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Author Topic: Misused Comma
Member # 1955

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Up until recently, I've just used commas whenever it felt right, when the story's narrative voice gave a pause. Now it looks like I've been comma slicing all over the place. Yet sometimes, I'm not sure if I sliceing or dicing.

For instance:
Jake shook his head as he skimmed, his fists tearing at the paper.

Jake sensed as he stepped outside himself, that is, he was two selves, present and present.

He had lived his life respecting the police, like the time they told him to move his box from 36th street, he moved it without a gripe.

Perhaps in that last instance a semicolon would do better, but then again, for some reason, I can't overuse. I'm afraid to exceed the semicolon quota.

What are some simple ways of identifying misused commas? Much info on the web is not geared toward fiction, for there is a difference between fiction with its narritive voices and impersonal non-fiction.

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Robert Nowall
Member # 2764

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I think you'd be better off slicing-and-dicing a little more here, making them into two or more separate sentences.
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Member # 2192

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You might find some of the information you're looking for on the National Punctuation Day web site or the Chicago online web site, referenced in your other thread. And again, a good reference book comes in handy often.

I suspect you mean "splice," though, not "slice." It's when you use a comma to join independent clauses instead of a semicolon.

Clarissa killed the evil robot monkeys, she used her laser rifle, they were really evil.

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Member # 3379

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Do you have a copy of Strunk and White's Element of Style? They have a very nice section on commas, which seems as relevant to fiction as any other category.

I love commas. I put them everywhere. Then I take them out. Then I put them back in. Does anyone remember which writer characterized his day's work along the lines of, "This morning, I put a comma in. This afternoon, I took it back out."

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Member # 2192

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Member # 2648

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There is no more solid investment than a good copy of Strunk and White. Okay, maybe real estate.

But it's a good one nonetheless.


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Member # 1738

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All they will tell you is that if your comma is separating two grammatical sentences, it is a comma splice. They cannot list every possible combination of two grammatical sentences for you. If you don't know how to identify a grammatical sentence, try replacing it with a period and see if either resulting sentence is a fragment.

Supposedly you can always replace a comma splice with a semicolon. It's the punctuation equivalent of "through": A dumb rule designed to make sure intellectuals can tell who is really who. At least, that was my intellectual ex-brother-in-law's reasoning on the spelling of "through."

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Member # 1438

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I'd rather see too many commas than not enough. It's annoying to have to go back and re-read a sentence when a comma would have prevented the backtracking.

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited June 06, 2006).]

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Member # 2267

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In the examples you gave, I only saw a comma problem on the last one (yes, a semicolon fixes it). In standard grammar, a comma splice is wrong, except when the sentences are very short and very parallel ("I came, I saw, I conquered" -- and I think in 2006 we'd use semicolons). Semicolons can be overused I'm sure, and I probably do it, but that's style, not "wrong." Breaking into separate sentences is also good.

I did see on the one about sensing a problem, but it wasn't commas; it was that sensing needed an object and I didn't find one.

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