Commas and punctuation.


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Thread: Commas and punctuation.

  1. #1

    Commas and punctuation.

    I have been re-reading ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ in an attempt to improve my punctuation.

    Ms Truss gives a number of examples in the section on commas; I will stick with one,

    “The driver managed to escape from the vehicle before it sank and swam to the river-bank.”

    To avoid the suggestion that the vehicle, rather than the driver, swam to the bank she suggests that a comma should be inserted after ‘sank’. Grammatically correct Ms. Truss, but it is not the advice I would give a writer. You may have seen me ‘say’ it, “Put the things together that go together”. My point is that if so many people make errors when writing their commas it would seem likely that even more people will read them erroneously. If one re-phrases and writes,

    “The driver managed to escape, and swim to the bank, before the vehicle sank.”

    It really does not matter how badly you place your commas, it is still clear that the driver escaped, the driver swam, it was the bank he swam to and it was the vehicle that sank, only by putting a question mark at the end will punctuation change the sense. Even unpunctuated,

    “The driver managed to escape and swim to the bank before the vehicle sank”

    the emphasis changes slightly, but the sense remains clear.

    I stand by my advice, change your phrasing to put the things together that go together, You will save your reader from dodging around your sentences and your meaning will be clear even to those ignorant of punctuation.
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  2. #2
    While grammatically I agree, it is not how people speak...
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  3. #3
    I disagree, I can equally imagine someone using my version or Ms. Truss' version, neither sounds awkward to me.
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  4. #4
    Good point. The best punctuation available won't save an unclear sentence. The example might be better put as two sentences.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    I have been re-reading ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ in an attempt to improve my punctuation.

    Ms Truss gives a number of examples in the section on commas; I will stick with one,

    “The driver managed to escape from the vehicle before it sank and swam to the river-bank.”

    To avoid the suggestion that the vehicle, rather than the driver, swam to the bank she suggests that a comma should be inserted after ‘sank’. Grammatically correct Ms. Truss, but it is not the advice I would give a writer. You may have seen me ‘say’ it, “Put the things together that go together”. My point is that if so many people make errors when writing their commas it would seem likely that even more people will read them erroneously. If one re-phrases and writes,

    “The driver managed to escape, and swim to the bank, before the vehicle sank.”

    It really does not matter how badly you place your commas, it is still clear that the driver escaped, the driver swam, it was the bank he swam to and it was the vehicle that sank, only by putting a question mark at the end will punctuation change the sense. Even unpunctuated,

    “The driver managed to escape and swim to the bank before the vehicle sank”

    the emphasis changes slightly, but the sense remains clear.

    I stand by my advice, change your phrasing to put the things together that go together, You will save your reader from dodging around your sentences and your meaning will be clear even to those ignorant of punctuation.
    So nice of you. Actually I had a habit of writing without punctuation, except question mark and signs of exclamation. But then somebody told me punctuations are a must and I got confused and then as you are saying, I am paying for phrase " Little knowledge is dangerous ".Thanks a lot. I would try to avoid commas, if I wouldn't sure of them to be at right place.
    Highly appreciate your advice.
    Thanks again.
    Ritu

  6. #6
    “The driver managed to escape, and swim to the bank, before the vehicle sank.”
    You've got a good point about restructuring, Ollie. I think if I found myself editing and I had a sentence like this my focus would be on the fact that it was awkward rather than the technical use of commas.

    One way I was taught was that if you can take that clause within the commas out of the sentence and it is a coherent sentence-- "The driver managed to escape before the vehicle sank."-- not only is the comma usage okay but you should question whether the fact that he also swam to the bank is important enough to add or not. It's kind of a tip off that restructuring is a good idea because:
    While grammatically I agree, it is not how people speak...
    Exactly, awkward phrasing.

    Also, here's a handy song to...well...think about grammar.

  7. #7
    A comma after sank would not be grammatically correct -- it's a compound predicate. But there's a lot of reasons to break this rule and no one will notice if you do.

    I started figuring out how grammar would develop from nothing, and I decided one of the first principles of grammar would be to position things together when they belong together in meaning.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post

    “The driver managed to escape from the vehicle before it sank and swam to the river-bank.”
    I see no ambiguity in this sentence at all - my brain effortlessly pictures the driver, not the car, swimming to the river bank. If it's from some sci-fi novel and it is the car doing the swimming, i can't see that any arrangement of commas could convey that meaning so it would have to be rearranged.

    Can we rely on such common sense as writers?

  9. #9
    “The driver managed to escape from the vehicle before it sank and swam to the river-bank.”
    Context is a rescuer but there's no getting around that initial impression that the driver escaped the villainous vehicle that may have had dastardly plans for him as it sank but then it gave up pursuit of the driver and swam to the river bank instead.

    That impression gives the sentence the tinge of the ridiculous even if you can correct it quickly in your head.

    For a writer who's striving not to throw readers out of the story that's a good speed bump to avoid.

  10. #10
    Probably why my sense of grammar is bad, the ridiculous interpretation doesn't occur to me even for an instant..

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