In a recent Punctuation for Professionals online class, an attendee said she had learned this rule: to always use a comma before because.
That “rule” makes no sense. We need a comma before because only rarely. Most commas before because appear for another reason having nothing to do with the word because.
- We chose Monday, July 6, because it’s the best date for everyone. (The comma before because is necessary because of the date following the day of the week.)
- The event will take place in Chicago, Illinois, because of its central location. (Commas should surround a state, province, or country when one of its cities precedes it.)
- Martha said she liked peach pie, because she wanted to please her mother-in-law. (The comma prevents running together “She liked peach pie because she wanted to please her mother-in-law.”)
- I told my supervisor I was late, because I assumed he would hear about it anyway. (The comma prevents the confusing “I was late because I assumed he would hear about it anyway.”)
Sometimes we remember rules incorrectly, adding always or never to them. But sometimes rules just make no sense.
Ignore these always and never “rules”:
1. “Never use a comma before and.” This rule wins for craziness. Many sentence constructions require a comma before and. Read my blog post “Commas With And“ to recognize them.
2. “Always use a comma before quotation marks.” Sometimes, yes. But not always. A comma would be wrong in these sentences, for instance:
- I read Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” yesterday.
- The phrase “bleeding edge” confuses many people and bothers others.
3. “Always spell out numbers that are less than 10.” Nope–it’s not that simple. Consider these correct sentences:
- This blouse is a size 8.
- Page 5 has a typo.
- The price rose 6 percent.
- See you at 2 p.m.
4. “Never start a sentence with because.” Not a rule! You can start a sentence with any word you choose (including and and but).
5. “Never end a sentence with a preposition.” Go right ahead. These sentences work just fine:
- Type the name you want to search for.
- Where is Saman from?
6. “Never split an infinitive.” For the right emphasis in your sentence, do it. These split infinitives work:
- I have been taught to always capitalize proper nouns.
- Her goal is to eventually start her own business.
7. “Always include the other person’s name before using me.” Always? No. When you are the preferred choice, use me first.
- Please call me or John Cavanaugh, my associate.
8. “Never start a sentence with I in business writing.” Don’t believe it! Here’s what one individual who asked me about this “rule” wrote: “It has always been taught to me that a sentence should not begin with I.” Following that nutty rule had contorted his sentence, which could have been simply “I learned that a sentence should not begin with I.” Remember: A sentence can start with any word you want.
9. “Never use a contraction in business writing.” Would not you hate to have to follow that rule?
10. “When using bullet points, always have at least two.” No, not necessarily so. Although one item doesn’t make a list, you can make one point and bullet it. Notice how Number 7 above has just one bulleted example.
Can you add to my list of always-never rules? Please do.