Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Perfect Punctuation: Our Comrade the Comma (Pt. 3)

Interested readers can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Continuing our extrapolation of OWL's Quick Guide to Commas, we now find ourselves with the final five comma comments:

7. Use a comma near the end of a sentence to separate contrasted coordinate elements or to indicate a distinct pause or shift.

Pretty much anytime we use an "-ing" verb (a present progressive verb) near the end of a sentence, we should have a comma handy:
Cats love to loathe others, silently ridiculing their owners with spiteful feline thoughts.
Also, when we want to contrast something, a comma helps here too;
Cats tolerate their owners, not the other way around.

8. Use commas to set off phrases at the end of the sentence that refer back to the beginning or middle of the sentence. Such phrases are free modifiers that can be placed anywhere in the sentence without causing confusion.

The difference between free and bound modifiers is simple. If we have a clause that pertains to a specific person or noun in a sentence, we need to ensure that modifier stays nearby:
Incorrect: Robert the human glared at Ramble the cat, thinking many distrustful thoughts.
The above sentence relies on readers to guess as to who is having the distrustful thoughts. Our own experience tells us that cats are, by nature, not to be trusted; however, what if Ramble was secretly a human, dressed in a creative cat disguise? Then the situation becomes much more confusing. Instead, let us write it like this:
Robert the human glared at Ramble the cat, who was thinking distrustful thoughts.
Now it is plainly clear that Ramble is thinking the distrustful thoughts.

9. Use commas to set off all geographical names, items in dates (except the month and day), addresses (except the street number and name), and titles in names.

Tragically, this is where comma guides transform into comma rules. Here are the most important ones:
Sentence City, State, more sentence.

Sentence Street Address, City, State, more sentence.

Name, Title, sentence.

For example: Ramble Cat, MD, was the first housecat to ever receive a medical degree.
10. Use a comma to shift between the main discourse and a quotation.

This one is easy:
Dr. Ramble Cat glanced at my charts and then, furrowing his fuzzy brow, said, "Meow meow meow meow. Meow."
11. Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible confusion or misreading.

This last rule encompasses a lot of potential comma situations. Basically, it's important to remember that the comma, like any other piece of punctuation, is meant to help the reader, not trouble them. Commas serve very valuable and helpful purposes, but a writer can survive without them. The life without the comma, however, is full of misinterpretation and ambiguous phrasing.

Remember, the comma is not our enemy; it is our comrade.

Bradley Woodrum also writes for Homebody and Woman and Cubs Stats and is very careful with his commas.


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