Death of the comma?

The comma is possibly one of the most contentious and overused (or underused, depending on who you are) punctuation marks faced by writers, editors, indexers and readers.

While the rules for its correct usage are not always clear and often depend on personal choice or editorial style, what is nevertheless evident is that there is a trend towards using fewer commas more generally. The proliferation of social media (such as Twitter, where each character counts) has contributed to this, as has the increased use of texting (which has in many ways developed its own language with its abbrievations, short cuts and emoticons).

Despite this, there are a few particular instances where we feel that more thought needs to be given to the comma:

1. For clarity in a sentence

In the classic example:

Let’s eat Grandma vs Let’s eat, Grandma

2. To improve readability and create emphasis

A comma is required at times to create a pause for the reader and to place more emphasis on what comes either after or before the comma. Although this is often one of the more debateable uses of the comma as we all pause at different places when speaking, we still feel that it is nevertheless necessary in certain instances. For example:

Today I will play the piano.

Today, I will play the piano.

I played the piano for once.

I played the piano, for once.

3. Indexes

Commas are especially important in indexes in order to distinguish between different subject matters. For example, when indexing ‘affidavit of service’ and ‘service of affidavit’:

Affidavit            

service, of

service of

 

So the take-home from all this? Maybe one day, we will have to accept that society has developed to the point where punctuation and full word spelling are not required. But for now, at least, it is important not to kill off the comma completely as it does still play a vital role in achieving clear communication.