Monday, December 03, 2007

Comma, Please

Carolyn:
I don't drink because I have depression. . . .
Then why do you drink?

Oh, I see. Oops. (Dear copy editors: Sometimes a comma is required before because.)

9 comments:

ptotheatsign said...

The power of the AP's "essential clauses, nonessential clauses" and "essential phrases, nonessential phrases" entries is great.

Skullturf Q. Beavispants said...

A sentence with two very different interpretations when you see it written is:

"I wouldn't vote for Barack Obama because he's black."

Girl with the Interesting Hair said...

The "I don't drink" sentence was originally part of an online discussion. So, it was a reader's punctuation. Do you think the paper should have corrected the comma when they recycled the discussion content for this column? Or, since it begins with a disclaimer, is it okay as is?

Mika said...

Speaking of missing commas (of another type), when I clicked the link in your post to view the article, I noticed that the Post's web page welcomed me as
Hello [username] instead of Hello, [username]. Looks like someone at the web site needs to read up on your advice about the comma of direct adddress.

john said...

I'm no copy editor, but I am a like-minded soul whose job often involves proofreading and correcting documents. If someone had put a comma between "drink" and "because," I probably would have marked it out as extraneous -- but now I'll have to double-check those situations to make sure I'm not creating ambiguity. Bah! Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.

Bill said...

Your question's as interesting as your hair, but those things have to be edited -- in fact, the questions are edited even before they appear in the chat. It's "adapted" from the chat, not a verbatim transcript thereof.

It would be different if it were introduced as "Jimmy78965@aol.com wrote in an online discussion ..."

jon bukiewicz said...

you have to love the dramatic pauses that commas create, especially in statements like that.

I am the Walrus with braces. said...

I don't drink because I hate commas...

sputnik said...

I love the laughs I get from such ambiguities, but, sadly, many people simply cannot discern them. A bit off topic, but this goes for the pesky apostrophe, too. When I taught university English, most of my students were simply unable to see any difference between "A smart dog knows its master" and "A smart dog knows it's master." I would be laughing, and they would stare at me like deer in headlights. Sigh.