Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Confusing Comma, 3, continued

Let’s jump right in to these sentences. Do they need commas and why?

4. Without any obligation, order your sample record today.
This does need a comma for clarity. This prepositional phrase has a natural pause after it, and therefore would use the comma. However . . .

5. In a few cases you will find a winner.
Usually, if one short prepositional phrase begins the sentence, it doesn’t need a comma after it. And since the trend is going toward fewer commas, this is a good place to delete one. But . . .

6. At the edge of the deep Maine woods near Moosehead Lake, he built a small log cabin.
There’s always the exception J. (Yikes! I just realized I forgot the e on Maine yesterday. Just proof that even editors need editors J.) Because this sentence starts out with three prepositional phrases, we need the comma—to indicate a pause, if for no other reason. Without it, reading this sentence makes me breathless.

7. Consequently, Tom must make the decision.
Single adverbs at the beginning of sentences—especially those that end in –ly—usually have a comma after them. Then and now would be the exception. If these words flow smoothly into the sentence (think Now what? or Then let’s go.), don’t put a comma after them. If it’s a “throwaway” word, like well or oh, then definitely put in the comma.

I hope this discussion on the introductory comma is helpful to you. Please leave a comment if you have more questions about this, or any other punctuation/editing confusion.

Today’s Bible reading: Genesis 20–22, Romans 8:1–21


D. Gudger said...

Oooh, I gotta read this. I'm a comma misuser and abuser. Parly becuase I never grasped clausing. Always thought he was a fat man in a red suit, or sharp things on my cats' feet that need trimming.

Thanks for reaching out to those of us who break out in hives when exposed to grammar.

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