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Manuscript 101–Commas Pop Quiz Answers 1-5

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Here are the answers (and explantions) for the pop quiz:

1. Football, which is called soccer in America, is very popular in South America, Europe, and Africa.
    d. Commas needed after America and Europe.

Comma needed after America: The phrase which is called soccer in America is what is called an “interjection” (CMS 6.30-31, 6.38)—basically, it’s an additional piece of information about the subject of the sentence (football). To determine whether or not a comma is needed, we first have to determine if the phrasal adjective is necessary (“restrictive”) or supplemental (“nonrestrictive”) to the sentence. If we drop the entire phrase, does it change the meaning of the sentence? Football is very popular in . . . No. So this is a nonrestrictive phrase. According to both CMS and Bedford, nonrestrictive phrases need to be enclosed in commas (or preceded by a comma if it comes at the end of the sentence). Therefore, a comma is needed after America, to enclose this nonrestrictive phrase.

Comma needed after Europe: This is a rule that is most controversial when it comes to commas: the serial comma. Many people probably did not think that a comma was needed here. If this sentence appeared in a newspaper or magazine, you would be right. It is journalistic style (AP Stylebook) to drop the serial comma. However in academic and fiction writing, 99% of the time, you will find the serial comma is expected (Bedford 32c, CMS 6.19). What is the definition of a serial comma? It is the comma that comes before the and in a list of three or more items: apples, bananas, and oranges. In an example below, we will see how the omission of the serial comma actually changes the meaning of the sentence!

2. After lunch, the jury was called back to the courtroom, and they heard testimony on behalf of the defendant.
    d. Commas needed after lunch and courtroom.

Comma needed after lunch: Introductory phrases are followed by commas (Bedford 32b, CMS 6.25). Why? To quote from Bedford: “A comma tells readers that the introductory clause or phrase has come to a close and that the main part of the sentence is about to begin” (pg. 427). To give another example:
    After she finished eating her dog got all the scraps.
She ate her dog???? Of course not! It should read:
    After she finished eating, her dog got all the scraps.
See how one little piece of punctuation makes all the difference?

Comma needed after courtroom: This is the “independent clause” comma. When two independent clauses (two clauses that could stand alone as complete sentences) are joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet, and because), a comma should precede the conjunction (Bedford 32a, CMS 6.32). The comma signals the end of one complete clause and the beginning of the next. Exception: if the sentences are very short and very closely related, the comma can be omitted. (e.g., We came and we saw him.)

3. We went to the store, ate, and got gas.
    b. Comma needed after ate.

Serial comma needed: Remember above when I said we’d see how a serial comma can change the meaning of a sentence? With no serial comma in this sentence, the and joins got gas only to ate-–it indicates that the we subject of the sentence only did two things (went to the store and ate) and that the last piece (got gas) is part of the second (ate). Hopefully whoever this “we” is carries some Beano around with them! I wonder if they had Mexican food.

4. It was a dark, stormy night.
    a. No changes needed; sentence is correct.

5. We saw an endangered black rhino.
    a. No changes needed; sentence is correct.

More than one adjective: Whether or not to put a comma between adjectives can be super-confusing . . . unless you learn the secret grammarians (and English majors) around the world learned long ago: switch the adjectives around. If you can change the order of the adjectives without changing the meaning of the phrase, then they are coordinate adjectives and need a comma. If changing the order of the adjectives changes the meaning of the phrase, they are cumulative (or compounding) adjectives and do not need a comma. (Bedford 32d, CMS 6.39)
     It was a dark, stormy night is the same as It was a stormy, dark night. Therefore, the comma is necessary.
     We saw an endangered black rhino is not the same as We saw a black, endangered rhino. “Black rhino” is the name of the animal, which is actually a brownish gray color, therefore, the second sentence changes the meaning.

Reading over these explanations, do you want to change any of your answers for numbers six through ten?

  1. Tuesday, May 29, 2007 5:34 pm

    Woohoo! Only one wrong so far!


  2. Tuesday, May 29, 2007 6:36 pm

    Okay, so if we take into account my comment on thinking it should be, but me never actually using the serial comma, I didn’t do too bad 🙂


  3. Wednesday, May 30, 2007 11:36 am

    Uh, glad you’re my crit buddy–and that’s all I’ll say about that. Missed two. But I will make the lame excuse that I was orginally trained in AP Style.



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