A Comma’s Job Security?

bewilderd commaThe comma stood on the corner, bleating, “Please, can someone help me? I know I belong somewhere, but I can’t quite remember where.”

Devon Taylor, copy editor, sat at the counter of the diner across the street and watched as passers-by skittered around the pitiful punctuation mark. They looked away determined to not notice it.

Devon (destined to become The Nib) couldn’t really blame them. Commas were notoriously slippery creatures. But there was something about this comma that made Devon think it was truly in trouble.

The editor set down the empty coffee cup and wandered across the street.

“What brings you to Conjunctionville?” Devon asked the punctuation mark.

“Oh! Thank you for helping,” the comma was practically hopping. “I think I’m supposed to meet a couple of independent clauses for a job, but I can’t remember all the details. It was supposed to be set up by the FANBOYS.  I read over a couple of news stories, but they don’t seem to want commas hanging out with conjunctions that link independent clauses. I just don’t know what to do.”

“I’m a copy editor, and I’ve noticed more and more news sites (like our competition, the Pencil Post) have been leaving you guys out between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. I thought it was some sort of cost-cutting move.”

The comma, dejected, said, “I was convinced I’d always have a job. Sure, those Oxford commas have it rough what with some people using them and some not. Who thought anyone would eliminate commas in compound sentences?”

“Well, the Associated Press Stylebook sure doesn’t,” Devon said. “It specifically states you should be in there, and most news organizations follow AP – or at least say they do.”

Devon’s heart went out to the comma which was, by now, in tears.

“Look, I have a connection at the Department of English Language Offenses. It’s just two blocks down the street on your right. When you get there, ask for Detective Dis Connect. Maybe he can help you. Tell him Devon Taylor sent you.”

The comma confidently strode toward the DELO. Devon wasn’t so sure it could be helped. The world was changing, and writers seemed to be getting lazier.


31 thoughts on “A Comma’s Job Security?

  1. I find that I have difficulty sometimes deciding on commas in situations like the following:

    “This is how I feel, but, seriously Devon, I’m not sure if I’m correct.”

    I’m wondering if, as a sort of general rule, one is safer using a comma when uncertain, or leaving it out in such a situation.

    Or is it the case that 100% or close to 100% of the time the decision on usage truly is clearly prescribed by a nice little almost-totally-accepted rulebook out there?



    • My philosophy is, if I need to think too hard about whether commas belong or not, I probably ought to rewrite it.

      “Seriously, this is how I feel, Devon, but I’m not sure if I’m correct.”

      This hits all the “rules” governing commas while keeping the meaning intact.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good point. My sentence structures tend to be a bit too complex in any event, so when I write something that starts sounding awkward anyway then I take it as a cue for rewrite and simplification!


        Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your blog article via The Story Reading Ape’s Blog. As an editor, at times I am appalled by the lack of proper punctuation, especially the comma. One client barely used periods, just a space followed by a capital letter to indicate a new sentence. I think she might have used 3 commas in her whole manuscript. I asked if she was including a page of punctuation for the reader to use as desired. She actually asked if she could do that and eliminate the editing process completely. I assured her it would be frowned upon, and not a wise move. I was taught many years ago to use commas as breaking points, not only for grammatical understanding, but also for breathing. If you had to take a breath, one should consider some type of punctuation, normally a period or comma. That rule has fallen to the side, I believe. I read a paperback book, it had in it, one paragraph which consisted of one sentence with 2 commas and was approximately three-fourths of the page in length. I believe there were 3 lines before the paragraph and maybe 2 lines after.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bobnailor, my colleague in editing! It is just SO hard to get people to understand how very important good grammar and punctuation are. My brain keeps stopping and screaming, “That’s just WRONG!” It really turns reading into drudgery.

      There is an author whose books I enjoy but whose work is about 75 percent comma splices. [Insert long wail of despair. 😱]

      Pauses don’t always required a comma, but it is a good time to consider if what you’re writing falls into the six “comma rules” or one is needed for clarity. Otherwise, just leave them out of it.

      Thanks for commiserating with me.


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