Sunday, December 6, 2009

Myths of the Comma

The comma is an important building block in the construction of grammatically correct writing; unfortunately, it is common for the comma to be misused. Before entering the Professional Writing Program at Grant MacEwan University, the comma was a complete mystery to me. I must have been sleeping when we learnt about commas in Elementary school, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when it came to the comma. I had many different ideas about how one might use a comma depending on the situation, but none were actually correct.

A favoured tactic of mine was to add a comma every time I imagined a breath or a pause in my writing. For instance, I would write sentences like this: "The third dog, is my favourite." The comma after "dog" is completely unnecessary and makes the sentence rather difficult to comprehend, but in my mind it made sense. Another common misuse of the comma is to place commas periodically in ones writing. This is a mistake that I would also occasionally make. I would read over my writing, decide a sentence was too long, and add a comma. This was because, in my mind, commas fixed everything, especially if there were lots of them.

Now that I've learnt to properly use a comma, reading over some of my past writing is almost painful. There are commas thrown in everywhere, almost all of them unnecessary or incorrectly placed. As Lauren Wozny said in her blog post on commas, "When used properly [the comma] can signal breaks in a sentence and the pasting of two independent clauses together, but when used incorrectly it can cause mass chaos." My writing was definitely an example of how commas could create mass chaos when improperly used, as I'm sure my Grade Twelve English teacher would attest to.

Now that I have developed a better grasp of grammar and grammar rules, I am glad to say that my writing is no longer an exercise in comma excess. The comma is one writing tool that I feel confident using, as should most writers. Those who are feeling a little wobbly in their comma usage can easily review comma rules at this grammar website. While small in size, the comma is aspect of grammar that can throw off even the most grammatically correct sentence.

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