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Old 05-07-2014, 02:41 PM   #16
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Old 05-08-2014, 05:00 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by EndlessWaves View Post
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.
The MW Dictionary of English Usage used to be the source for language use in the United States. It is not any longer, although it is still a respected source fro guidance. The authority today is Garner's Modern American Usage 3rd ed. I use both (and others) in my work daily, and Garner's is a far superior and much more current resource than the MW book. If you need an American usage guide (which I think every writer and editor does), then it should be Garner's.

An excellent usage guide but no longer current and thus more of historical interest, is H.L. Mencken's The American Language, a multivolume treatise by one of America's premier wordsmiths. It makes for some fascinating reading.
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Old 05-08-2014, 05:10 AM   #18
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My thought is that one of the biggest mistakes I see in fiction is the over-use of the comma. It's a subtle piece of punctuation and needs to be handled with subtlety. There are those which are absolutely essential and can't be missed and there are others which can be used or left out to fit in with the writer's intention and style; the former must be present, the latter would be optional. Too many commas will slow a piece down. Slowing a piece down may or may not be desirable, depending on the context. To me, the use of puncuation can, as you hint at in your title for the thread, be flexible within the general parameters of the rules. I think it was mentioned earlier that the odd misplaced comma will not put off a reader. I agree with that. It's also true that complete misuse is likely to turn a high percentage of readers away, unless you're working with something that has a style all of its own (where you'd have to be exceptional to pull it off).
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Old 05-08-2014, 06:43 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hidari View Post
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
As a novelist, I care.

Commas not only provide clarity, they also illustrate character. When you're writing from the point of view of a particular character, you have to develop a voice for that character. The use of commas, particularly the "optional" ones, is a way to capture the rhythm of their thoughts and when done properly helps distinguish scenes written in the point of view of one character from those in that of another.

Commas also help in pacing; you can use them not only to slow down an introspective scene, but when you minimize your usage you can increase the urgency as well as pace of a scene.

They do a lot of work in fiction, and any novelist who cares about the craft pays attention to commas. Readers may not pay as much explicit attention, but if the writer didn't use them appropriately, they will notice that things aren't working.
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Old 05-08-2014, 06:55 AM   #20
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Precisely. Punctuation such as commas, dashes and parentheses are the written equivalent of the pauses that occur in spoken language, and each should be used appropriately to achieve the desired effect.

Eg, consider the following examples:

Quote:
He said, with a certain amount of reluctance, that he would do as I asked.

He said - with a certain amount of reluctance - that he would do as I asked.

He said (with a certain amount of reluctance) that he would do as I asked.
The use of the three different types of punctuation results in three very different feels to the sentence.
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Old 05-08-2014, 01:56 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
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.
K. I see that now. Them damn Yankies.
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Old 05-12-2014, 09:37 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
Precisely. Punctuation such as commas, dashes and parentheses are the written equivalent of the pauses that occur in spoken language, and each should be used appropriately to achieve the desired effect.
[...]
This is pretty much why my earlier post spoke of the difference between formal and informal writing. For example it is always correct to use a comma when two sentences are joined with a conjunction: "It's is my life, and I'll do what I want." However in less formal writing the use of a comma in such a situation has to do with how you want it to read (or, in this case, sung ). As the parts on each side get longer the more you should be more inclined to follow the rule, but for short sentences losing the comma often works better (most reasonable style guides seem to recommend about three or four words, but you often see longer in published works).

The same conjunction rule comes into similar difficulties when you hit sentences with inconvenient sub-clauses like this:

1) "It's my life and, whatever you say, I'll do what I want."
2) "It's my life, and whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

I've seen style guides recommend the second, but often see first in published work when that is the intended phrasing.


The issue of punctuation inside or outside quotes is also one that varies with formal vs informal. Yes, the formal British rules say the comma should go outside unless it is part of what is quoted, but in novels this doesn't happen for dialogue (a distinction I've yet to see made in style guides, but maybe I've been reading the wrong ones):
Quote:
"Not as far as I can remember," she said.
(From Bulldog Drummond by Sapper, 65th edition published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, in 1943)

This style appears in both British and American texts. The comma in the above is not part of the quoted speech (if anything it should be a period), but that's not what happens in published novels.
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Old 05-12-2014, 09:53 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
The issue of punctuation inside or outside quotes is also one that varies with formal vs informal. Yes, the formal British rules say the comma should go outside unless it is part of what is quoted, but in novels this doesn't happen for dialogue (a distinction I've yet to see made in style guides, but maybe I've been reading the wrong ones):

Quote:
"Not as far as I can remember," she said.
(From Bulldog Drummond by Sapper, 65th edition published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, in 1943)

This style appears in both British and American texts. The comma in the above is not part of the quoted speech (if anything it should be a period), but that's not what happens in published novels.
Oddly enough, I'm working on a manuscript right now where the author has done just that; put a period at the end of the quoted speech, and then continue the sentence with the dialogue tag. Naturally, I'm replacing them with commas.

The period would be right if the dialogue was a sentence on it's own, but it's not. It gets the comma because it's only a clause; it doesn't include the main verb.
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Old 05-14-2014, 02:33 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lemurion View Post
Oddly enough, I'm working on a manuscript right now where the author has done just that; put a period at the end of the quoted speech, and then continue the sentence with the dialogue tag. Naturally, I'm replacing them with commas.

The period would be right if the dialogue was a sentence on it's own, but it's not. It gets the comma because it's only a clause; it doesn't include the main verb.
You can pretend that there is logic to it, but it's best if you don't look too closely. For example you might then wonder:
Quote:
"Why do we do it like this?" he asked.
Of course, in the desperate search for logic, it might argued that "?" is quite a different thing to a period, in terms of sentence structure. That in classic texts it was not uncommon to see "?" and "!" in the middle of sentences. But such use has dropped out of favour.
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Old 05-14-2014, 12:27 PM   #25
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Commas are hard, and there are so many opinions. I've tried to settle on a method and then resist the urge to change when I learn something new. But I don't want to keep doing it wrong, either, if my error is critical. Sigh. Commas are hard. (Should I take out the one before "either?" Should I put the question mark outside the quotation mark? dang!)
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Old 05-17-2014, 11:19 AM   #26
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Originally Posted by gmw View Post
The same conjunction rule comes into similar difficulties when you hit sentences with inconvenient sub-clauses like this:

1) "It's my life and, whatever you say, I'll do what I want."
2) "It's my life, and whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

I've seen style guides recommend the second, but often see first in published work when that is the intended phrasing.
That example is dialogue, and in dialogue, all bets are off. You can do what you want. Standard rules of punctuation do not apply.

But in normal prose, I believe the first case is correct because the "and" is not part of the inessential clause which is placed between commas.
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Old 05-18-2014, 04:44 AM   #27
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But in normal prose, I believe the first case is correct because the "and" is not part of the inessential clause which is placed between commas.
Absolutely right.
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Old 05-21-2014, 10:42 AM   #28
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Originally Posted by Rizla View Post
That example is dialogue, and in dialogue, all bets are off. You can do what you want. Standard rules of punctuation do not apply.

But in normal prose, I believe the first case is correct because the "and" is not part of the inessential clause which is placed between commas.
Doesn't it depend on how you look at it? If I had started with:
"It's my life. Whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

and wanted to join those with a conjunction I would end up with:
"It's my life, and whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

Are you suggesting that is incorrect in normal prose? I would argue otherwise - judging from what I've seen in professionally edited texts.

If you look back over my previous post, I chose this example because it was originally two main clauses joined with a conjunction. The fact that the comma (before the "and") might be considered optional in this case does not exclude the fact that it would (also) be correct to have it there (at least when the subclause is not present). If we also place commas according to the fact the "and" is not part of the inessential clause, then we might end up with:
"It's my life, and, whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

which I have seen, but only rarely.

It's this sort of thing that holds me back from jumping to judgment on other people's use of commas. Yes, there are places where a comma may always be considered correct (in the general sense), but there are fewer of them than many seem to assume. This is especially true when when considering narrative text. On the other hand, as suggested by my first cynical comment on this thread, there are lots of wrong places to put them.
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Old 05-25-2014, 10:13 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by gmw View Post
Doesn't it depend on how you look at it? If I had started with:
"It's my life. Whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

and wanted to join those with a conjunction I would end up with:
"It's my life, and whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

Are you suggesting that is incorrect in normal prose? I would argue otherwise - judging from what I've seen in professionally edited texts.

If you look back over my previous post, I chose this example because it was originally two main clauses joined with a conjunction. The fact that the comma (before the "and") might be considered optional in this case does not exclude the fact that it would (also) be correct to have it there (at least when the subclause is not present). If we also place commas according to the fact the "and" is not part of the inessential clause, then we might end up with:
"It's my life, and, whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

which I have seen, but only rarely.

It's this sort of thing that holds me back from jumping to judgment on other people's use of commas. Yes, there are places where a comma may always be considered correct (in the general sense), but there are fewer of them than many seem to assume. This is especially true when when considering narrative text. On the other hand, as suggested by my first cynical comment on this thread, there are lots of wrong places to put them.
I think I see now.

"It's my life, and whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

Here, the optional first comma separates the two main clauses ("It's my life" and "I'll do what I want"). The "whatever you say" remains a dependent clause of "I'll do what I want".

"It's my life, and, whatever you say, I'll do what I want."

Here the extra second comma is correct because "whatever you say" is non-essential. But because the optional first comma is retained, the second is normally removed else the sentence becomes comma-heavy.

Fun stuff!

Last edited by Rizla; 05-25-2014 at 10:54 PM.
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Old 05-30-2014, 04:06 AM   #30
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Yes, great fun stuff.

I thought it might have been just me, but found this quote (apparently) from Oscar Wilde: "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

I'm sure if I studied the drafts of my novels I would find many such iterations, where on one reading a comma seems like a good idea and on another it seems out of place. In some cases I think I might have gone back and forth several times. ... There are some days when I grow to really dislike the humble comma.
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