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Friday, October 2, 2009

The Casual Comma

I'm going on vacation (to Mexico! Yay!) but wanted to drop by to share before I forget to mention it. And here is the earth-shattering news!

Many rules for the use of commas aren't rules at all. Newspapers, as an example, simplify. Meaning they eliminate commas you were probably told to use when you were in grammar school. Serial commas, some commas that come after an dependent clause, etc. I come from a journalism background and prefer this style choice.

Having said that (comma only because there really does tend to be a pause in the voice after "that"), I also write books and sometimes publish them myself. Books really do have different rules for style choices. The choices you make for your book should probably be much stricter, unless you have a good reason for being more casual. That, of course, includes your choices for commas. But it also includes things like spelling out numbers. And strict choices for punctuating dialogue. I'd go into them all here for you if I could. And maybe I'll get around to that. But in the meantime, please read books like Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, Mortal Syntax, and my The Frugal Editor ( I wrote it because I wanted you to have the information before you submit your work whether it is a freelance piece to a newspaper to your manuscript to an agent.

Yeah, you probably already knew all of that. It doesn't hurt to review. So you can feel more comfortable when you choose to leave out a comma.

Oh! I often leave some out when a sentence is too laden with commas. You know, the less essential ones. We could make another choice, of course: Go back to simplify the sentence--that is make two or three simple sentences from one to avoid that many commas.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.

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