Monday, July 25, 2011

To remove or not to remove...

In writing less is more. Therefore, take out what you don't need. Let's talk unnecessary phrases or clauses. Many people get very confused with this type of sentence. They're unsure if a comma should be use or not. The question is what the comma will do to the sentence. I don't know if you're aware of this or not but the comma will change the meaning entirely. That will take your readers down the wrong path.

I usually write without worrying about my grammar, word choice, or sentence structure. After I've allowed my creative juices to run wild then I go back and begin editing. If I edit while I'm writing my creative ideas are replaced by my analytical thinking to make the proper corrections. You may write differently. You may edit as you go, and that is perfectly fine. If that is your style always stick to what's comfortable for you.

Now when I begin editing, I may see that some of my sentence structures need to be changed. My biggest fear is that in my effort to write correctly I may over edit and make the story sound more like a report. This is why you'll need someone to look over your manuscript after you edit. Nonetheless, you need to ensure yourself that your sentences are conveying the correct story.

Let's take a look at some sentences.

1.  "My wife, Joanne, will put gas in the car tomorrow."
2.  "My wife Joanne will put gas in the car tomorrow."

Which one of these two sentences is correct? Well, that depends on what you're trying to say. The problem with sentence #1 is that it's talking about my wife Joanne, but there may be other wives. That may tick off my wife. In sentence #2 without the commas Joanne is my one and only wife.

1.  "The letter is about Cindy who loves singing in the lounge and me."
2.  "The letter is about Cindy, who loves singing in the lounge, and me."

The first sentence tells us that Cindy loves both singing in the lounge and me. Sentence #2 with the commas clearly explains that the letter is about Cindy and me. You know which Cindy I mean, the one who loves singing in the lounge. The first sentence talks about a love affair between two people. The second only mentions that the letter's about Cindy and me.

Only use commas to encompass trivial information. The data may add some details but the main idea can be understood without it.

"William, who arrived late, had to wait in a long line."

If you remove the words encompassed in the commas the sentence would read:
"William had to wait in a long line."
As you can see the main concept remained the same.

Do not use commas to encompass clauses essential to the meaning of the sentence.

"The individuals who arrived early did not have to wait in line."
If you remove the subordinate clause, you will lose the main idea of the sentence.
"The individuals did not have to wait in line."
You need the clause to identify the individuals who did not have to wait in line.

I hope this helps clear up something in your writing. Please, let me know if it has. If you feel I've missed anything let me know that too.

And remember… Always stay in your write mind.


  1. This is good stuff, thanks. I'm pretty confident in my commas, but I tend to make run-on sentences when I don't really need to.

    If you get a chance, check out a fellow writer's zombie story and help me make him wear an embarrassing shirt next year! Details are here:

  2. Commas and I have only recently become friends. I use them a lot, but my favourite is a semi-colon, oh yes!

    They don't bother me so much, but loooooooooong slow paced passages of a book, unnecessary backstory, oh that gets to me.

  3. Nice post. I have a real hard time with commas, but posts like this help a lot.

  4. Thank you all for your comments. I've been ill with a bad cold or flu and apologize for not responding sooner. Your comments are greatly appreciated.

  5. Regarding the example of the wife (who may or may not be named Joanne), you might want to consider the following from the Associated Press Stylebook.

    PUNCTUATION: Do not set an essential phrase off from the rest of a sentence by commas:

    We saw the award-winning movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." (No comma, because many movies have won awards, and without the name of the movie the reader would not know which movie was meant.)

    They ate dinner with their daughter Julie. (Because they have more than one daughter, the inclusion of Julie's name is critical if the reader is to know which daughter is meant.)

    Set off nonessential phrases by commas:
    We saw the 1975 winner in the Academy Award competition for best picture, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." (Only one movie won the award. The name is informative, but even without the name no other movie could be meant.)

    They ate dinner with their daughter Julie and her husband, David. (Julie has only one husband. If the phrase read and her husband David, it would suggest that she had more than one husband.)

    The company chairman, Henry Ford II, spoke. (In the context, only one person could be meant.)

  6. Yes sometimes a coma can turn a hateful retort into a declaration of love :). I like playing with words, and I see that you do too :).