Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Importance of Commas

I've been called a Comma Nazi. Usually by my spouse, who tends to feel commas are completely unnecessary. Critiquing each others' work can drive us both crazy. He tries to cross out 90% of the commas from my work, while I tend to insert that same number into his piece.

I don't claim to know – without any doubts – exactly where commas belong. These days, I review the rules listed in Strunk and White's Elements of Style on a fairly regular basis. However, I can't always quote what rule I'm following when I decide to use a comma.

For those who don't feel commas are all that necessary, I have an example for you. Same three words in the exact same order, with only the presence or absence of a comma to change the meaning:
"Let's eat, Gramma."
"Let's eat Gramma."

Is there a difference? Absolutely. The first one sounds like a small child asking for lunch. The second one sounds like a member of the Donner Party planning their next meal. I would expect the stories surrounding them would be just as vastly different.

Stories comprise of paragraphs, sentences, words, all of which shape the characters, the scenes, the plot. A writer can spend a lot of time choosing the correct words and putting them in the correct sequence. In my opinion, that writer should be just as careful choosing and placing their punctuation. Punctuation like commas can change the flavor just as easily as a different choice of word.

See you next week. Trudy

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