Writing Pet Peeves #8: Commas

Oh man.

Have you ever, seen sentences, written like this?

No? Lucky you. I have. And each time I just want to grab the person doing the writing and shake them until they never want to put a comma in another sentence again. I understand that a lot of people hate writing. I definitely understand that many are just plain bad writers, but sentences like these are unacceptable.

In what world does that sentence look correct to any individual? And in what world do these people seem to think they were taught this by an educated professional? Heck, a mediocre high school student could teach better than this. I have no idea what goes into writing sentences with commas all over the place, but my guess is that sometimes someone comes up with a sentence and thinks there should be some kind of punctuation. So what do they do? They throw in a few commas to make the sentence more complete.

Or maybe there’s a little alien just on the inside of their heads and he’s trying to communicate a secret message to his motherland that we humans are not supposed to understand? No clue. Just stop with all the commas everywhere. Please.

45 thoughts on “Writing Pet Peeves #8: Commas

  1. I confess, I’m pretty bad about this. I habitually over-punctuate when I’m writing, but I try to be good about catching them on the proofread. My theory is that there’s a dearth of proofreading and widespread uncertainty about the principles of good punctuation.


    • Oh. What’s uncertain about good punctuation? I understand when someone is writing in a second language, but punctuation should be easy for any native English speaker.


      • At some point just about everyone who runs a blog has been taught the very basics of punctuation. It’s up to the individual to either use that knowledge going forward or to just forget about it at some point.


      • The Shatner comma is absurd, but I can understand where some uncertainty comes from because of the various style guides floating around. A prime example is the debate over the Oxford comma. The Chicago Manual of Style uses it, but The Associated Press Stylebook throws it out the window. I was taught to include a comma after “then” at the beginning of a sentence, but now many style guides drop it.


    • Eh. I don’t think so. You only see it I’m places it really doesn’t matter. Blogs. Social media. Texting. It’s not like newspapers, magazines, and books also have bad punctuation.


      • But the difference between newspapers, magazines and books as a class and blogs, social media and texting is typically paid professionals. What you’re saying is that people who intend to write professionally, editors and proofreaders know how to punctuate. Which is not the same as saying that the general population understands it. Also, speaking a language and writing the same language are skill-sets processed so differently in the brain, it’s surprising how difficult they are to compare, with validity. Also, the rules of punctuation, of language in general, are more fluid than they seem to be, because languages evolve or they die.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I. LOVE. COMMAS. There, I’ve said it. The first step in treatment is admitting you have a problem. But I love commas done right. Granted, I have made a few mistakes…..whistling…Okay, I’ve probably made more than a few. The rule of thumb about a comma. If a phrase is bracketed by commas, that phrase should be able to be taken out of the sentence and the rest of the sentence should make sense. I just used a comma above and honestly I don’t know if it’s grammatical or not.
    When in doubt, get a Harbrace College Handbook and look up where a comma should go.

    But I can get a little ‘trigger happy’ with commas.


    • I am the EXACT same way! I call it being a “comma whore”, which makes my friends laugh. I probably add more commas to things than necessary, and I PROBABLY use commas where other forms of punctuation could be used. I AM trying to work on it, and I try to take at least three unnecessary commas out of things I write before I publish them.


  3. Here in the UK during the seventies and eighties,teaching grammar went out of fashion. Perhaps a sort of hippy mentality, from a lot of progressive educators-
    ‘Man, let’s not saddle these kids with grammar and punctuation. Too many rules… just focus on your creativity, wherever the spirit moves you…’

    This meant a whole generation (mine) WHO CANNOT PUNCTUATE!

    Since studying for a degree and creative writing, I’ve had to learn grammar almost from scratch. And I still over-punctuate.

    Education has swung round the other way now and my ten year old knows the rules better than I do. Damn them hippy teachers šŸ™‚


      • The focus may well have differed from school to school, but an English teacher friend of mine told me this was the case, and it just rang a bell with my own experience.
        I suspect we’ve recently gone too far the other way- there’s a lot of pressure on young kids and teachers here now and the government changes the methods and marking standards every time a new minister is appointed- a headache for all concerned.


      • It’s all about ‘league tables’ here- a sort of rating system for schools. It means the schools sometimes focus on getting the kids to do things that will look good on the tables rather than giving them a brilliant, all round education. The system’s never gonna be perfect.


      • No system is ever perfect, right? Those working within the system do the best they can with what they’ve been given. Sometimes standardized tests are given extreme importance, and sometimes tat importance is distributed elsewhere. Of course, I have no idea how it works over there. But I do know something is almost always changing over here. Which can make teaching difficult.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This made me laugh. I can’t tell you how many time I edit my children’s English homework and delete too many of these pesky annoyances.


  5. I’m pretty bad about commas, but I’m far worse about omission than overuse – to the point where I feel like published authors are often doing it wrong.

    The opening line of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

    To me, it looks like there are way too many commas there. If I had written this, I would have omitted every comma except the one before “thank you very much.” Obviously JKR is correct and I am wrong, but that would have been my faulty instinct. Not really sure how to make myself “see” where commas should go, but grinding the Chicago Manual of Style into my head is about the only way I can figure.


    • I don’t care what any manual or author or whomever says…that sentence is ugly. I’d have taken out the first and third commas in that sentence. I think I might still have an MLA handbook from my college days.


  6. I’ve been guilty of this far too many times. It’s something I’m scrupulous about searching for when I edit my own writing. So I try to slash commas as much as possible, but the tendency is there. I don’t know why I do it. Le sigh.


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