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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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June 19, 2017

Comments

Susana Rodrigues

Dear Lynn,

I do love your posts!
Your blog is a wonderful example of how simple and clear things are the best (and most effective, by the way).

Warm regards,
Susana (from Portugal)

Tamara D. Davis

I've been waiting for a post about commas. I find myself omitting them out of uncertainty. Thank you!!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Susana, thanks for taking the time to share your positive feedback. I appreciate it!

Lynn

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Tamara, if you are uncertain about punctuation, take my Punctuation for Professionals course. It will change your life as a writer.

Lynn

Alex

Hello, Lynn!

Just curious - is comma still acceptable below (and above ;) )?

Hello, Michael,
Hi, Dan,

Alex.

Inner Prop

This is one of the comma uses I detest. To my mind commas should only be used to indicate pauses.

That being said, thank you for reminding us of the rule (until I can successfully overthrow it muh ha ha).

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Alex,

I believe the comma you asked about is still acceptable. I used it up until about three years ago. That's when I came to accept "Hi" and "Hello" as replacements for "Dear," which meant your comma was not necessary.

Of your three examples, "Hello, Lynn!" is in a different format, of course. It's a sentence. When I use direct address in even a very short sentence, I do use a comma.

The problem with the "Hi" and "Hello" comma is that it looks odd to most people. Therefore, it distracts them from the content at the beginning of the message.

Thanks for the question.

Lynn

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello Inner Prop,

Good luck with the overthrow! But first, remember that this comma can be essential. Compare these sentences:

--Shall I cook Mikey or will you?

--Shall I cook, Mikey, or will you?

Lynn

Kim Knight

This was great information; thanks so much for sharing! I am SO HAPPY to know that I don't have to use a comma in my greeting anymore if I use the word "Hi!" I have always hated the way it looks, lol

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

I agree, Kim. I held onto that comma for a while, but it began to look more and more odd.

Lynn

RemotePoss

I’ve a different (less prescriptive) view: Unless omitting the comma would cause readers (other than grammar-sensitives) to stumble or misunderstand, then it can be left out.

What’s the REASON for the rule? For instance, what problem does “Happy birthday Lynn!” (without a comma) cause?

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

The time required to note whether a missing comma would cause readers to stumble or misunderstand is much greater than the second it takes to type a comma to follow an accepted rule. And following the rule is a surefire method, whereas the less prescriptive approach only guesses whether the reader understands. Also, I wouldn't toy with "grammar-sensitives." They care about the written word and appreciate a clear, correct message.

Clarity is the reason for the rule. It makes it clear that we are talking to the reader, not about someone. In a group email "Jon and Carol take the second shift" makes a statement; "Jon and Carol, take the second shift" directs them to do something.

Thanks for the question.

Lynn

RemotePoss

Thanks for explaining your viewpoint. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree!

Sadly, very many people find that the time needed to properly apply so many rules (with their various nuances) is far more than a second. And of course, most people never master them all, for their whole life!

I think we’re both aiming for the same goal: clear writing. I can see that having many “strict” rules for people to follow COULD make writing easier, but unfortunately I don’t think it does (partly because there are many exceptions, like not needing a comma in “Hi Dan”).

I’d say having so many rules makes most writers doubt themselves, so it’s a major obstacle to people expressing themselves freely but clearly. Of course, we need rules, and to me the overriding one is “Be clear!”

There’s nothing unclear about “Happy birthday Lynn!”, no matter who’s reading it. Therefore, for me, a rule that says a comma’s needed is a harmful rule.

Regards,
Craig

P.S. I’m hoping there’s no problem with me splitting “to… apply”‼

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Craig,

Disagree we do. It's not a balanced match though, since the style manuals, editors, and proofreaders all stand on my side.

I'm not sure why you would intentionally break a punctuation rule just because the sentence is acceptable to you without the comma. It's an uphill, unnecessary communication battle.

Also, it's a really easy rule--not nuanced at all once you get beyond greetings, which have evolved from "Dear." Are you using the reader's name in a sentence? If yes, use the comma.

Good luck!

Lynn

P.S. Split infinitive? No problem.

RemotePoss

Remember that British and Australian usage differs from US. (I’m British and live in Aus.)

Here’s a more open-minded viewpoint: http://bit.ly/2vmdKtX (Coincidentally, it’s by someone called Lynne who also counted commas in her birthday greetings. She’s an American, but lives in the UK.)

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Another comma counter! Thanks for the link to the article.

As a linguist, Lynne reports what she sees, as she did in the article. As a writing teacher, I recommend.

Lynn

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