Saturday, 16 June 2012

Using Commas for Effect: A Case Study

There are two ways to use commas, as I understand. One involves keeping it strictly business and only using them when it's grammatically correct. The other involves using them whenever you would naturally pause when speaking. You can go overboard with that, of course. If you used a comma whenever someone like, say, Alan Rickman — the King of the Dramatic Pause — paused, well that would just look ridiculous. Let's look at some examples from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone from 2001, shall we? (Of course we shall.)

"However, for those, select, few, , , who possess, the predisposition ..."

"Mr. Potter, our, new, celebrity."

"Clearly, fame, isn't, everything, is it, Mr. Potter."

And now you want to watch that first potions class scene again. It's natural. Here you go:

Best, monologue, ever.


  1. Since I insert all sorts of "like"s and "kinda"s (yes, I'm putting the 's' there AND PEOPLE CAN DEAL) into my bloggin', I usually have something of an excess of commas. But I'd say that too many of occasionally better than too few. Which is a lame, middle of the road position, but here we are.

    1. I'm with you on that. Commas give you a nice, mental break when you're reading. And I say, unless it's going to trip you up when reading (eg "He, went to the store" [which, incidentally, is totally how you'd write out a Shatner sentence if you were using commas whenever there's a pause]), go ahead and use that comma. Although when I'm proofreading at work I try to be as much as a hardass as I can be and remove all unnecessary commas. Except the oxford comma, which I love. And then in my own writing I'll use a comma whenever I feel like it. I am fickle, is what I'm saying.

  2. I love the commas. (I love the long dashes EVEN more, but we don't have to talk about that right now.) But I hate when it looks like the author just tossed commas like confetti and let them land wherever they may.

    That being said, COMMAS FOR EVERYONE! *tosses comma confetti*

    1. Huzzah, comma confetti! Oo yes, I love long dashes, too. They're the dramatic head turn of punctuation. Or maybe the exaggerated-stage-whisper aside.


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