For some reason, there’s this mythology that’s developed around comma usage where a comma should be added to a sentence where a person would normally pause if speaking or reading aloud.
What’s So Wrong With Using a Comma as a Stop?
Different readers have different modes of speaking and would therefore pause in different places. How would you, as a writer, be able to accommodate both William Shatner and Christopher Walken for example when reading your text aloud?
Pausing may happen when a particular reader needs to breathe or swallow, yet not every long sentence requires a comma to be grammatically correct. Even if you intend the reader to only pause once in a sentence for dramatic effect, multiple commas may still be needed for grammatical purposes. Think clarification here. A comma’s primary purpose is to facilitate clarity and prevent misreading.
Even if a breathy, overexcited child is performing the dialog or reading aloud, there’s a huge difference between the meaning of, “Let’s eat, Frank!” and “Let’s eat Frank!”
Contrary to the misconception that commas = pauses, and regardless of the dramatic effect that is attempted to be conveyed, solid grammatical rules must be followed when doing serious writing work. These standards have evolved over time, which means you can see a big difference when looking at texts from the 1800s for example, but there is nonetheless a modern format to be followed. Some comma rules will fluctuate depending on what style book is being used, but many remain static across formats.
In order to fall in line with conventional comma usage, it’s time to cast aside the myth that you simply plug one in to indicate a pause. Your writing will thank you for following conventional standards. If an emphasis of some kind needs to be brought forward to the readers’ attention, other tricks such as italics, long dashes, and parentheses are far more effective—as long as you’re using them according to their respective rules, of course.
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