THE TROUBLE WITH COMMAS

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Does any of my fellow writers frustrate themselves about the placement of commas as much as I do?

As a soon to be self-published author, I am undecided about which punctuation standard to use: US, UK or Caribbean. I am an Island Girl, but most of the books I have read use the US standard. My books will be available online to anyone, anywhere in the world, and since I expect an audience from the US and UK as well, I wonder:

How much of a difference does punctuation style make, especially to the readers?

Today, punctuation is a clash between rules and style. I never underestimate the importance of rules because a comma in the wrong place can change the meaning or readability of a sentence.

It is a good practice to stick to the rules of one country. If a writer is fortunate to have their work published in a subsequent country (e.g. US author also published in the UK), the UK publisher may change the punctuation to suit their rules. This brings me to another question:

How should a self-published author choose a standard if they market mainly online?

In the Caribbean, we do not put commas before conjunctions, even if they separate two clauses. We follow the general rule of separating words in lists with commas. However, we do not put commas after the second-to-last item on a list, if a conjunction follows it. E.g. basketball, football, tennis and swimming.

Examples of other rules for commas

– Commas after sentence introductions. YES
E.g. As you are well aware,
On a beach in the Caribbean,

– Commas after transitional phrases. YES
E.g. Therefore,
Consequently,

– Commas before speech marks. YES
E.g. He told her, “Please leave me alone.”
Annie asked, “Could you be quiet?”

Good Writing

One attribute of good writing is that it should be easily understandable. A reader should not have to reread a sentence to understand what the writer meant. For this to happen, it is important to follow rules. On the other hand, a writer’s style is distinct by the words they choose, the length of their sentences and how they punctuate and structure their sentences. Their style is usually influenced by the genre or the purpose of their works.

Please comment on this post. I would greatly appreciate some advice.

8 Comments

  1. The Chicago Manual of Style is a very good resource for all sorts of writing guidelines. They have an excellent section on punctuation, and if you want your book to be appreciated in places other than the Caribbean, I would suggest following these guidelines. There is the British system too, but I think you’ll find that most of the writing world follow the CMS guidelines.
    It’s important to get it right before you publish.

    Like

  2. kiel says:

    Excellent post. Good thing I still us my primary education (which is U.K based) on the rules of English. The English language is really hard for the native speaker, but surprisingly flexible for the non-native tongue!

    Like

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