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The Comma

The comma has always, always given me problems. Where, oh, where to put that itty-bitty squiggly line of a hook within a sentence. That's why I love writing simple sentences, where the commas I generally need are for a series. Series? Yes, as in red, white, and blue. Or, if you're one who withholds the last comma, then: red, white and blue.

I don't know what they teach in English these days, but back in my day (hahahahaha, back in my day, as if I'm sooo old, but to someone younger than 60, I suppose I am), I was initially taught the series (or serial or Oxford, if you prefer) comma. That's the one where you place a comma before the conjunction: red, white, and blue.

That all changed in 10th grade. The English teachers, as well as the journalism instructor, were marking me off for following the series comma rule and demanding that I drop the comma before the conjunction: red, white and blue. Me, being a sheep, followed suit. From day one, I thought a series without the comma before the conjunction looked rather naked and the intention of the sentence was insincere.

Flash forward with me to my late 20s. Behold: I am now working at my dream job—an assistant editor for an independent educational book publisher of supplementary materials for special education teenagers. The house style for a series was the serial comma rule. Hurrah! I received my best training as a writer and editor at that job, thanks to Winnifred, my supervisor.

Today, I only withhold that last comma in a series if a publisher's house style calls for it or if I'm writing a press release. How about you? Do you put in that final comma in a series?


Comments

  1. I never heard the term series comma. I generally leave out the final comma in a series, but I do find getting other commas just right a bit mystifying too. I'm another not-so-young'un from the days when they still taught us to diagram sentences.

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    1. I enjoyed diagramming sentences. Placement of adverbs always confused me.

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  2. I do put it in because I am like you...feel it is not finished. I also think I use commas way too often but if I ever have an editor, they can watch for it:) My big problem are semi-colons?? I never did quite understand them

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    1. I'm shy around both semi-colons and colons. I tend to go crazy with parentheses and the long dash.

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  3. No, I don't put it in - but then I have become rather cavalier about punctuation as I've become older.

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    1. You've got me imagining punctuation in 3 Musketeer clothes.

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  4. I'm like you. To use your example, if the comma isn't after 'white' then it reads like there are differing levels of importance given to the three colours. If 'white and blue' are hanging together, then poor old 'red' is out there at the front all on it's lonesome. ... probably not the official explanation though! :D

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    1. It ought to be the official one. That would make more sense for new learners of any age.

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  5. Susie,

    I like commas! I put in more than most people, including the one at the end of the series. I always think about how the words would sound if they're read out loud, and add in commas where I feel pauses are necessary. I don't suppose anyone reads my blog posts out loud, but I hope there are some mothers reading my Angels stories to their children!

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    1. There are times, like right now, where I read so loud in my head, I think I'm reading out loud. Hmmm, I think I put the commas all in their right places.

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Thanks for the good cheer. :-)

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