>Commas and me.


I spent the last few days going through book one of King Rolen’s Kin, doing the edits my UK editor had asked for.

Before I sent off the manuscript I read and re-read it. I had my husband read it, then I corrected it. I had my son, the mad-keen fantasy reader, read it and then I corrected it. Then I printed it up and read it and corrected it again.

It is amazing the silly little things that get past you. And then there are things you could just kick yourself for doing. For instance, all these years I’ve been writing about oriole windows. Not oriel windows. The first one is a type of bird.

And I had everyone drinking burgundy. I thought that was a type of wine, not specific brand, named after a place in France. Well, I knew it was a place in France but I thought it was also a type of red wine. Sigh.

A big thank you to my editor for spotting these things!

Then there are commas. You might gather from the title of this post that I am rather fond of commas. I know grammatically, there are places where it is optional whether you use them or not. And I guess I was one of those people who opted in, rather than out.

I find myself mentally putting commas into the pages of printed books. I also find myself reading happily away then, when I come across something that just looks wrong, I feel like I’ve tripped over it. It throws me out of the story.

We’ve been having a discussion on the VISION list about tricky words like ‘affect and effect’ or ‘that and which’. Here’s a web site. If you scroll down, you’ll see explanations for their use.

For instance I have a thing about ‘lay and lie’. I keep seeing it used in books and it sounds wrong to me. Chickens lay eggs, people lie down.

Then there’s the thing with apostrophes. I see them used where they shouldn’t be — on building signs, where people should know better. I get the urge to go around and correct the grammar on signs. It’s really rather sad. And don’t get me started on ‘it’s and its’.

Are there words that trip you up repeatedly? Do you have a thing about commas?


  1. >I share your thing for commas – one of the most frequent editting things I do is go through my work for the week removing those pesky extra ones that slipped in. They are perfectly correct, grammatically (for the most part), but the also slow up the flow of the sentence. Sentence and paragraph structure is a worryingly big deal for me, don't ask me why.My thing, especially when reading, is semi-colons. I can't get enough of them – I have to really resist using them in my own writing. But so many times I will be reading something and, as you say, trip over myself as my brain says "that doesn't look right". An annoying habit that occassionally makes me think I should train as a copy-writer. But then I slap myself on the wrists and get back to work.Another is the humble hyphen. I would hyphenate far more words than any other author, or so it seems. I suspect that the style guides of publishing houses specifically caution against hyphenating; either that or I am very out of touch with the modern youth of today's sentence structure :p

  2. >That's just it, Jonathan.I think it is a generational thing. I think the more 'grammar' you use, the more old fashioned your writing looks.I try to make the writing invisible so that the story shines through. So I don't use any semi-colons. But I do like commas, because there are places where I think they help with the flow of the story.And some of it is, the publishing house's style. One publisher I was with used 'no-one' rather than 'no one'. And now I always hesitate over which one to use.

  3. >My name is Chris, and I, love, to use, commas.Actually, I find that what happens most is a tendency for me to insert a comma anytime I have a mental pause while writing a sentence. This leads to way more commas than is correct but because I insert them where I've naturally had a mental pause, I find it almost impossible to edit them sometimes.I've just stopped using apostrophes as much as possible. I never seem to use them correctly so I just leave them out during the initial writing unless I know for a fact that one *really* needs to be included.

  4. >I love ellipses. . . Commas are nice, too. But it's hard to beat good semi-colon when you want a good, solid, run-on sentence.I have trouble figuring out when to hyphenate, when to have two words and when to run them together. Sub-minister, Subminister or Sub Minister. One editor commented on a rejection letter that it wouldn't be so bad if I'd just pick one and stick to it. Oops.Something sprang loose in my brain, and when speed typing, all those little 'a' words apparently became interchangeable. A, as, at, and, an. It's a bit worrying, the mess it makes of a manuscript.Except and Expect have recent come to the fore as a problem for me. But I think I've finally got its and it's under control.

  5. >Commas and semi-colons, for me. I try not to use too many of the latter, but I have to remove commas all the time. Pet peeves? Those apostrophes you mentioned, and it's vs. its; and 'loose' when people mean 'lose'; and general spelling issues. I'm a bit OCD about that stuff.

  6. >General errors of proofreading really annoy me as well Ellyll. I tend to pick them up very quickly (in other people's work…) and it instantly breaks suspension of disbelief. What makes things worse is that the publisher I read the most (Black Library, for you Warhammer fans) are terribly bad at picking up basic typos and things which any conscious copy-editor ought to find.matapam, I find the same thing with those tiny "a" words, and other little conjoining words – the, then, they, their etc. When I am in full flow (or just not paying attention) whole sentences can skip by which make absolutely no sense.I wonder if this is just a natural foible of people who are creative with words. We are so focussed on getting the most story from what we write, at the first pass grammar and really simple things go out the window.Or maybe I am just making excuses…

  7. >gawd, i luv this post… I'm having some major issues with commas, and with words that sound alike etc… you name it! effect and affect, lay and lie (you taught me the difference) please share more… thanks for the post 🙂

  8. >It's and its are personal pet peeves of mine. So are misuses of the singular and plural possessives. Commercial signs with them used wrong drive me crazy. Doesn't anyone proof those signs in the process of manufacturing?Lie and lay were my own bugaboos until someone pointed out that people lay things down and they lie themselves down. Colons and semi-colons are always hard for me, but I just work it so that I never use them. Separate sentences always work. Commas are sometimes hard, so I usually work around them also. And elipses at the end of sentences…is it four dots including the period or is it still three? Errrghhh.

  9. >Those small word mixups, I think it's like a signature, more of a trained reflex than a conscious action. There's just too many of them, and we trigger the wrong ones too easily as our minds get ahead of our fingers.I also tend to leave entire words out and the n't negative is a frequently dropped contraction.

  10. >Chris, I know what you mean about commas.When I was on the management board of the Queensland Writers Centre we were advised not to use the apostrophe in the name.It is really a centre for multiple writers not a single writer, so the apostrophe should be after the s. But this looks messy in the name of a business.

  11. >ARGH. I wrote out a nice long interesting response and blogger ate it!Now I'm going to sulk and not say what I meant to say.So there, blogger.

  12. >Okay, the ones that drive me crazy — principal and principle, complimentary and complementary, lay and lie, and what the heck is the accepted rule about commas and "too"?Wasn't it bad enough I had any ability with math killed in school when we went from "math" to "new math" back to "old math" then to "the new new math"? Do they have to muck with punctuation rules now? [ending whine now]

  13. >Chris,An over use of commas is one reason why I always do a re-read imagining myself reading aloud. I find that helps me find what are the natural pauses and the ones I have stuck in just because. Oh and it also helps find the spots where I need to cut sentences in half(which happens far too) since mine tend to run on and on and on.

  14. >I'm coming a bit late to the party, sorry.My pet peeves are people who use "there's" or some such contraction with an obviously plural subject. "There's hundreds of weeds in my garden." Now, would you say, "There IS hundreds of weeds in my garden" or "There ARE hundreds of weeds in my garden.My other peeve is also something to do with plural bits :-)I just can't abide reading something like, "Between the six of us, we should…" Between is a special word that only works for two things or two people or two animals… You get the picture. In fact, a way to remember is that the 'tw' in 'two' is the 'tw' in 'tween.' See, that isn't so hard 🙂 When I see 'between' used for more than two people, my mind conjures up people standing on the shoulders of the person underneath them so you only have two stacks of however many people are involved. The more there are, the more ludicrous it becomes.There, now you all think I'm an awful curmudgeon.Lin

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