Commas! There. I said it. I’m a comma addict. I love them. They’re beautiful little things that add pause and sense and order to sentences—if you know how to use them correctly. Apparently, my lack of education is appalling.
You’re probably aware of this quote:
“I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.” — Oscar Wilde
Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but after a few hours of inserting, deleting, and sometimes re-inserting commas on one recent editing day, I decided to get smart and refresh my knowledge of comma usage rules. I say refresh because I thought I’d learned all the rules at one point. Not so.
What I discovered is that I use commas where they seem appropriate to me, but sometimes often I do so in ignorance. It’s not entirely my fault. I was taught the bogus rules of always using a comma before but and never using one before because. But other rules I’ve been breaking, I imagine some teacher tried to pound into my thick skull at one time.
I’m in luck. Recently, one of my sons bought me a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, so I am currently experimenting to see if an old dog can learn new comma tricks. I started with nearly 5,100 commas in my 91,000+ word manuscript. I’m re-evaluating each one. That’s not quite as tedious as it sounds. So far, this exercise has resulted in many improved sentences in ways other than comma use. Even my readers who don’t care a whit about commas will appreciate that.
Here’s a link to the excellent punctuation section of the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL).