Floyd Hyatt Stops

Oh, sorry; didn’t mean to scare you; I meant:

Floyd Hyatt – Stops

See how important punctuation is?

Today, Mr. Hyatt is talking about colons and comas. I mean commas. Including — TA DAAA! — the serial comma! ~fist pump~

Types of Stops
a post by Floyd Hyatt

There are several slight variations as to how these should be used, but the simplest guide is below:

A few reminders referencing Lynch’s Guide to Grammar and Style

Colon

A colon marks a pause to make an explanatory point, expansion, enumeration, or to prefix an elaboration, or set of elaborations. You can also use a colon to indicate a following list: thing one, thing two, and thing three. Use it to pause and explain: this sentence makes the point. Use it to give an example: this, for instance. As you can see, most of the uses are really just to indicate some sort of instances of a case follow after.

Comma

A complete guide to comma usage is beyond the scope of an article like this, but here are a few tips. Some amateur writers, for instance, seem to think sprinkling commas every few words is a good idea but it makes for difficult reading.

A few places commas should be avoided:

After the conjunctions and, but, and or, unless the comma sets off a phrase that can’t stand alone as a sentence. It’s wrong to write “But, she did get it done on time.” Use the comma only if there’s such a phrase, as in, “But, to be fair, she did get it done on time.”

Between a month and year in a date: not November, 1990, but November 1990. The comma stops two sets of numerals from running into one another, as in November 20, 1990.

Some style guides call for omitting the comma after very short prepositional phrases at the beginning of a sentence: not “On Saturday, the office is closed,” but “On Saturday the office is closed.” However, do use a comma after long prepositional phrases or dependent clauses: “Because the entire epic is concerned with justifying the ways of God to man, Milton must present free will in a positive light.” (How many words do you need before “short” turns into “long”? — trust your judgment, and think always about clarity.)

Finally, the thorniest comma-related question, whether or not to include the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma or Harvard comma from its inclusion in their house style guides). In most the comma is preferred before the last item in a list: “the first, second, and third chapters.” Leaving it out — “the first, second and third chapters” — is a habit picked up from journalism. While it saves a teensy bit of space and effort, omitting the final comma runs the risk of suggesting the last two items (in the example above, the second and third chapters) are some sort of special pair. A famous (and perhaps apocryphal?) dedication makes the danger clear: “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

The Comma Splice.

A comma splice is probably the most widespread variety of run-on sentence: it’s where two independent clauses are stuck together with just a comma. You usually need some better way to separate them one from the another: use a period or a semicolon in place of the comma; use a coordinating conjunction like and or or; or use a subordinating conjunction like because or although. Personally, I like to use as where I can.

~singing~ serial comma, serial comma, serial comma, hey-hey-hey-hey ~/singing~

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Two writers come to blows over punctuation.

MA

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About

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Floyd Hyatt Stops

  1. Jane

    June 18, 2012 at 8:38am

    Thanks, Mr. Hyatt, for your clarity. I learned comma rules at 12 from a 75-year-old teacher, and so I have always figured I learned the most-est fussy, and accurate, ones around. I thank her, and I thank you. The Oxford comma is a must, isn’t it?

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  2. F.A.Hyatt

    June 20, 2012 at 10:07pm

    @Jane – The example given makes a good case for it (unless of course your parents were both Ann Rand and God). Not every case I can think of puts clarity in jeopardy to the extent of the example. But consistency of usage is king. If you use the oxford method, use it consistently. One editor might prefer one style of use over another, but all will expect evenhanded application of your chosen method.

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