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Old 05-05-2014, 06:59 AM   #1
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Noobie help: Is there a 'Right and Wrong' in using commas?

Hey guys, I just wanted if there was a 'Right and Wrong' answer in using commas. Or does it depend on the person's writing style?

How can I be certain I'm using commas at the correct places?

Thanks!
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Old 05-05-2014, 07:04 AM   #2
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Hey guys, I just wanted if there was a 'Right and Wrong' answer in using commas. Or does it depend on the person's writing style?

How can I be certain I'm using commas at the correct places?

Thanks!
Yes, and no.

What you want to do is get a good book like The Chicago Manual of Style and do your best to follow the directions. Then get a good editor to look it over when you are done. There are many comma rules that are hard and fast, and some that are iffy, and others that are out right argued to death. What matters most is that you are consistent with the subjective ones, and hit the objective ones as solidly as you can.

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Old 05-05-2014, 07:19 AM   #3
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Yes, and no.

What you want to do is get a good book like The Chicago Manual of Style and do your best to follow the directions. Then get a good editor to look it over when you are done. There are many comma rules that are hard and fast, and some that are iffy, and others that are out right argued to death. What matters most is that you are consistent with the subjective ones, and hit the objective ones as solidly as you can.

VydorScope provides good advice. Additionally, I recommend reading Chapter 5 of SparkNotes' handy ACT Test Prep Guide; this link accesses the punctuation lesson about commas.
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Old 05-05-2014, 03:36 PM   #4
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If you have the time you might also check out Eats, Shoots & Leaves, by Lynne Truss, on the hazards of improper punctuation.
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Old 05-05-2014, 03:47 PM   #5
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Given that you don't say what your target audience is, it's perhaps worth noting that punctuation standards differ noticeably between British and American English. As a guide to British English, the standard reference is Fowler's "Modern English Usage".
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Old 05-05-2014, 05:17 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
Given that you don't say what your target audience is, it's perhaps worth noting that punctuation standards differ noticeably between British and American English. As a guide to British English, the standard reference is Fowler's "Modern English Usage".
Good point.
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Old 05-05-2014, 09:28 PM   #7
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The cynical side of me wants to respond that there are only Wrong answers with commas, there are very few strictly Right.

Yes, reading a guide suitable for your region will given you an idea of what is expected in formal writing. After that you need to read, read, read ... and pay attention. The rules for fiction tend to be a bit more relaxed to what you see in formal writing - make your writing too formal and it will come over as stiff and awkward. As VyderScope already noted, a professional editor can help you with that.

The most important rule is simple: make the meaning clear. The old "Let's eat, Grandpa" is the most commonly cited example of this. When reading through your style guide pay particular attention to the comma rules that relate back to this one (that affect the meaning/clarity of the text). Everything else is window dressing that can be fixed up in the final editing phase.
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Old 05-07-2014, 01:47 AM   #8
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Correct use of punctuation is a totally different issue to writing in a formal or informal manner. No matter how informal your writing style, there's absolutely no excuse for not punctuating it correctly.
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Old 05-07-2014, 03:47 AM   #9
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As a guide to British English, the standard reference is Fowler's "Modern English Usage".

Harry, is this really the right source? I don't edit British English so I do not have personal knowledge, but none of my colleagues who do cite Fowler's as the source. Instead, they cite the Oxford Style Manual. They all do have Fowler's as part of their resource shelf, but rely on Oxford as the British equivalent of the Chicago Manual of Style.
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Old 05-07-2014, 03:53 AM   #10
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Harry, is this really the right source? I don't edit British English so I do not have personal knowledge, but none of my colleagues who do cite Fowler's as the source. Instead, they cite the Oxford Style Manual. They all do have Fowler's as part of their resource shelf, but rely on Oxford as the British equivalent of the Chicago Manual of Style.
It's the one I've always regarded as "definitive", Richard, but that's simply a personal preference. I'm sure the Oxford one is equally good, if not better.

Thanks for the feedback on this.
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Old 05-07-2014, 04:11 AM   #11
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Correct use of punctuation is a totally different issue to writing in a formal or informal manner. No matter how informal your writing style, there's absolutely no excuse for not punctuating it correctly.
People never seem to notice my commas or full stops when I am speaking.

Arbitrary rules that everyone in said language agrees to follow because some rich men back in the day made a "correct" way to write in said language, fine. However, Anal retentiveness does have its limits.

I am sure a novel will not die on one grammar mistake.

Below is an example where commas can make a difference, but in a novel....who cares:

Politicians who tell lies should be despised.

Politicians, who tell lies, should be despised
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Old 05-07-2014, 04:15 AM   #12
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Below is an example where commas can make a difference, but in a novel....who cares:
I do, and so do a great many other people who think that correct spelling, grammar and punctuation are important. For me it's an instant "fail" if a book is poorly written, regardless of how good the story may be.

You say that "People never seem to notice my commas or full stops when I am speaking.", but that's not true. The whole purpose of punctuation is to provide a written equivalent to the pauses, intonation changes, and other auditory cues that the spoken language contains.

yes of course you could write text like this with no punctuation but it would make it very difficult indeed to read you wouldn't know when sentences started or finished who was speaking or when there was a break in the text punctuation serves to make written text more understandable

Last edited by HarryT; 05-07-2014 at 04:19 AM.
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Old 05-07-2014, 12:58 PM   #13
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Do be careful of 'style guides'. Some of them are just that, a guide to writing in a particular style. While there is nothing wrong with that, they can be a bit full of themselves sometimes.

If you're more interested in what is 'correct' and 'incorrect', understandable by your target audience, then you don't necessarily want a style guide but a book focusing on that instead. For native english writers I've heard the Merriam Webster Dictionary of English Usage is a good source for how words are and aren't commonly used.
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Old 05-07-2014, 01:12 PM   #14
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It's the one I've always regarded as "definitive", Richard, but that's simply a personal preference. I'm sure the Oxford one is equally good, if not better.

Correction: ... "definitive," Richard, ...

The comma goes inside the quote
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Old 05-07-2014, 01:37 PM   #15
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Correction: ... "definitive," Richard, ...

The comma goes inside the quote
No, that's one of the differences in punctuation usage between British and American English that I referred to earlier in the thread. In British English, the standard convention is that punctuation only goes inside quotation marks if it's actually part of the text being quoted.
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