ah, the comma

No other punctuation mark causes as much writerly anxiety or editorial fierceness as this pesky little slip of ink.

You see, the comma tends to weave in and out of punctuation rules. “Do I really have to add that comma after the introductory phrase?” asks the novice writer. And the answer is…


If you feel like it. Sometimes absolutely. Does it sound right? Do you feel as if you need to pause there? What would your tenth-grade English teacher say?

As Bill the Cat on Bloom County used to say, “Ack!”

So which is correct–comma after an introductory phrase or not?

Today, I started a daily program of morning meditation.

Today I started a daily program of morning meditation.

Either sentence is correct. My comma-sense prefers the first.

And what about that contentious serial or Oxford comma, the one that goes before the final “and” or “or” in a series of items? “Last week, I wrote letters to old friends, my grandparents, and a former mentor.” “Last week, I wrote letters to old friends, my grandparents and a former mentor.”

If you’re in the Oxford-comma camp, you’ll joust to the death anyone who claims that second sentence is correct.

Here’s an example posted in “The Best Shots Fired in the Comma Wars” that defends the use of the serial comma:

“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

I’ll stop here. For a rollicking read on this subject, check out Linda Holmes’ “Going, Going, And Gone?: No, The Oxford Comma Is Safe … For Now” at NPR.


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