Friday, April 8, 2016

It's a Comma Problem

Courtesy of Stuart Miles at

They're such cute little things. Someone put a little tail on a period and it helps you organize your sentences. You could put a little face on them and they'd look back at you, so innocent, so sweet, so helpful.

The truth is they're horrid little beasts that gnaw at you and taunt you. They snap that little tail at you and well, let's just say I have a hostile relationship with them. You might almost say toxic.

Yet, I sprinkle them liberally throughout my writing without rancor. I accept the generous help they offer, only to find they don't belong in half the places they appear. It is very frustrating. I mean, I know how to write. Yet the common comma defeats me time and again.

I have several grammar books, some really good ones, in fact. I keep them all in the room with me. They're my only defense against the comma attack. I don't even trust Grammarly! I suspect they're in cahoots sometimes. Seriously, in the second paragraph of this post, Grammarly said I needed to use "their" instead of "they're". Seriously. It was quite insistent. However, I know enough to grasp the use of pronouns and to be verbs.

This morning, I pulled my Strunk and White, 3rd Edition, from my shelf and decided to brush up on my comma mistakes. It isn't the first time. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't improving but it is embarrassing to admit that after all these years, and one semester with the evil Von Furhman in 1989, that I still have problems with it.

There are so many rules of grammar that it can be overwhelming. In fact, the first chapter in my Strunk and White is Essential Rules of Usage. There are ten rules in this chapter. At the end of Rule 6 is a statement that says, "Rules 3, 4, 5, and 6 cover the most important principles that govern punctuation. They should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature."

Do you know what those rules cover? Yes, commas. The most important principles of punctuation. When I break a rule, I go big.

What I find amusing about this is that the most important rules are not 1-4. No, they come after 1. Forming singular possessives, and 2. The serial (Oxford comma). Truthfully, I'd put that Oxford comma first and make those possessives last.

In light of my review of Strunk and White's rules, I think the gist of it is that comma mastery is paramount in writing.

I'm screwed.

So,I strongly advise you buy a copy of Strunk & White... whatever edition it is in now. You can also find free editions online. Here is one copy: Strunk and White, There are many other grammar books out there. As I mentioned, I have several rather large ones. But really, Strunk and White is only 80 pages and the above copy is free.

Incidentally, Grammarly didn't didn't find any major issues with this post. Of course, I use the free Chrome plug-in and the fact that it wanted to make an erroneous substitution of a pronoun means it isn't wise to rely on it too much.