PLEASE NOTE: Wow, my last post was January 20. Could my start-up topic be any more mundane than commas? Maybe periods (or full stops as some call them). Nonetheless, I hope you will read it. Next post will be about my fabulous but rather Sisyphean summer.
When you read a book, do you care about comma placement? Does it bother you if comma usage is inconsistent? Do you prefer comma rules to be followed every time? Do you even notice the little curly punctuation marks? Your opinions on this matter will help my writing, and I could use some guidance. Sometimes I want to do what one author did: type out a whole page of commas and send it to an editor with instructions to put them wherever s/he wishes. *
From best-selling authors to erudite grammaticians, authorities’ opinions vary. At one time, my grammar comfort zone was in following the rules. A student back in the day when I taught school accused me of being “obsessed with commas.” Common sense is more my guide now, which reflects trends in contemporary literature, I think. The flow of the sentence is important, and if no pause is needed it seems cleaner to leave the comma out. If meaning could be compromised, put the comma in. Reading out loud is a good way to decide. (And let me say, I have not yet followed Oscar Wilde’s cheeky lead and invested a morning of writing in expunging a comma and the afternoon in putting it back—though progress sometimes seems that unremarkable.)
There is no argument the comma is important. Certainly Rachel would think so in this example: “Let’s eat, Rachel.” vs. “Let’s eat Rachel.” Mark Twain underscored the importance of rhythm in writing when he said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” That’s what the comma does, causes a pause. For effect. For meaning. For clarity.
Resources about comma usage are innumerable, and I use them. Here are a few: 13 Rules for Using Commas without Looking Like an Idiot, Meet the Comma (video), Strunk and White. But I want to know what you think. Will it throw your reading off if I sometimes separate independent clauses with a comma and sometimes don’t? Same question about commas after introductory clauses or words. Readers and writers, please grace me with a Comment, even if only one little opinion or insight.
*I heard Mark Twain did this but can’t find substantiation. Anyone know?