Monday, September 30, 2013

Saving lives one comma at a time

It seems that comma usage is open to interpretation according to the preferences of the author, editor, or the voice that reads things aloud inside your head as your eyes skim across the page. But there is one concrete comma usage rule that I want to discuss today.

The other day, I was asked about comma usage in a particular sentence. They understood that they would use a comma in fiction but wasn't sure about non-fiction. Anywho, here is the sentence, with a minor name change for privacy:

After searching for a while, Amanda, volunteered to join her.

The first comma is open for debate. I would use a comma there to break the sentence, (because the voice in my head tells me to, and because it needs to separate the dependent clause from the independent clause, but that is a lot of grammar gibber gabber that not many people care about) but that is the type of thing I mentioned at the beginning of my post. Print media might simply omit that comma because it is an extra character to print. I've also seen numerous pieces of fiction where the author, and consequently the editor, decides that a comma like that doesn't need to be there. And vise versa.

The second comma, however, doesn't need to be there at all. So the sentence should read:

After searching for a while, Amanda volunteered to join her.

Why? Because Amanda isn't being addressed in this sentence. It doesn't matter if it is fiction or non-fiction, this comma rule doesn't change. If you are speaking to someone, use a comma. If you are speaking about someone, don't.

Amanda volunteered to join her.

Amanda, join her!

See? This reminds me of an internet meme I saw once. It read, "Let's eat grandpa." That was followed by the correct version of, "Let's eat, grandpa." The tagline was, "Save a life, use a comma." It was good for a chuckle and you get the point, though "grandpa" should be capitalized. But that's another topic entirely.

Peace, love, and commas,


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