Ranly’s rules for those pesky commas

Journalism professor Don Ranly sets us straight on why and when to use commas.

Journalism professor Don Ranly sets us straight on why and when to use commas

If you’ve spent some time editing copy or working around writers, you’ve discovered at least three attitudes people have regarding commas.

1. Those who hate commas. They quote Mark Twain as saying, “As to the comma, when in doubt, leave it out.” I don’t think Twain ever said that. He did say, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, leave it out.” That’s a bit different. These comma haters take commas out whenever ever they can, or they go by the ridiculous rule, place a comma only where you want the reader to pause. How dumb is that!

Now if the subject of commas makes you comatose, for heaven’s sakes, stop reading this. If you don’t care about being correct and consistent in your use of commas, there’s nothing I can do for you. Go away.

2. Those who use commas for no particular reason other than that they feel better—or that they take them out because they feel better. The sentence seems to need them or doesn’t seem to need them.

3. And those who put commas everywhere. They love them. They will separate every set of adjectives and every compound subject and compound predicate with a comma every time.

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