1. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566

    Should I use commas here or do something else?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Hubardo, Apr 7, 2015.

    A little piece of a thing I'm writing:

    Before Frederick could argue with the cat he noticed a shift in the sounds coming out of the cats all around him. They were no longer meowing. Perhaps they never were. Frederick heard low, guttural baritones, high, shrill falsettos, wavering notes carrying over long and short periods. It was difficult for him to come to terms with this: the cats were performing a complex piece of written music.
    Have included the whole paragraph for context, the bold is the sentence in question. Does it seem awkward or am I over-analyzing?
     
  2. Ms. DiAnonyma
    Offline

    Ms. DiAnonyma Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2015
    Messages:
    127
    Likes Received:
    25
    It feels like it flows fine for me, and you've given us a rather interesting sample... However, I should caveat I'm often fond of commas, they help you breathe:)
     
  3. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    It's a bit awkward because you are contradicting yourself without a tying verb.

    Frederick heard low, guttural baritones overlying high, shrill falsettos, wavering notes carrying over long and short periods.

    [Or 'underlying' or some other transitive verb]

    Personally, I would split the sentence but then that's the style I write in.

    Frederick heard low, guttural baritones overlying high, shrill falsettos. The wavering notes carried over long and short periods.
     
    Midge23 and Hubardo like this.
  4. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    How did you do that? :D
     
  5. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Do what? Change font color?

    At the top of the menu bar you'll see options. The A opens a font color palette.

    The next two a's change font size and font style. Hold your cursor over the bar icons and it will tell you what they do. If you have a yellow box and no menu bar you need to toggle back to the rich text editor.

    By the way, why is 'notes' italicized?
     
  6. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    I meant more like, how did you think of doing underlying/overlying? I don't even know what a tying verb is. How did you like, apply smartsifartsiness, I guess. I'm expressing gratitude.

    Notes is italicized to emphasize the word if you were saying it aloud, like "omg NOTES." Because omg, cats are meowing in notes, wow.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    It was just a reaction to trying to hear your sentence in my head.

    "low, guttural baritones, high, shrill falsettos"
    You are saying, "he heard low tones, high tones." Which is it? Either you need "and" in there, or making it more interesting, something that says more than "and".

    I know the italics were for emphasis, but again, I don't know how to read that in my head. Why are you emphasizing 'notes'? I can't interpret the meaning that would make you emphasize 'notes' in that sentence. Could just be me.
     
  8. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I think it's fine the way you have it, though I wouldn't italicize "notes."
     
  9. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    Ugh, weird how some people think those commas are okay, others think it's awkward. There is no official protocol for commas!
     
  10. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    There's an official protocol for commas.

    Frederick heard low, guttural baritones,
    The first comma belongs. It divides a double string of adjectives.
    The second comma belongs. It divides two nouns, 'baritones' and 'falsettos.'

    high, shrill falsettos,

    Same here. The first comma divides a double string of adjectives.
    And the second divides two nouns again, 'falsettos' and 'notes'

    wavering notes carrying over long and short periods.


    Is there a post here that says otherwise?
    I took the comma out in my example because 'overlying' took the place of it.
     
  11. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    Yup, two posts in the thread (by those who aren't you or me) think the commas are fine. I'm tending toward going with your input because I posted this thinking it was awkward myself. But that's still a split opinion, which makes it confusing still.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    The commas were technically fine. It was the sentence I had a different preference for, while others didn't. That's more a style choice than a grammatically incorrect issue.
     
  13. lustrousonion
    Offline

    lustrousonion Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2014
    Messages:
    302
    Likes Received:
    132
    Location:
    Germany
    There is a protocol. And commas are in no way there to help you breathe. Here's my take (based on the rules I know).

    Firstly, it seems like you are listing three things. If you list, and one of the items contains a comma, the comma separating the nouns becomes a semicolon.

    I have apples, oranges, and pears.
    I have sweet, delicious apples; oranges; and pears.


    You only need commas between adjectives if they are describing the same aspect of the noun (sweet, delicious = taste).

    I have big red apples, oranges, and pears.

    However, I'm not sure if you are listing three things or two. Baritones, falsettos, and notes? But baritones and falsettos are notes. (Also, there is no need to say low or shrill -- that's what baritone and falsetto mean.)

    So maybe:

    He heard wavering notes, baritones and falsettos,...

    or
    He heard baritones and falsettos, wavering notes that...
    or
    He heard wavering baritone and falsetto notes that...

    Does this help at all? I hope so.

    Also, the first sentence should have a comma (if you're following the rules). :)

    Before Frederick could argue with the cat, he noticed a shift in the sounds coming out of the cats all around him.
     
  14. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    When writing fiction, you have a lot of room to experiment with grammar and punctuation, which is why you're going to get different opinions. Depending on the context, you could even omit all of the commas in that sentence, and it would be perfectly fine.
     
  15. lustrousonion
    Offline

    lustrousonion Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2014
    Messages:
    302
    Likes Received:
    132
    Location:
    Germany
    But is advice like this helpful? To say that you can get away with anything?

    I also don't know when it would be okay to omit all the commas, unless we're talking Finnegan's Wake.
     
  16. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I think it's helpful for people who already have a good understanding of the rules of grammar. At the very least, it's something to think about for everyone else. In this case, I wasn't advocating removing all of the commas. I was merely stating that some authors (like Cormac McCarthy and Saramago, who are both fairly accessible to the average reader) may choose to take out commas where you would traditionally insert them. Such a stylistic choice isn't only reserved for books like Finnegan's Wake.
     
  17. GingerCoffee
    Offline

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2013
    Messages:
    17,604
    Likes Received:
    5,877
    Location:
    Ralph's side of the island.
    Comma use rules
     
    Hubardo and Midge23 like this.
  18. lustrousonion
    Offline

    lustrousonion Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2014
    Messages:
    302
    Likes Received:
    132
    Location:
    Germany
    It's creative writing, so of course people can and should make creative choices. But making a choice means having enough knowledge to understand what you're choosing.

    I see what you're saying, @thirdwind and I agree with you. But I get a bit riled when I see people getting the idea that rules don't exist. That's the grammar nazi in me. :)
     
  19. Midge23
    Offline

    Midge23 Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2015
    Messages:
    69
    Likes Received:
    44
    Location:
    UK
    I would lose the words 'low' and 'high'. The meaning of the sentence remains and you remove two commas. The sentence is correct as it is, but I am not fond of it.

    Dave
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  20. lustrousonion
    Offline

    lustrousonion Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2014
    Messages:
    302
    Likes Received:
    132
    Location:
    Germany
    I agree that the sentence isn't the most elegant, probably because of the sheer number of adjectives. I find (does anyone else agree?) that English loves verbs much more than adjectives. Something like "The cats growled and shrieked," might be more evocative and erase the need for complex punctuation.
     
  21. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    Then what about:

    Frederick heard guttural baritones, shrill falsettos -- wavering notes carrying over long and short periods.
     
    GingerCoffee likes this.
  22. lustrousonion
    Offline

    lustrousonion Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2014
    Messages:
    302
    Likes Received:
    132
    Location:
    Germany
    It's better, but can I ask why you don't want to say guttural baritones and shrill falsettos?
     
  23. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    Ooh, that works.
     
  24. Hubardo
    Offline

    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2014
    Messages:
    1,075
    Likes Received:
    566
    There seems to be a flow from the original sentence that, when you say it aloud, sounds more like what I was going for. A momentum or something. Maybe a crescendo that comes with notes. But it seems like it's not getting pulled off, so I appreciate all the picking apart in this thread to give me a fresh look at the word and sentence mechanics.
     
    lustrousonion likes this.

Share This Page