NEEL’S PUNCTUATION STYLE FILES-#2
By Neel Anil Panicker
The very mention of the word is enough to send folks into a coma, at least some of us, that is.
The comma is one of the very important pillars of punctuation in English Grammar.
Much used and even more abused, the mere thought of inserting a comma into a sentence sees quite a lot of us, who otherwise may be quite adept in English, breaking out in a cold sweat.
All because of the humble comma!
All of us are vainly trying to figure out when, where, how many, and most importantly, whether a sentence requires a comma or not.
How important is the comma can be gauged from the fact that its presence or absence; or wrongful presence or absence can diametrically alter the entire meaning of a sentence.
To that extent we can say that a comma is a pregnant pause before the final delivery.
Or, as is the case on a lot many occasions, a series of pregnant pauses before one final delivery.
Well let’s leave aside the metaphorical implications and hit terra firma.
Pray, what is a comma?
A comma is a brief interlude, or a series of brief interludes before the grand finale.
Contrary to what some of us believe, there are definite rules that govern the presence or for that matter its absence including its positioning in a sentence.
red, blue and white
Is something wrong?
The correction is:
red, blue, and white
He walked upto her, took out his wallet, and handed her ten thousand rupees.
So here’s the rule that comes into play:
RULE NO. 1
If there is a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
And we grammarians even have a word for this sort of a comma. It is known as the ‘serial’ comma.
EXCEPTIONS: The ‘serial’ is to be omitted if the sentence is a listing of different business firms.
My friend works at John, Anderson and Company.
The other day while travelling on the Metro, I bumped into Rakesh, an ex-colleague. He introduced me to Kajal.
His fiancée, Kajal works in the airlines industry.
Now, have a look at the last sentence.
It is incorrect.
Here’s the corrected sentence:
His fiancée, Kajal, works in the airlines industry.
How about this sentence.
The movie you will be glad to know was shot in Paris.
And the correction:
The movie, you will be glad to know, was shot in Paris.
Here are a few more examples of
the correct use of comma:
1.Whether, Sir, you take three classes or not, is entirely your prerogative.
2.But then, Sir, were you to refuse, I cannot predict what will happen.
3.So, dear Sir, this is an unavoidable mess you are in.
4. The scientist Rama Swamy
5. Akbar the Great
6. The author Chetan Bhagat
7. April to December, 2016
8. June 12, 1999
9. 11 October 1909
10. The concepts, which initially seemed much difficult to grasp, became more and more easy to understand as the classes progressed.
So, here’s the rule that comes into play:
RULE NO. 2
Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas
The situation in Kashmir is very alarming but there is still hope for a speedy resolution of the crisis.
The sentence above is incorrect as the second half of the sentence must begin after a comma as it introduces an independent clause.
Hence the correction:
The situation in Kashmir is alarming, but there is still hope for a speedy resolution to the crisis.
Here, take a look at another one.
I have heard his side of the story but I am still not quite convinced.
And the correction:
I have heard his side of the story, but I am still not quite convinced.
One needs to note here that when the subject of the sentence is common for both the clauses and is expressed only once, a comma is required if the conjunction that separates the two clauses is ‘but’.
One more sentence for your perusal:
I have had my dinner, and now I am going for a walk.
Here, in the above sentence the inclusion of the comma is wrong.
The corrected sentence should read such:
I have had my dinner and now I am going for a walk.
Why is that so?
Well, the answer to that is simply because one can omit the comma if the relation between the two clauses is immediate or close.
So, there you are.
And the simple rule that governs all these.
RULE NO. 3.
Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause
Kejriwal’s decisions lack merit, they are proof of his Quixotic mindset.
Notice that the above sentence has two independent clauses and as such the comma must be replaced with a semi-colon.
Hence, the correction:
Kejriwal’s decisions lack merit; they are proof of his Quixotic mindset.
RULE NO. 4.
Do not join independent clauses with a comma
Another little peculiarity with commas is that you should not break a sentence into two when a comma would have sufficed.
Have a look at this sentence:
Mr Kejriwal is an inveterate liar. A politician who indulges in chicanery and doublespeak to hoodwink the masses.
The breaking of the above into two separate sentences is not warranted. Instead, they must be stitched together as one with the help of a comma.
The corrected one reads as:
Mr Kejriwal is an inveterate liar, a politician who indulges in chicanery and doublespeak to hoodwink the masses.
RULE NO. 5.
Never use a period when a comma can do the job as well.
TO BE CONTINUED)