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Wednesday, April 14, 2004
To All: A reminder

A comma is a comma is a comma. . . (from
A teacher-friend of mine once reminded her students that studying rules of
punctuation is like studying rules of math: they aren’t inventing fresh new ways
to use commas these days. The methods haven’t changed much in the past couple of

One source of help for simplifying punctuation rules is Strunk & White’s
Elements of Style. Originally published in 1935 and updated for today’s writers,
this little book deserves a prominent spot on every writer’s desk.

Elements of Style has some handy rules for comma usage, falling into four

1. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma
after each term except the last. This is often called the “serial comma.”
For example, write:
apples, oranges, and bananas

2. Enclose parenthetical expressions between commas. Sometimes it is hard to
determine what is a parenthetical expression. If you know it would be inside
parentheses, that would be one example. Elements says, “If the interruption to
the flow of the sentence is but slight, the commas may be safely omitted.”
For example, write:
Kara’s teacher, Mrs. Olson, sent a note home today.
Her uncle, she was happy to say, had arrived for a visit.
Don’t separate a noun from a restrictive term of identification:
Peter the Great
The theologian C.S. Lewis

3. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.
Helicopters arrived in time to rescue the weary hikers, and they were taken to a
hospital for observation.

4. Do not join independent clauses with a comma. Two independent clauses in a
sentence that are not joined by a conjunction must be connected with a
semicolon, not a comma.
The night was incredibly cold; Harold’s fingers began to grow numb.

This sentence could just as easily be made into two complete sentences:
The night was incredibly cold. Harold’s fingers began to grow numb.

If a conjunction is used, a comma is correct.
The night was incredibly cold, and Harold’s fingers began to grow numb.

Put this in your Helpful Help you can refer to it!

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Monday, April 12, 2004
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