Sunday, May 07, 2006

Reducing Panda-monium


I go through gardening gloves like a coroner does latex.
Commas are like that neat plant that seeds itself with abandon. Unrestrained, commas may proliferate like perennial phlox and sprout anywhere.
But they have their place - the trick is to keep them in it. More or less.
You will have noticed that some rules say may, or as a rule, or most, or occasionally, while others are adamant about insertion. The first are the ones that may be uprooted by a copy editor's trowel - and that will depend on the copy editor's particular vision of tidy prose.

11. The comma occasionally takes the place of an omitted verb.
Ex: General Haig was the commander of the British; General Petain, of the French; and General Perishing, of the Americans.
We respect deeds; they, words.

12. The comma is used to set off a short direct quotation.
Ex: "Why, Silver," said the captain, "if you had pleased to be an honest man, you might have been sitting in your own galley."

13. Use a comma after an introductory adverb clause.
Ex: When a man is wrong and won't admit it, he usually becomes angry.
(a) The comma may be omitted after a restrictive introductory clause, especially a short one.
When he reached home he found the letter.
Or: When he reached home, he found the letter.

14. Use the comma to set off non-restrictive phrases and clauses. If the omission of the subordinate phrase or clause would change the meaning of the principal ( main) clause or destroy its sense, the clause is restrictive and no comma is required. Necessary information for the meaning vs. additional information.
Ex: The highwayman wore boots that reached his knees.
The man who does everything for gain does nothing for good.
Peter is the boy who watches goats.

I called to my brother Ralph, who ran to find our mother.
My father and I planned to climb Mount Washington, which is
about sixty-four hundred feet high.

(a) As a rule, a participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence is non-restrictive and is therefore set off by a comma.
Ex: Deprived of imported foodstuffs, Great Britain could not
sustain herself for more than six weeks without severe rationing.

(b) Always use a comma before as, for, and since when the clause gives a reason.
Ex: I elected advanced calculus, for I need it to enter the
engineering program.

20 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

This series of posts has been extremely helpful to me as a newbie writer. I thank you for taking the time to put it all together. Whether or not I'm smart enough to sort it all out and apply the rules, is another matter.

Sela Carsen said...

I keep a copy of Strunk & White nearby while I edit. I tend to get comma happy and then have to reduce.

Bernita said...

You're welcome, Erik.

Sometimes a different way of describing a general rule or a different example will make the light come on.

Good idea, Sela, Strunk & White( I keep wanting to call it SHRUNK & White ) seems to be the most approved manual.

Dennie McDonald said...

is that you? great pic -

if you ever do the importance of capitalization, a great example came across my publishers loop - I shall ask if I can use it, it gets the point across greatly!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Dennie.
That's me, fuzzy as it is.
If you get a permit, do a post.
I did this series because someone asked me indirectly, and I didn't feel like tossing off a dismissive "Strunk & White."

Dennie McDonald said...

Of course I cannot find the e-mail...

but they had googled it so I guess I could have found it too, basically it says:

I helped my Uncle Jack off the horse.

vs


I helped my uncle jack off the horse.

it is to illustrate the importance of proper capitolization...

Bernita said...

~choking~
That's a screen spitter for sure.
That one need no further elucidation, Dennie.
Sheesh, everyone knows capitals, don't they?

Ric said...

Dennie, That is hysterical!

Pic is pretty much how I imagined my lovely Bernita would appear.

kmfrontain said...

Ah! Bernita's in her garden at last! :D

I have an online version of Strunk and White, and I don't nearly recall this much comma information in it. I have most of it in my Random House College Dictionary, in a grammar section in the back, and it pretty much copies what you have here. This is much better than Strunk and White.

Bernita said...

Yes, and I have a wide screen to clean, too.

Thank you, Ric.Sweet of you.

Bernita said...

I just checked my Random House Dictionary,KM, and I think the examples given in its Basic Manual of Style are better than the ones I quoted here - certainly much, much better than those in my Merriam Webster.
I would certainly recommend the Random House.

For The Trees said...

Harumph. I have trouble giving veracity to statements asserting one's predilection for masses of gardening gloves when one is pictured sitting casually, as for tea and lots of crumpets. Your apparel is far, far too chicly cosmopolitan for grubbing in dirt. Besides, your lovely hair would sooner be covered by several hats and a scarf or two than be loosed upon flora unappreciative.

Bernita said...

Forrest, thank you. You have such a neat style of compliment - but the fuzzy picture does not reveal the rattiness of the top or the grubbiness of the cotton pants - or else it was taken before I began my daily rooting in the dirt.

Robyn said...

You're as beautiful as I knew you would be. Of course, if you were as ugly as a bag of weeds you'd still be beautiful. ;)

Do adverbs next! Do adverbs next!

S. W. Vaughn said...

Ah, so nice to put a face to a name! Lovely shot, Bernita. You look so at ease. Like a person who definitely does not love winter -- my sentiments exactly.

Thanks so much for the comma refresher. I believe one can study the behavior of the elusive comma for several years and still not please all of the editors, all of the time. Sigh. But the basics are so important.

As illustrated by Dennie's capitalization example. Off to help my uncle jack off the horse now *snort*

Mark Pettus said...

Bernita, I apologize if I'm echoing someone else, but here's my take on commas.

Use them where your language says you, you, should. Pause, empahsis, closure.

I keep Mssrs Strunk and White (I still find it hard to believe that the same man who gave us Stuart Litte and Charlotte's Web shares top billing on such an important little book) close at hand, but commas can help provide pacing in a work of fiction. Also, they can provide emphasis (did you notice the pause after also, which gave it a bit more ummph?).

I guess I'm just an old curmudgeon, because I flout the rules. At work I use a handy little tool that allows me to switch between style books -The Associated Press Manual of, and the Chicago Manual of. Each handles commas in its own way, which is just fine with me, because so do I. :)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh, Bernita...you are lovely, especially in the garden setting...use that as your avatar...how cute!

I think I got the comma thing. It seems like a natural progession of pauses in speech!

*sheesh* I understand the need for proper capitalization...LOL...how about, I helped my Uncle jack off the horse. Yikes!

Oh, no I didn't...LOL...yes I did! Mea Cupa!

Bernita said...

'Tis but the faded remnants of a once dangerous beauty, Robyn, (she said snickering), but thank you.
Did I say I love you and your blog?
One vote for adverbs, one for semicolons and other anal rules.

Definitely, SW. Like a housefly, I hibernate in winter.
The publishing rule is that one is not going to please all the editors all the time because they have their individual versions and aversions - but it helps to know the reasons for the choice and use.

Mark, it's as SW says, it is valuable to know the basic rules before you break them, and know that some are unbreakable.

Thank you, dear heart. Just found this one, Bonnie, used the other because it was a profile profile.
Dennie's example is absolutely priceless.
One sentence worth a thousand words.
Thing is to catch the damned horse before it rolls in the slush and tells the world it's a victim of unnatural acts.

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