Saturday, 3 December 2011


'Less is more' is today's fashion when it comes to commas. As a consequence, they are often  left out, at times when they could be helping readers to make their way through complex sentences. In my view, this is a mistake. Commas serve many useful roles and should not be treated as optional extras.

For instance, they often act as stepping stones, helping readers to thread their way through a tangle of clauses:

a) a comma between 'forth' and 'along' would work in that way here, I think:
 b) commas around 'starting today' might give the reader a couple of places to rest and gather their thoughts here, (and can a government really be a force for the future? Surely, the future is a given; it does not respond to force):
 c) a comma between' yesterday' and 'with' in the sentence beginning 'Mr Abbott' would stop any possible confusion about whether the promise came with the NSW business function, like some kind of free gift in a packet of cereal:
 d) Again, a comma between 'reform' and 'even' would aid the reader to follow the meaning of the sentence beginning 'He skirted', in my view:
 e) I would rewrite the main paragraph here so that it read thus: "Last night, the faction's position was being finalised, ahead of the economic policy debate, which is scheduled to follow Ms Gillard's opening speech at the ALP conference this morning"

Commas also help to eliminate ambiguity. For example, had the editor placed a comma after 'platform' in the paragraph beginning 'Ms Scott', there would have been no doubt at all that it was not the platform itself that was calling for an end to mandatory detention but rather Ms Scott and her mates:

 Personally, I also think that, like their cousins, inverted commas, commas should almost always go about in twos. Thus, I would place a comma after 'so', in this passage:

and before 'if' in this one (I should also point out that 'not only' is in the wrong position):
and before 'when' in this one (and I would remove the comma and 'and' after 'billion' and replace it with that much neglected but superb piece of punctuation, the semi-colon):

Working on the same pairing policy, I would either remove the comma after 'sector' in this passage, possibly adding 'both' between the next 'sector' and the word 'had', or I would add another comma after the next occurrence of 'sector' in the piece:

Sometimes, of course, commas are redundant. It is disruptive and confusing, for example, to insert a comma that separates a verb from its subject:
'Hockey said he would look to monetary policy first and would want the RBA ...' seems to me to be perfectly fine.

I also cannot see what help the comma between 'business' and 'simplifying' is to anyone in this passage:
I would remove it and cut 'a promise to appoint', since 'promise' is really a repetition of 'pledge', and replace it with 'the appointment of a'. Here is my recast sentence: 'These included the appointment of a cabinet minister for small business and the simplification of the administration of compulsory superannuation contributions'. If you insisted on keeping 'promise', I would rewrite the sentence to read like this: 'These included promises to appoint a cabinet minister for small business and to simplify the administration of ....'

No comments:

Post a Comment