Re: Commas (was: But for however)

Subject: Re: Commas (was: But for however)
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 1995 17:23:44 +0800

> Does anyone on this list remember what a comma signifies? As I recall, it
> is often used to signify that the author wishes the reader to pause
> slightly at the comma before continuing with the rest of the sentence.

Matt -

Strunk and White ("The Elements of Style") give a pretty good set of guide-
lines for when to use commas, semi-colons, colons and full stops. Many
people find S & W too bossy, but I really like it. The advice is all clear
and practical, and hey, you don't have to agree with it all and you don't
have to take it.

They don't mention commas signifying breaths. I have heard this before but
I think it's one of those old 'rules' of writing that started as someone's
pet theory and somehow became a law. I might use it as a handy rule-of-thumb
or analogy for someone who wasn't a confident writer -- "Think of it like a
pause for breath in the middle of a sentence".

Mid-sentence punctuation (commas, colons, dashes, parentheses, etc) help
the reader to group words into nicely digestible chunks. Pauses help the
speaker catch his breath; commas are stepping-stones for the eye. Mixed
metaphors? Well, that's another story.

> Used in this way, the placement of the comma is not governed by some
> unyielding set of grammatical rules but is determined by the author.
> Therefore, if I want my reader to pause slightly at the "but" (probably to
> emphasize the forthcoming contradiction), I will place a comma after it.
> But, that won't always be appropriate, so most often, I won't.

In my opinion no grammatical rules are unyielding, but you do need to
decide which ones you're going to follow and then have a good reason when
you choose not to. (These are fighting words over on alt.usage.english,

Stuart Burnfield (slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au) I ain't gonna study Word no more
Functional Software Ain't gonna study Word no more
PO Box 192 Study Word no mo-o-o-re...
Leederville, Western Australia, 6903

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