Use commas to help understanding

Americans use more commas than the British*.

You often find long, asthmatic, comma-packed sentences in American newspapers. They don’t make for easy reading.

I prefer using plenty of full stops — periods to Americans — and sparing the comma. I only use commas where they aid understanding. Writers often underrate the comma’s use as an aid to sense.

Keeping track of who does what to whom is hard in long, comma-laden sentences. Breaking sentences into smaller units of meaning makes writing easier to follow.

Some Americans put commas between all clauses and sub-clauses. British-trained writers avoid them between short clauses at the start of sentences.

Americans use commas before and at the end of a sequence of items. This is sometimes called the Oxford comma. In Britain the last comma only gets used when one of the sequence items includes an and.

Some experts report American writers are slowly moving towards British patterns and commas are now less common on both sides of the Atlantic.

When training younger journalists, I used to joke about Americans using lots more commas than the Brits because they are so much richer and can afford the extra ink.

*Australians and New Zealanders follow the British comma pattern.

4 thoughts on “Use commas to help understanding

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Use commas to help understanding at bill bennett : knowledge workers -- Topsy.com

  2. I, sir, do, in fact, disagree, and with a, truly, wholehearted, and inflamed passion, which rivals, indeed, my supreme dearth of commas.

    –Kyle

  3. There’s clearly some truth in the old cliché about Britain and America being divided by a common language.

  4. These claims are wholly unsubstantiated. Aside from using a comma before ‘and’ in lists, none of the places you claim Americans use commas align with the standard rules of comma usage in America. I have no idea what you mean by preferring full stops. If one uses a comma in a place where a period could be used, you are creating a comma splice run-on, which is incorrect in American English. I would love to see some examples of these comma-packed sentences from American newspapers, and how you would write them with fewer commas. Here is a good list of the standard rules for comma usage in the US: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/
    Which of these guidelines do you disagree with?

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