctuation guide should be on every writer's reference shelf, along with the s&w...
     
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  9. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    Agreed mamma, but I don't believe there is any rule in the English language about pairing commas - I ask because I'm wondering if this good reason to employ this technique and it comes highly spoke of, but I accept it is not likely to be a grammatical rule of any kind.

    Robert yes thats a good example. That certainly is the way I've being using commas up until now - for the most part.
     
  10. A.M.P.
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    It's not a rule, exactly.
    It's just the way the language works.

    You could painstakingly avoid writing narrative or dialogue that avoids all parenthetical separations but... why on earth would you? Might as well avoid question marks or something.

    It's not a question of which is ideal or style or narrative.
    English language just works that way and many others who do use Roman alphabet.
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wow. How renowned can an author be if he/she believes that? This might be a children's author, deliberately using only a few simple sentence structures to keep the reading level down. I bet if anybody had confronted Vladimir Nabokov with rule like that, he or she would have received an earful of Russian-accented ridicule.
     
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  12. Laze
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    Laze Active Member

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    A specific rule regarding commas is a bit, silly. You should punctuate your sentences so that they read how you want them to read. Forcing yourself to only use commas when there's an opportunity to fit two into the same sentence is ridiculous.
     
  13. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    You are right, but you should still be doing your own research before seeking advice online. People can be wrong. If you seek advice before doing your own research, you can be easily led astray by the many different opinions. Doing your own research and then asking others will help reinforce what you learned through your research. In this case, had you done some research on the use of commas, you would see that there are some rules to how commas should be used, and then you can extrapolate that, "no writer should ever use commas unless in pairs," most likely refers to a specific rule or is a preference. Afterward, you can come online and ask whether your conclusions are correct, or if you should do some more research.

    I am not trying to imply that your method to understanding this is wrong, but it would have made your question easier to understand.
     
  14. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    There was a poet who lived a long time ago and would always speak in poetry and never in prose. There were likely several.
    This poet would dislike it when people would converse with him in prose. I find that fascinating.

    There is, of course, no rule within poetry to govern such a thing as this nor should there be. Neither is anybody suggesting there should be.
    It's simply an interesting idiosyncary of a great poet.

    Above i gave a similar example of such a thing with Edgar Allen Poe.

    I'd be very pleased if somebody else here would recognise that this is not a question about the RULES of English grammar - I apologise if I have given that impression but to move on what I would really like to know is what people think about this particular idiosyncracy. And by the way it does not need to be used strictly 100% of the time - we are writers not mathematicians/scientists/engineers. There are no literary 'rules' which cannot be broken anyhow; language evolves and it often does so via little idiosyncractic preferences such as this.


    EDIT: Nilfiry truthfully I've no idea what you may or may not be implying because you seem to have misunderstood my thread. I am asking for opinions not an answer. I also am not in the mood to be argumentative, as you seem to be.
     
  15. A.M.P.
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    @barcelonic
    I think most people just use commas. It's just the way things are written.
    Unless they have a very unique style that doesn't use them, I doubt any of us have more opinion on it than whether to use punctuation.
     
  16. Robert_S
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    There are other reasons for single commas and because short sentences are the thing (something I don't believe in either), you'll often see single commas with subordinating conjunctions:

    Before robbing a bank, Mike was an accountant.

    Casagrande, June (2010-07-14). It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer's Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences (p. 19). Ten Speed Press. Kindle Edition.
     
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  17. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    I guess I'm just on the search for a little inspiration. I was rather inspired by Poe's methodology and his views, and equally interested in this 'paired commas' thing.

    There are certainly times when it just doesn't seem possible - like when listing items. But at times when it is possible I'm hoping to try it out for a while and see how it reads back afterwards.

    Have you guys ever noticed anything linguistic, literary or grammatical that has piqued your interests as writers? :)
     
  18. Robert_S
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    I think it's a bad rule.

    Use what you need, no more, no less.
     
  19. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    I am not sure the context in which the writer spoke of this guideline, but can you imagine using a pair of commas everywhere? Where would one even put the second comma in say, a list of three items or a conjunction? It just would not work out.
     
  20. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wait a sec. Are you sure the renowned writer you mentioned wasn't talking about inverted commas? They're usually paired in America ...
     
  21. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    He lol indeed that would make sense, but no.

    Btw, what do you mean "in America"? Are inverted commas somehow different in the US?
     
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, we don't generally call them inverted commas here. We call them quotation marks. But I've read that British people call them inverted commas, and every book I have that was printed in Britain only uses one at each end of a quote, like this: 'Good morning!'

    In America, it would be: "Good morning!" Paired inverted commas at each end.
     
  23. barcelonic
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    barcelonic Member

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    Oh right I see now what you mean.

    Well I happened to be raised in UK and had a decent private education here in Wales. Hopefully i can shed some light on this (i may be wrong, it has been a while since school lol)....

    Basically 'inverted commas' is what we consider to be the proper term but coloquially, we mostly call them "speech marks".

    As for the pairing that happens when the words inside were actually spoken by somebody or are in a context in which they would be spoken. Sorry I am not explaining this well...

    Eg. Bob yelled, "Take out the trash!";
    There are several reports of 'collateral damage'.

    The latter is used as if to support the use of a phrase, although in this example the term 'collateral damage' has since become so widely-known it could do prbably without the marks there at all.

    Also, they are used as actual speech marks when inside the text of another's speech, eg..

    He asked, "Did you hear her? She called me an 'unsightly mess'"

    Notice how the single inverted comma at the end lies right next to the end of the mainspeech mark.


    Apologies if i've not explained this very well here. :)
     
  24. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    No, you've explained it well enough :), but your explanation reflects the fact that the U.K. is starting to swing more and more toward the U.S. format of the double as opposed to the single inverted for simple dialogue and as the outers for nested. There was a time, well within the lifetime of both Minstrel and I, when this difference was much more marked between shores as regards this particular typeset formatting.
     
  25. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So I gather you're asking if pairing commas is a good style to use. Essentially, say, if I could write, to take from AMP's example:

    If he didn't go, which he won't, he would get punished.

    Or I could rephrase it and write:

    If he didn't go, he would get punished, but he'd be damned if anyone could make him!

    Wait a sec, there're still two commas... :D

    Or separate it into two sentences:

    If he didn't go, he would get punished. Who cares?
    If he didn't go, he would get punished. He is, however, determined not to. (this still has a pair of commas)
    If he didn't go, he would get punished. That didn't seem to matter though.

    So in reply to your question - I'd say it depends on the tone of your own writing. The pairing commas sound a little more formal, and a little slower, which could give it a more literary feel. If you were going for an action fast-paced scene, for example, I would avoid paired commas. If you were going for a character's internal dialogue where he's debating about certain things, paired commas would probably be just fine. As you can see above, each time the same sentence is rewritten, the tone is a little different.

    In other words, I think this whole discussion is rather pointless. Just write as you like, as long as it's grammatically correct :D (or an acceptable way of breaking grammatical rules) , according to the needs of your story. The key is comprehension. Grammar can be used to pace your work so it'd be wise to use these commas according to the rhythm you want/need for your particular scene.
     
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