To Beat a Grammarian: Commas (Part Three)
Somewhere in elementary school, our brains get trained to believe commas go in certain spots or are used in certain situations. This is probably where so much of the difficulty arises. Even for well-read individuals, we take in the information passively and make wrong assumptions with no formal practice. Through all of this, we, collectively, end up making myths about the comma. Here are the two biggest ones:
1) Pauses equal commas
Now a bit of that is true—but in reverse. When there is a comma, the reader should pause, especially if reading aloud. However, usually, if we are scanning something, most people don’t take the time to slow down their momentum. If anything, commas are the literate’s form of a speed bump. For this reason, commas don’t belong anytime we DO pause! Think about a road covered in speed bumps for every time we tap on the breaks. Traffic would grid to a halt—so, too, does reading!
Therefore, use commas sparingly and where they are needed, not every time you take a breath. And this notion leads right into the next myth.
2) Long sentences need commas
I have no idea where this got started. Quite possibly a weak or lazy student began to realize his sentences rambled on forever and too often relied upon simple sentence structures, so, in order to add a glean of professionalism, they spliced in a couple of commas and—voila!—a masterful piece of writing. Regardless the origin, long sentences can stand on their own if the meaning is not sacrificed or distorted. If commas clarify and ease the readers along, then so be it.
All of this being said, commas may still come off as a mystery. Sometimes one person throws one in, while another doesn’t. That’s not to say there aren’t rules. When you know them—all the better! If not, pay attention while you read.