I don’t know why, or what it is about them, but I have always had a love/hate relationship with commas. Perhaps it is because they are crafty little punctuation marks that can be used to create pauses, emphasize important parts of sentences, or add an afterthought, and yet, their overuse or incorrect use can be distracting or confusing for a reader.
Years ago, I was taught that the cardinal rule for comma usage was if I had to pause to take a breath while reading a sentence, I should place a comma at that point. Although there are more comma guidelines available to assist writers, I still find myself reading sentences out loud multiple times, or placing emphasis on different words, to help me decide where I should include a comma. The combination of hearing the rhythm of a sentence, while considering the comma’s nature – which is to create a momentary break – allows me to use commas sparingly for clarification or emphasis.
That is not to say that everyone agrees with the results of my method, or what Ben Yagoda calls the “comma by sound” technique. Publications and professors have their own opinions regarding comma placement. While I may add or delete a comma – or revise to avoid having to use a comma at all! – to satisfy the requirements of others, I also do my best to maintain my voice. Referring to guidelines and professionals when completing writing projects is certainly helpful, but I also like including my intuition as one of many tools in my writing arsenal.
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