A short (no, really), pithy post about a comma

See that comma after the closed parenthesis in the title up there?

That’s where it belongs. This isn’t a style issue. It’s a mechanics rule in AmE. (I suspect it’s the same for BrE, but I couldn’t find an entry for it in my copy of the New Oxford Style Manual.)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen someone write a sentence with a parenthetical intrusion and put the comma before the opening parenthesis, like this:

I was walking with my mom the other day, (doctor’s orders, you know, after her surgery) and we saw blah blah blah.

It looks so odd, I stop dead every time. Think about it like this. You’re talking along to a friend, okay? And you interrupt yourself mid-thought to add something, but that thing you’re adding actually belongs to what you just said, not to what you’re about to say. It’s semantically and syntactically linked to what came before. In my example, the comment about doctor’s orders is linked to walking with Mom, not to whatever thing we saw.

That’s why the comma goes after the closing parenthesis of the intrusion. We keep the related thoughts — the main one and the related intrusion — together by putting the comma afterward. Of course, this is assuming you need a comma. I’m not going into the variations that don’t. This post is short (remember the title?), pithy, and about commas.

See? I just did it again in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. That’s how it’s done.

Commas: plain-language explanation #1

I expect this to become a series, so I’m numbering this post. If I’m wrong, well … I’ll come back later, in a year or two, and edit the title.

Aaaaanyway, let’s get to it.

This is about commas and adjectives. When you have a string of adjectives before a noun, how do you know if you need commas between them? (In grammar-speak, these are called coordinate or coordinating modifiers. No one remembers┬áthat, though, except for grammar geeks. Hence my choice to use plain language.) Continue reading “Commas: plain-language explanation #1”

REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon

Any grammar text that makes me literally laugh aloud is a winner on at least one level. Making grammar fun is one of my personal goals, so I always enjoy seeing others succeed at doing so. I laughed a lot during my read-through of Lisa McLendon’s workbook. This is a very good thing.

Not only does she know her grammar (she’s the one who teaches the Deep Grammar classes at various editing conferences), she explains it in plain language. No small feat, that. Lisa won me over right off the bat with her statement that she’s not a “grammar cop,” but rather a “grammar cheerleader.” I don’t know as I’m bubbly enough to be one of those, but I appreciate the imagery, that’s for sure. Continue reading “REVIEW: The Perfect English Grammar Workbook, McLendon”

The eleventh link of Christmas: Editing tools

This is the smallest of my collections, because honestly I don’t use many tools aside from PerfectIt3 that aren’t already built in to my software.

Here you’ll find my less-than-glowing review of “Ginger,” a tip on how to respond to a comment in MS Word, and a few other tidbits.

It’s been 11 days of posts. I figure folks are getting a little bit full, so today and tomorrow are lighter fare vis a vis the post count.

My gift to you: LINKS! (Post the first of over a dozen!)

While I’ve been less than perfect about posting here, I’m very active over on G+. In fact, most of my business is done there, whether it’s getting referrals or discussing projects. Because I spend so much time there, I’ve embraced the Collections feature and set up sixteen groupings of posts. I won’t link to all of them here (my Editing Projects, for example, aren’t really germane to everyone in the blogosphere, and the GRAMMARGEDDON! posts are already here, duh), but I’ll post a link to each Collection with a brief description of it so you good people can see the rest of my inspiring content. ::cough::

I just realized I’m posting at least a dozen links over the next few weeks. Rather like an editorial “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

But not. Anyway . . .

First up, in keeping with the theme of this blog, is my GUMmy Stuff. These are all about grammar, usage, and mechanics. Some of them are original content, some are links to other folks’ blogs, some are cartoons, but all are focused on GUMmy Stuff.

Here you go. Don’t get stuck in there. It can be messy.

GUMmy Stuff (Grammar, Usage, Mechanics)

Little old ladies and blue polyester uniform pants

Do you always need to separate a string of adjectives with commas?

The short answer: No.

Here’s a perfect example of when you don’t have to. Consider the phrase “blue polyester uniform pants.” (Thanks to Doug Metz for that!) Would you say “blue and polyester and uniform pants?” I sure wouldn’t. They’re blue polyester, and they’re uniform pants. Take it further. Would you say “blue polyester and uniform pants” if you were talking about that pair of pants? Again, I don’t think so.

The classic phrase often used as an exemplar is “little old lady.” Would you say “little and old lady?” Doubtful. Even if you add another adjective, you still are unlikely to use commas: little old blue-haired lady.

If you wouldn’t use “and” between the adjectives, you don’t need to use a comma, either. It’s a simple test that nearly always works. (I’m hedging a little because I’m certain if I were to make a definitive pronouncement, someone would comment “But Karen . . .” and blow it all out of the water.)