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?
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?
What – who – where did … well!
This is an outrage!
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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