Let's face it we all have that one grammar or usage 'thing' that we misuse, abuse or don't understand. Well, I have several, but today's focus is on the comma.
I first met the comma in English class, so many years ago! Since then we've had a love/hate relationship. I would either use the comma too much or I wouldn't use it enough. However, with a punctuation mark with so many rules, how can I not have issues with it?
The comma's sordid history:
It has a history? Yes, yes it does. With this much baggage, this punctuation mark most definitely has a history.
So, according to Wikipedia (link :)), around the third century BC a guy by the name of Aristophanes of Byzantium created some new system using dots. They were used to help the reader take breaths at certain points in his works depending on the local of the dots. The komma (no it's not a typo), was a dot placed in the center of a line. So, I'm guessing had it not evolved it would look something like this:
John· can you please hand me the broom?
But evolve it did. Sometime in the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, the slash / was used instead of the komma (still not a typo!). That eventually became this little darling (,). As you can guess, the name comma stuck!
The comma's many rules:
- Use in the separation of lists.
- Example: I want pancakes, sausage, and eggs.
- Example 2: I spoke with the bosses, Mary and Tom.
- Example 3: I spoke with the bosses, Mary, and Tom.
- Some writing guides do not require the final comma in a list before and, or, etc. and some do.
- Use in dates.
- October 20, 2012
- However, should any portion of the date be left out, then don't use the comma. October 2012
- Alternatively, if the date is written as such, 20 October 2012, then the comma isn't necessary, because the month separates the day and the year.
- Use in the separation of clauses.
- You use the comma to separate independent from dependent clauses (strong and weak?)
- Once upon a time, an evil witch lived in a castle.
- An evil witch lived in a castle once upon a time.
- See what I did there? No? I'll admit this took me a while and I still find myself screwing this up. If the clause can stand on its own and it appears at the beginning of the sentence, then it should be offset with a comma. In the sentence above 'Once upon a time' cannot stand on its own. However, 'an evil witch lived in a castle' could live without 'Once upon a time,' therefore, if 'Once upon a time' comes at the end, then no comma is needed to separate it! (Phew!)
- Use when two adjectives are placed together without a conjunction.
- The girl is honestly and humbly sorry. - or - The girl is honestly, humbly sorry.
- Use to surround or set off a name.
- John, will you hand me that broom? Now, if I said this -John will hand me that broom, then I am no addressing John, but simply telling something about John.
The list goes on and on and on..
Here are a couple of interesting videos I found on youtube about the comma. Apparently, I am not the only one with issues!
While corny, it does explain the rules. I thought it was cute!
This one is more funny than helpful, but I just couldn't resist including it!
My favorite website about grammar and usage: