WELCOME TO RAYA’S DUNGEON – CHAMBER 02
The Terrible Cries of the Traumatized Comma
|THE TRAUMATIZED COMMA – Part I
Probably the MOST maligned punctuation mark in the history of the English language, the comma has been abused, misused, kicked, neglected, and otherwise dealt terrible damage to. And yet it is not a mob [game talk for the enemy in battle], but a veritable fount of helpfulness and aid to breath-saving. Yes, breath-saving. Without commas, we would have to talk non-stop, racing until we reach the period before we can take a breath. And yet, the comma is the hardest working punctuation mark YOU’ll ever see.
I’m not going to go into all the uses of the comma right now because there are too many of them. However, I’ll take a few so that you can start today to save the comma from all this abuse.
No, I am not talking about the next exciting adventure of the Sopranos on TV nor your electrical wiring setup. I’m talking about words and using them in series. Always use commas to separate a list of things in a sentence, such as: I love to eat hot dogs, corn bread, and liver and onions.
In the above example, the comma sets off the items in the list. In modern usage, the comma before the first “and” is optional. You could have written…“corn bread and liver and onions.” However, in this instance, it makes the meaning clearer to have the comma before the “and.” This example also illustrates when you do NOT put a comma before the second “and” –i.e. this second “and” (which, by the way is called a conjunction because its only purpose in life is to join words)–when the item referred to is a unit, i.e. liver and onions is a unit.
You can also have a series of phrases, and even full-fledged sentences, which, again, are separated by commas to keep the meaning clear. (Note: In some cases, you get the shy semi-colon (;) which can be used to keep the phrases or sentences separated–however, the semi-colon is not as hard-working as the comma, so we will deal with this miscreant at arm’s length–and mercilessly–in another chamber.)
My favorite pastimes are playing MMORPGs, walking in the park, and rollerblading with my friends.
Once you get the hang of punctuation, you can use commas like a pro, you can create masterpieces of sizzling dialogue, and you can dazzle your readers with your unique style.
Okay, how about a series of adjectives that modify the same noun? The rule is…if you can replace the comma with an “and,” then you put in a comma, eg: The sly and evil rogue backstabbed his way to success. This is therefore eligible for commatization (made-up word alert!), thusly: The sly, evil rogue backstabbed his way to success.
If, however, you can’t replace a supposed comma with “and,” then you leave the comma out, eg: The cloak cost 50 gold pieces at the tavern. You cannot insert “and” between “50” and “gold.” Therefore, no comma.
After thinking of ALL the uses of the comma, I decided not to go any further here, because I can already hear the bodies hitting the floor as they drop from boredom. However, the comma is probably the most important punctuation mark (perhaps excepting only the period) in the English language.
Therefore, for homework (no no no, I musn’t use that term)…um…for a special excursion into the wonderful world of the superhero COMMA (not to be confused with COMA), please run through the above list of very helpful hints on when to use the comma. Don’t let the names of the word parts bother you any more than you let the names of the different ways to slay your enemies in your favorite MMO bother you. I’m sure you recognize the result, if not the names they are called…remember them. They just may save your dying prose some day.
If you have any questions about commas, please don’t suffer in silence…put them in a comment below or email me at raya at fantasyfic dot com.