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The Comma

As with many punctuation points, the comma has its share strange ideas associated with it:

"A comma represents a pause!"

Don't be ridiculous.

"The comma is used to separate clauses!"

As wrong as wrong can be, and then even yet still more wronger.

The function of the comma is to join clauses and phrases.

  • If you have a list of items, you join them together with commas.
  • If you have co-ordinate clauses, you can join them with a comma.
  • If you have a subordinate clause, you can indicate where it joins the sentence with a comma.
  • If you had an absolute clause1, you could join it to the sentence with a comma.
  • etc.

If, when speaking, you pause at the point where a written comma would be, then you are merely pausing to indicate the join between two elements, in the same way that the comma indicates the join.

If you have Italian proclivities, you might make a hand gesture to indicate a join when speaking.  This does not mean that the comma represents a hand gesture, any more than a pause means that the comma represents a pause.

There is no instance of comma usage where the comma acts as a divider.  Any division already exists; the comma simply says: "This is where the join is, between these two things".

To divide clauses or other elements, use different punctuation points.

Just keep in mind that commas join, not separate.

1.  Of course, since there is no such thing as an absolute clause, it being just the wet dream of someone who was desperate to invent something, you won't want to be using one, will you?  (back)

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