Pushing Thirty

and shedding pretentions

Style Semicolon Commas

Well, I’ve got a secret project I’m working on.  Secret means I can’t say what it is, but I’m back in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

I mean, what a phenomenal book.  It’s so thin, and yet covers so much and with such clear examples. Its treatment on commas is simply the last word, delivered in four simple rules (#3, #4, #5, #6):

#3. Parenthetic Expressions get commas on both sides.

Marjorie’s husband, Colonel Nelson, paid us a visit yesterday. It’s great. Just in the place you’d lower your head and look over your spectacles in proud aplomb is the place you’d frame in commas.

#4. Two independent clauses joined by “and” or “but” get a comma.

The situation is perilous, but there is still one chance of escape. Straightforward again: both halves would stand alone, and so they are joined by a comma.

#5.  Two independent clauses without a conjunction never take a comma. Use a semicolon if you want to relate them.

Stevenson’s romances are entertaining; they are full of exciting adventures. If you used a period, you’d send a signal that the statements are not related, that their sequence is incidental.

#6. Don’t break sentences in two.

He was an interesting talker. A man who had traveled all over the world and lived in half a dozen countries. What a gross error.  It just doesn’t read right.

This short list is nearly redundant, doing little more than stating the rule and then, in the next, its opposite. But they must  be neither intuitive nor opposite because these errors appear all the time, especially since the blogging world has made it all too easy to  post sloppy prose.  I love White’s closing words after these words:

Rules 3, 4, 5, and 6 cover the most important principles that govern punctuation.  They should be so thoroughly mastered that their application becomes second nature.

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August 20, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

5 Comments »

  1. Straightforward again: both halves would stand alone, and so they are joined by a comma.

    Is that comma correct?

    ‘So’ being a conjunction in the comparative indicates its clause’s inability to stand alone hence removing the need for the very comma for which you argue.

    Remove ‘so’ or ‘and’ and your comma placement is correct.

    PS- These rules apply for everyone except journalism majors.

    🙂

    Comment by Kevin Sliman | August 21, 2008 | Reply

  2. nope. it’s the adverbial “so,” carrying the sense of “thus.” If “and” were taken out, both complete sentences could exist as complete sentences:

    Both halves would stand alone. So (thus) they are joined by a comma.

    Compare a use of conjunction “so:” Both halves would stand alone, so I will separate them them with a comma.

    (I’ll admit, I was halfway through my style guide in the comma section before it dawned on me that I wasn’t absolutely certain that SO was a conjunction. Webster’s collegiate bailed me out.

    Comment by bretmavrich | August 21, 2008 | Reply

  3. hmmm. now i’m not so sure. The conjunction “so” has the sense of “therefore” which really works in the context, maybe better than “thus.”

    I might be wrong. But if I am, I think that the “thus” might just function as an introductory clause. Whichever, this much is true: There are two independent clauses in my sentence.

    A. Both halves would stand alone.
    B. They are joined by a comma.

    I think my complex little conjunction system doesn’t affect the comma rule.

    Comment by bretmavrich | August 21, 2008 | Reply

  4. my head, hurts,

    Comment by Kevin Sliman | August 21, 2008 | Reply

  5. you started it!

    Comment by TheMav | August 23, 2008 | Reply


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