Stalking the Intrusive Comma:
By: Linda Formichelli
|Linda Formichelli (e-mail) is a copywriter and magazine writer based in Massachusetts. She's written for more than 45 magazines and for such corporate clients as Bay State Gas, Pizzeria Uno, Performance Printing and AFC Cable Systems. Linda holds a Master's degree from U.C. Berkeley.|
"The egalitarian liberals who oppose Proposition 209 and count 'tolerance' as a core value of their ideology, turn out to be intolerant of democracy!"
What is wrong with the preceding sentence, taken from an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle? That's right, it's the misused comma. (If you said anything else, perhaps you should air your views in the Chronicle).
Too many commas can make your business writing seem prosey, and too few can make it sound robotic. Here are four tips to help you master that most slippery of punctuation marks.
1. Commas in direct address: Remember this rule and possibly save your life.
If you don't hear the difference between "Shoot, John!" and "Shoot John!"--Well, let's just say I'm glad I'm not John. Always use a comma in direct address.
Not: As you can see Mr. Woland, our computers no longer explode.
But: As you can see, Mr. Woland, our computers no longer explode.
Not: Good evening Ms. Karenina.
But: Good evening, Ms. Karenina.
2. No comma required.
A comma should never come between a subject and its verb. Even if the subject is really long.
Not: The defective computer that Raskolnikov bought from us last week, was returned for a full refund.
But: The defective computer that Raskolnikov bought from us last week was returned for a full refund.
3. The serial comma: Have it your way.
The serial comma--the comma before the last word in a series--can be omitted as long as it doesn't create confusion.
Either: Bulgakov, Pasternak and Mayakovsky showed up late for our discussion on exploding computers.
Or: Bulgakov, Pasternak, and Mayakovsky showed up late for our discussion on exploding computers.
If one of the items in the list is longer than the others, you may want to put it at the end and separate it with a serial comma:
Not: The IBM 36OX2, the Mac 412 with the 160 nanobyte hard drive and the PC 1X are examples of computers that do not explode.
But: The IBM 36OX2, the PC 1X, and the Mac 412 with the 160 nanobyte hard drive are examples of computers that do not explode.
4. Commas in bulleted lists: Shoot them down.
You have two choices for lists: You can separate the list items with commas, or you can arrange them into a bulleted or numbered list. You can't do both. Using commas to separate the items in a bulleted list is redundant.
Not: The focus of this meeting is to:
- Determine why our computers are exploding,
- Issue a warning to consumers, and
- Prevent future mishaps
Or: The focus of this meeting is to:
- Determine why our computers are exploding
- Issue a warning to consumers
Prevent future mishaps
© Copyright 1999, Linda Formichelli
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