Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Save me, too…from comma misuse, that is!

Many a grammatically-untrained eye will view this headline as being just fine and dandy. Look again.



That thing there—the thing between the word “sailor” and the word “now”—is a comma. A comma is not a strong enough piece of punctuation to be inserted between these two very strong-sounding independent clauses.

A semicolon, for instance, is plenty strong enough: “Lighthouses have saved many a Chesapeake sailor; now who will save them?”

An ellipsis would be the best choice to elicit some added suspense: “Lighthouses have saved many a Chesapeake sailor…now who will save them?” (Insert dramatic piano music here.)

Or you could always go with the standard, no-frills option of breaking this sentence up into two independent clauses and allowing them to both be sentences: “Lighthouses have saved many a Chesapeake sailor. Now who will save them?”

But using a comma? That’s not the right choice to beef up this sentence. A comma is the wimpy kid brother of the punctuation family. The comma’s poor little muscles can’t hold this sentence up by itself; therefore, the sentence falls flat (especially as a headline).

Commas have saved many a sentence from appearing confusing…now who will save this sentence from this poorly-used comma?

1 comment:

Bartleby said...

I apologize for my rebuttal, but a headline is not a formal sentence and should not be edited as one. Conjunctions and articles are regularly omitted if the omission would not lead to confusion. Commas are commonly used in headlines as a substitute for the coordinating conjunction "and." In this case, however, a semi-colon would be the correct "best choice," but it's easy to understand the mistake. Now, as for what the AP might do to you for your suggestion of ellipsis use--well, I'll let an ellipsis stand in for the omitted punishment....