Comma Usage in Literature


  • Premium Member

    I tend to be lenient on commas as modern usage tends to be more flexible in a lot of instances, but I'll mention it if there is a comma splice (semicolons are underappreciated) or a glaring error such a comma in a place it is most definitely not supposed to be


  • Premium Member

    Well, the comma in front of "and", "or" and "but" when they seperate independent clauses is one of the few hard comma rules English has...

    Also two more non-comma related things:
    Part 4, 73%: Lately it was much more rare for people to pick poisoned food -> From context of the previous parts it should probably be "Lately it was much more rare for me to pick poisoned food"

    Part 4, 86%: She took Lutz and I to a room inside. -> "Lutz and me"


  • Premium Member

    @mirage_gsm My tolerance for presence/lack of commas goes down if comma placement would change the meaning of the line.

    And there can be some "judgement calls", where use of a comma varies under editing standards. Such as lists of things; one standard says that if you use a comma between objects BEFORE the and, you need a comma before the and. Like:
    We had coffee, some small cakes, and ice cream.

    I go by the standard of "where would you pause if you were saying this line?" Sometimes, the missing punctuation isn't a comma. :)


  • Premium Member

    @someoldguy
    Yes, I know that for lists there are two different philosophies... Personally I dislike the Oxford comma, but I accept it if someone uses it - as long as they do it consistently. Only one or two of the commas I pointed out are related to lists and that only because they haven't used the Oxford comma in lists so far in the previous volumes.
    All the other commas - before "and" separating independent clauses - are mandatory even in English.


  • Premium Member

    The trend of leaving out the Oxford comma annoys me. There's pretty clearly a pause there in speech, and occasionally it can make meaning ambiguous too. (There's actually been a few court cases won on that.)


  • Premium Member

    To me the Oxford comma is a matter of style or philosophy.
    Personally I do not pause my speech in a place like that, and I'm not quite sure why the "pause in speech" is even an argument here.
    I mean, in a list you do not pause at every comma, so why would the last comma indicate a pause when all the other commas in that list do not.


  • Premium Member

    @mirage_gsm Because most people do make a very short pause between items when talking a list of items. Very likely you do too, unless you rattle off lists like you’re singing We Didn’t Start The Fire...


  • Premium Member

    @mirage_gsm "Pause in speech" is a factor because MOST punctuation is based on how something is spoken. The punctuation chosen reflects that.

    If it wasn't, what would be the purpose of ellipses, exclamation points, long dashes, parens, or even most commas? All are encoding speech patterns.

    I saw Bob with Carol.
    I saw Bob with Carol!
    I saw Bob, with Carol.
    I saw Bob... with Carol.


  • Translators

    @Mirage_GSM
    Woah woah, you really consider those mistakes?

    I consider not using commas to be better for the flow of those sentences. Generally there's a simple idea on both sides of the "and" and throwing a comma just seems needless to me, like slowing down the flow of sentences without any additional clarity. In general I think commas are overused in translation (due to how comma-heavy Japanese is) and I've been making an effort to avoid this.

    I consulted many people just now - professional writers, other translators, and even just random people I know - and all agree that the commas you suggest introducing are at best optional and at worst so awkward as to be reflective of broken ESL writing. I hate to be so firm here but I really think introducing commas in all the places you suggest would make the novel read dramatically worse and I'm not entirely sure where your confidence in that comma usage being erroneous comes from. As far as I can tell it's definitely not a "hard rule."


  • Member

    @quof said in How do look at Comma Usage in Literature?:

    In general I think commas are overused in translation (due to how comma-heavy Japanese is) and I've been making an effort to avoid this.

    Also, in many occasion, translation could add extra parts to the sentence which was omitted in the Japanese to make the sentence complete in English. That kind of omission filler tends to add extra comma to the resulting English, since it tends to make it structurally more complex.


  • Premium Member

    Too many commas can break the flow and too few can lead to ambiguity. If you avoid the extremes and maintain a consistent style then I usually don't mind too much. When proofreading I mostly look for commas which start a subordinate clause (or whatever you call them) that are not accompanied by a corresponding comma to mark the end of the subordinate clause.


  • Premium Member

    @quof
    The Oxford comma is optional, and there are proponents of either version.
    I dislike it but I wouldn't mark it as incorrect except if used inconsistently.
    Comma before an "and" seperating two independent clauses is a hard rule.
    I've tried to find a source with a differing opinion, but the first ten or so sources that come up on google all agree - which is a rarity for most topics nowadays.
    Here some examples:

    Volume 1 and 2 of Bookworm applied this rule mostly correctly. It's just in volume 3 that those mistakes started appearing (though not consistently - it was correct a few times as well). So I assumed those get fixed by an editor at a later stage. But it should be easy for the translator to keep an eye out for.



  • @mirage_gsm

    But wait! There’s an exception. (Isn’t there always?) When you have two independent clauses joined together by and, most style guides say that it’s OK to leave the comma out as long as the two independent clauses are very short and closely connected. Here’s an example:
     
    Arthur cooked and Melvin cleaned.

    Almost all the sentences you marked as "needs comma" fit this "rule."

    The Oxford comma is optional, and there are proponents of either version.
    I dislike it but I wouldn't mark it as incorrect except if used inconsistently.

    All of the "no commas" you listed are Oxford commas. If you're not going to call it incorrect, it would be best not to include it at all.


  • Premium Member

    The one thing I never understood as being optional is the Oxford comma. There's plenty of examples where lack of it can result in some wacky ambiguities. There's even American legal precedent on requiring it, as another poster pointed out (see: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/09/us/oxford-comma-maine.html)


  • Translators

    @mirage_gsm
    Yeah, the sources you list generally mention that the "exception" as it were for short clauses. The ones that don't are wrong, or at least, don't reflect the actual usage of the language. In the business insider article you posted, the follow example sentence is used:

    "I went running, and I saw a duck."

    I googled " "I went running and I" in quotes experimentally and an enormous number of results (that weren't the above example sentence) were native English speakers naturally breaking this "rule".


  • Premium Member

    Now that this topic was brought up, it's hard for me to unsee the overuse of commas in Otherside Picnic and while some are acceptable, others are bit too much


  • Premium Member

    @quof said in Comma Usage in Literature:

    I googled " "I went running and I" in quotes experimentally and an enormous number of results (that weren't the above example sentence) were native English speakers naturally breaking this "rule".

    That makes sense. I tend to only use a comma before 'and' in longer sentences because it often feels a bit stilted to have a comma in a short sentence. I can't be sure, but perhaps my usage matches whether or not I would naturally pause or change my intonation when saying it aloud.


  • Premium Member

    @quof
    Just because there are "native English speakers naturally breaking this rule" doesn't make it correct.
    Maybe a few years down the line grammar rules will be amended to say this is okay, but they haven't been yet.

    Yes, there is an exception for "very short and closely connected" clauses where the comma can be left out, and I guess two or three of the instances I marked could fall into that category, but mostly I just posted the relevant parts of the sentences. And frankly rather than debate what falls into the "very short and closely connected" category (the definition is pretty narrow) it's better to just use the comma.

    And yes, all the "no commas" I listed were Oxford commas. I mentioned those because they were used inconsistently - sometimes they were there, sometimes they weren't. I flagged the cases where they were there, since I prefer the version without them, but if someone were to point out all the instances where they were missing, consistency would still be better than the way they are now.


  • Premium Member

    I think the difficulty with this conversation is that, in reality, there are no absolutely fixed rules for English grammar. All languages evolve over time and English, which is spoken in many different countries, each with its own cultural inputs, has diverged significantly across the world. American English is different from British English. It uses different words to describe the same object, faucet vs tap, or action, corrinated vs crowned. It should be no surprise then that the perceived "correct" usage of punctuation also varies from place to place and over time. Currently, the BBC news has decided to do away with some possessive forms. It speaks about the China army rather than the Chinese army for instance. One British minister has directed his staff to address young males in official documents as Mr X Esquire and not to use the Oxford comma at all.
    So, there is no universally accepted standard for the use of the comma in literature. There never has been and, probably, never will be.
    Note, the punctuation above is the way I want it to be and not in any way standard or correct.😁



  • @mirage_gsm said in Comma Usage in Literature:

    @quof
    Just because there are "native English speakers naturally breaking this rule" doesn't make it correct.

    The "rules" of a language are only ever extrapolated from observing the way it's used by people who speak it. People who don't follow a certain convention aren't "breaking a rule"; they're presenting counter-evidence to the suggestion that it's a legitimate "rule" to begin with.