Yes, I know I said “next week”, but I miscalculated the days. Go figure. On that note, let’s start right off with a bang!
There are many types of punctuation, but I’m going to specifically address the lowly comma and it’s considerably frequent misuse. A variety of so-called styles affect this, such as APA, MLA, AP, and what I like to call “old school”. “Old school” is simply the way we were taught, prior to the aforementioned organizations deciding that they should arbitrarily tell us how to write.
First, we have lists. Old school says we should place a comma after every item in the list: “dogs, cats, and birds”. AP style says nope, lose the second comma. They’re wrong. If you did that, you’d see “dogs, cats and birds”, which places cats in the same category as birds. Cats probably wouldn’t appreciate that, but the real problem comes down to meaning.
A comma is a natural pause. Try speaking that phrase out loud. Let’s make it a sentence: The playground was designed for dogs, cats, and birds. Now do it the other way: The playground was designed for dogs, cats and birds. What does this second sentence mean?
I look at it and think: cats and birds what? Do cats and birds do something? Together? Probably not, unless it’s Sylvester and Tweety. That sentence seems almost to ask for hyphens, as in “dogs, cats-and-birds” – maybe a new species?
The only reason that the AP may have done this, that I can come up with, is that they’re all too lazy to type in one more comma. Trust me; with some of the “typos” I see on journalism sites, this could very well be an explanation. Meanwhile, I keep plugging away with the “right” comma usage; if an editor doesn’t like it, he can change it.
Speaking of editors, this is exactly why I use a pen name on some sites. Editors are not infallible and, in fact, some of them are quite uneducated. I’m feeling charitable this morning, so I won’t say “stupid”, but I’m thinking it…fortunately, I’m also wearing my tinfoil hat….
Back to commas. Most people know that you place a comma after “said”, and other variations of speaking words, before you start a phrase with quotes. Most people know that you also place a comma after an introductory phrase, such as “speaking of editors”.
However, too many people seem to think that EVERY phrase at the beginning of a sentence needs a comma. Not so.
Take a look at this, up a couple paragraphs: “The only reason, that the AP, may have done this….” Now, I suppose if you were speaking to a small child and wanted to get your point across, you might do it like that. But say the sentence aloud – notice, that word is not “allowed”. It reads something like this:
The only reason. That the AP. May have done this…. Not cool, folks, not cool.
Go up a couple more. “A comma, is a natural pause.” Nope, not like this! You should never automatically insert a comma when starting a sentence. NEVER.
Of course, just like many rules in English grammar and writing, some are meant to be broken in the name of common sense. Some, emphatically, are not!