Speed bumps 101

Our neighbourhood has speed bumps (and more than a few potholes) that make slow driving an easy choice. As annoying as they may be, at times, they are important to keep us all safe.

The comma is not vital to our survival, but it is vital to our success as writers. Commas can have a jolting effect on readers when they are overused or used improperly.

So … down to the nitty-gritty of comma use.

Can you see what happens when there are no commas in a sentence and you keep on reading like this until you turn blue possibly from lack of oxygen as you read out loud and run out of breath?

Annoying, eh?

Four strategically placed commas would make all the difference in that sentence and would give the reader an opportunity to pause (take a breath).

Can you see what happens, on the other hand, when there are commas in a sentence and you keep on reading, like this, but you don’t run out of breath?

Not so annoying.

In that last example, the commas create subordinate parenthetical clauses that could, in fact, be left out of the sentence and it would still make sense. But parenthetical clauses enrich a sentence and commas are one way to achieve that effect.

One of the most obvious uses of the comma is to avoid ambiguity. Breakfast was to die for: potato pancakes with blueberry preserves topped with a dollop of whipped cream, bacon and eggs, freshly squeezed orange juice and miniature loaves of banana-orange bread, warm with butter.

OK, I’m taking a break; it’s lunch time.

(I’m kidding, although I am salivating … more than you wanted to know, I’m sure.)

Getting back to comma use, commas are used before what is known to editors as FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so). What’s Up Yukon style is to omit the serial comma (the last comma before and or or in a list) except when needed to avoid confusion. Commas are used judiciously.

The comma is used to connect. Even though speed bumps slow us down a little, they do not bring us to a complete halt the way red lights (periods) do.

Which sounds better? This: I opened my wallet. I spied the twenty-dollar bill. I slipped it out. I slapped it on the counter. Or this: I opened my wallet, spied the twenty-dollar bill, slipped it out and slapped it on the counter.

Commas can also be used artistically to show the passing of time: She thought a moment, and said …

Enough said. If you would like to talk about commas or have questions about grammar and punctuation, send me an e-mail me. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it.

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