Tag Archive - commas

Commas, Etc.

Personally, I really dislike the use of etc., et al, i.e., and e.g. Think about it—how many people really know what i.e. stands for—or even care? Why would we in this day and age use weird abbreviations for Latin terms we as a culture have long forgotten? If you are like me, you probably forget whether to use i.e. or e.g.  “In other words” and “For example” seem to be a lot easier to understand and don’t sound so hoity-toity in my book. But if you really have a hankering to use etc. (etcetera literally means “and others of the same kind”), it is preceded and  followed by a comma when it is the final item in a series (unless it ends a sentence). Such equivalents as and so forth and and the like are usually treated the same way. (In formal prose, etc. should be avoided, though it is usually acceptable in lists and tables, in notes, and within parentheses.)

  • I bought my school supplies (pencils, notebook paper, etc., that the teacher told us to buy) this evening.
  • The ingredients I needed, such as flour, sugar, salt, etc., were in short supply at the market.
  • My favorite movies, like Star Wars, Evolution, Galaxy Quest, and the like, were all checked out at the movie store.

But think about rewriting, reworking, revising, etc., if you are going to use a lot of old-fashioned abbreviations! Your writing will be a whole lot more interesting. Oh, and if you have an ampersand—&—don’t use a comma: “I work at the law firm Tom, Dick & Harry.”

 

Commas That Are, Indeed, Useful

More on commas—are you getting tired of them yet? Commas—sometimes paired with semicolons—are traditionally used to set off adverbs such as however, therefore, and indeed. When the adverb is essential to the meaning of the clause, or if no pause is intended or desired, commas are not needed.

  •  A truly efficient gasoline-powered engine remains, however, a pipe dream.
  • Indeed, not one test subject accurately predicted the amount of soup in the bowl.

but

  • If you cheat and are therefore disqualified, you may also risk losing your scholarship.
  • That was indeed the outcome of the study.

If you, also, use the word also or too, you, too, should offset those words in the middle of a sentence. Just FYI, Chicago style prefers not using a comma with too at the end of a sentence. I like that rule too. (I just gave examples of all these rules in these sentences, in case you might have missed them. And if you were sharp, you probably noticed that when you refer to a word specifically in its function as a word, you italicize it. Like: I use the word too way too many times in my writing.)

 

They Travel in Pairs . . . Sometimes

I’m hoping to make commas less intimidating for you through these posts this month. But often there are very subtle differences in the choice of whether or not to use a comma. Whenever a comma is used to set off an element (such as “1928” or “Minnesota” in the first two examples below), a second comma is required if the phrase or sentence continues (completing the thought) beyond the element being set off. This principle applies to many of the uses for commas.

  •  June 5, 1928, lives on in the memories of only a handful of us.
  • Sledding in Duluth, Minnesota, is facilitated by that city’s hills and frigid winters.

I often see sentences that set off a phrase in the middle but only use one comma. It’s best to check and see if you really need a pair. If you are inserting a phrase that can be removed and leaves a complete sentence with an unchanged meaning, you do need a pair of commas. These are called “parenthetical elements” that serve as an explanation or comment.

Wrong:

  • When I went to the store, at the request of my mother I bought a gallon of milk.
  • Sometimes, when the sun is out I go for an early run.
  • He ate a huge, almost gigantic sandwich.

Correct:

  • When I went to the store, at the request of my mother, I bought a gallon of milk.
  • Sometimes, when the sun is out, I go for an early run.
  • He ate a huge, almost gigantic, sandwich.

If you take out the middle phrase, for example, in this sentence, it still says the same thing: “When I went to the store, I bought a gallon of milk.” You bought a gallon of milk whether or not the person you are talking to knows your mom sent you. You can also write this: “When I went to the store at the request of my mother, I bought a gallon of milk.” This is also correct, but you need to be aware of the difference in emphasis. If you offset the phrase with two commas, you are implying the phrase offset is not essential information. With this new example of one comma, you are including the information about the mother’s request as important. You can also leave out both commas and write: “Sometimes when the sun is out I go for an early run.” Offsetting “when the sun is out” makes it essential to the sentence, implying that you go for a run because the sun is out. It’s all about subtle emphasis and importance.

 

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