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June 28, 2011 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday – On Commas, Ands, and Buts.

Welcome back to Bloggyversity, English Comp Class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction.” Again, we have much to cover in very little time – studies show that most blog-hoppers have an attention span of about five minutes per post, max, so I would ask you to turn off your ipods, cell phones, black and/or raspberries, stop with the Twittering, get your faces out of Facebook, adjust your monitors and undies,¬†and pay close attention. None of your usual nonsense, class, I’ll not have it.

Ahem. Now, thank you, let’s get started. Today we will cover a couple punctuation issues having to do with the ever-so-often misunderstood, and misplaced, comma. Having submitted books myself to three different publishing houses, and worked with three different editors, I can tell you that there are not hard and fast rules in several, certain uses of them. Some pub houses want very few commas, the editor will send you back the ms and demand you take about a million of them out before he or she will work with it. One editor wants a comma here, another wants it over there, and on and on it goes.

So today you will get what this editor considers correct in the instances shown, but don’t go get your chisel and mallet out and start carving this tutorial in stone. But this will be the way The Old Silly does it, and the way the pub house I edit for, All Things That Matter Press, wants it done, okay?

Okay.

The subject of comma placement is far too complex and comprehensive to cover in one blog class, so today we will look at the correct use of them when employed to interject a statement or phrase within a sentence, using ‘and’ or ‘but’ to introduce said statement or phrase. Here’s an example of a sentence using ‘and’ for such a purpose, without a comma in the sentence’s interior, and a sentence using ‘but’ in the same way.

John was tired and since he had gotten his chores done for the day he went to bed.

Mary really wanted John to take her out that night but since he was so tired she allowed him to get his rest.

Now some writers, even editors, will say that those sentences need not have any commas to ‘set apart’ the middle statement, i.e.: ‘since he had gotten his chores done for the day’ and ‘since he was so tired.’ Others will argue that there should be commas in each, and would place them as follows, before the ‘and’ and the ‘but’ and after the last word of the middle statement, as follows.

John was tired, and since he had gotten his chores done for the day, he went to bed.

Mary really wanted John to take her out that night, but since he was so tired, she allowed him to get his rest.

I disagree. To me, if the middle, qualifying statement is taken out of the sentence–along with the commas preceding and following said statement, the sentence should still read to make sense. Here’s how the Style School of Old Silly (SSOS)would punctuate those sentences.

John was tired and, since he had gotten his chores done for the day, he went to bed.

Mary really wanted John to take her out that night but, since he was so tired, she allowed him to get his rest.

Now here’s the sentences with the middle statements and their enclosing commas removed after being punctuated according to the SSOS.

John was tired and he went to bed.

Mary really wanted John to take her out that night but she allowed him to get his rest.

See the thinking, the logic of this style? If you go with the other ‘style’ of comma placement and take the middle statement out, here is what you would have.

John was tired he went to bed.

Mary really wanted John to take her out that night she allowed him to get his rest.

They don’t quite make sense, and read rather awkward, hmm? So there you have it. When deciding where to put those pesky commas when punctuating sentences with one or more statements within the main statement of the sentence, decide if the sentence would stand on its own and still make sense without the intermediate, qualifying statements and, using the above rule, place them accordingly … after the ‘and’ or the ‘but’.

OK. With that, I’ll dismiss blog and, as usual, please leave your comments on my desk before clicking off into the Blue Nowhere. Next week we’ll reconvene with the start of another highly important topic, and …

Class, are you listening?

Class?

What – who – where did … well!

This is an outrage!

Empty Classroom

Sigh, lost ‘em again.¬†Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the effort. Oh well, off to the teacher’s lounge for a nice salving cup of peach tea with a dallop of organic honey … that adorable Ms. Flanders winked at me yesterday, said she hoped to see me again today. Joy!

~~~~~

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32 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Alex J. Cavanaugh / Jun 28 2011 9:30 am

    I think I got this one down pat. Maybe.

  2. Sal / Jun 28 2011 9:32 am

    As usual, a very good lesson, Professor!

    Sal

  3. Ron Berry / Jun 28 2011 9:40 am

    I, wouldn’t, want, to, overuse, commas, ever, in, any, sentence, at, any, time, no, sir.

    Having said that, I had a speech for toastmasters that dealt with this very issue. An example:
    John, a stockbuyer for a big company was sent to South America. His boss wanted him to check the price of stock. This was before the advent of cell phones.
    John wired the price back via telegram.
    His boss, being the cheapskate that he was, wired back:
    no price too high

    John bought the stock, returned home to find his boss selling pencils on the street. The purchase of the stock bankrupted the company. He meant to say, no, price to high.

    For the cost of a comma, he lost the company.

    ’nuff said

  4. Arlee Bird / Jun 28 2011 9:45 am

    I like the logic in your thinking. What you’ve said makes good sense to me.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

    • theoldsilly / Jun 28 2011 10:04 am

      Thanks, Lee. I picked this ruling up from The King Himself, in Stephen’s marvelous tutorial book, “On Writing”.

  5. Elspeth Antonelli / Jun 28 2011 10:21 am

    Thanks, Old Silly! This is a keeper.

  6. Karen Walker / Jun 28 2011 11:07 am

    As usual, you have used great examples to show us exactly what you mean and why. I really like your explanation. I think that’s what I do–hmm, have to check on that.
    Karen

    • theoldsilly / Jun 28 2011 12:19 pm

      Thanks, Karen, it does make sense this way, hm?

  7. L. Diane Wolfe / Jun 28 2011 11:21 am

    We need those commas!

    • theoldsilly / Jun 28 2011 12:20 pm

      Well, some would argue that (and this, with me, lol) but this is my style, and I’m s-s-st-st-sticking to it! ;)

  8. Elisa Michelle / Jun 28 2011 12:14 pm

    I love your examples. They’re simple and easy to grasp, which is always nice compared to dense grammar books.

    • theoldsilly / Jun 28 2011 12:20 pm

      Thanks, Elisa, I appreciate the postitive feedback. :)

  9. Cactus Annie / Jun 28 2011 12:22 pm

    I love your examples and, while there may be other styles, I like yours the best.

    So … how’d I do – got it right, right? ;)

  10. John Standish / Jun 28 2011 12:23 pm

    Once again, very clear explanation made easy to understand with the examples. Enjoyed the class, now go enjoy Ms. Flanders’ company! ;)

  11. Yvonne Lewis / Jun 28 2011 1:57 pm

    I was sat at the back of the class so only heard some of the lesson.
    I am not very sharp with my punctuation and, as I want to go for my
    second poetry book will have to go through my poems which I decide
    to publish like a fine toothed comb.

    Thanks for the lesson, 11/10.
    Yvonne.

    • theoldsilly / Jun 28 2011 3:51 pm

      Thanks for the visit and comment, Yvonne. And actually there are quite different rules for poetry, so you need not fret much over this prose lesson. :)

  12. Connie Arnold / Jun 28 2011 8:24 pm

    Good lesson, Professor! Those commas can get tricky sometimes. Thanks for the good explanation and examples.

    • theoldsilly / Jun 29 2011 7:15 am

      Connie, you are so welcome and thanks for attending class and the comment. :)

  13. Abe March / Jun 29 2011 6:30 am

    A wealth of good information, as usual.

    Abe

    • theoldsilly / Jun 29 2011 7:15 am

      Thanks, Abe, means a lot coming from such a fine writer. :)

  14. Enid Wilson / Jun 29 2011 3:39 pm

    The shorter the better. I mean for sentence structure.

    Chemical Fusion

    • theoldsilly / Jun 30 2011 5:53 am

      Well, that depends on your story’s ‘pace’ – which is another topic, hmm? ;)

  15. tashabud / Jun 29 2011 5:45 pm

    What I’ve learned in school was to place commas before coordinating conjunctions. However, I like your explanation why commas should be placed after.

    Thanks again for this valuable tutorial.

    • theoldsilly / Jun 30 2011 5:55 am

      Tasha, I’m aware, as I said in the post, that traditionally coordinating conjunctions are comma’d as you say but, as I adhere to the King’s (Stephen) English, I do it this way … as evidenced by this very sentence, lol.

  16. Helen Ginger / Jun 29 2011 5:55 pm

    As always, excellent advice and very well explained. Thank you Marvin.

    • theoldsilly / Jun 30 2011 5:55 am

      You’re welcome, and thanks for the visit and comment, Helen. :)

  17. Hilary / Jul 3 2011 2:38 am

    Hi Marvin .. I could make head or tail of this one! I use commas (theoretically – depending what the typing finger and brain are doing!?) to ensure the sentence makes sense to me … but I love my ellipses and use them far too often … thank goodness (for now) I’m not writing a book – grammar lessons I definitely need.

    Cheers – Happy 4th July .. Hilary

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