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The comma confusion

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Feb 14


I read an article recently in The Times of India on why the comma is a dying punctuation. Columbia University Professor, John McWhorter suggests that the comma is ‘way past its expiry date’. Others have joined McWhorter in condemning the comma. For most of us this is good news. I remember my teachers telling me that I should use the comma to indicate a pause, but was always ticked off because it was not placed at ‘the correct pause’. So I gave up on the comma until I started training and realised that there are five rules on comma usage that you need to remember if you are a professional who does a lot of business communication.

1. Using commas in lists.
Get me an apple, banana, orange and pomegranate.

However, there are times when you may need to insert a comma before the ‘and’ in a list. This is done in cases where you want to avoid any confusion.
Operations, Human Resources, Administration and Logistics, and Information Technology were part of the monthly meeting last month.

2. Using commas for introductory words and phrases.
With reference to the proposal you sent me yesterday, I would like to meet you on Tuesday.
After reading this blog, I hope you will use the comma correctly.
So, please let me know when we can have the meeting this week.
However, I can work out a better pricing for you.

3. In a sentence to enclose additional information. Additional information can be removed from the sentence and not affect the meaning in any way. The examples below will help you understand this rule better.
The professor, a man of principles, is known for being a stickler for punctuality.
The professor is known for being a stickler for punctuality. (Additional information is removed)
Microsoft, which is a giant in the software sector, recruits close to 2500 employees each year.
Microsoft recruits close to 2500 employees each year. (Additional information is removed)

4. Use commas before the following conjunctions while joining two independent clauses.
For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So (FANBOYS)
They came in early this morning, but they haven’t yet finished their work.
He worked all night to complete the project, and everyone was surprised at his dedication.
She doesn’t come on time, nor does she complete her work.

5. Finally, use the comma for question tags and addresses.
She does need a lot of support, doesn’t she?
I live on 22, Walker’s Avenue.
New Delhi, India, is a modern capital city.

That’s it then. If you get these rules right, don’t bother about the pauses. Even Oscar Wilde had a tough time with this little punctuation mark. He is supposed to have said that he spent most of his day putting in the comma and the rest taking it out!

Posted by : Sharmila Gautama

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