Commas can separate both clauses and friends.

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TO COMMA or not to comma—that is the question I ask now every time I produce a piece of writing.

When I was in grade school, we were taught a comma separated two clauses, provided a place to pause, and was always used in a series, including the last item in that series before the conjunction—usually and.

Other spots required that little backward “c”, such as separating a date and year, after direct address, and between a city and a state. I guess that was all elementary school children were expected to handle in their written expression of the English language.

Patricia La Vigne
Patricia La Vigne

Enter my critique groups, past and present. I’m hearing that I clutter my writing too much with commas. I “criticize” others for omitting commas in strategic places. The comma becomes the focal point of my editing other’s work so much so that I’m tagged, “The Comma Queen.” I thought I knew all the rules.

The other night I mentioned something about this to my daughter. She told me a former teacher told her there were fourteen rules for a comma and no one knew them all.

I thought, I can commit fourteen rules to memory. I grabbed my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, turned to the index, found all the references to commas, and read. And read. And read. Actually, I skimmed.

If my math is correct, according to the Chicago Manual, there are forty-four “rules” and they include the exceptions which we know every rule has. I’m a little hesitant about memorizing that many.

In chapter six, paragraph eighteen, under the heading, “Comma,” the text reads, “The comma, aside from its technical uses in mathematical, bibliographical, and other contexts, indicates the smallest break in sentence structure. It denotes a slight pause. Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of reading the end in view.” [Chicago Manual of Style, p. 244].

The bold italics are my touch, but I trust the Chicago Manual. Maybe I’ll lose my title of the “Comma Queen,” but I’ll do it in good conscience, and probably keep many more friends.

Patricia La Vigne is the author of Wind-Free.

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