5

An example from my own writing (Mother and daughter are burying their deceased dog):

As planned that Friday, Mom and I underwent Choco’s burial at my home in __ (yes, she kept him in a garbage bag for three days). We dug a hole in the backyard, threw the corpse inside, and shoveled the soil back. Finally, my mom knelt down and stuck a handmade wooden cross in the little mountain of dirt. After that we stood there, in solemn silence, looking at the grave being bathed by the evening sunlight. I felt strange. Like I’d come visiting a hometown I’d forgotten about a long time ago.

I could have written the bolded parts like this:

As planned that Friday Mom and I underwent Choco’s burial ...

Finally my mom knelt down and stuck the wooden cross ...

After that, we stood there, in solemn silence ...

How should I decide whether to put a comma in these cases? Should I follow my hear? Or what English teachers and spelling software tells me?

  • Do use commas . – user5645 Dec 3 '14 at 18:30
6

Commas are used to increase clarity. In each of your examples, a speaker would pause while reading the lines, indicating a comma is called for. A sentence with too many commas probably means the sentence is overly complicated. Your writing sample is first person and modern, so I would follow contemporary writing and speaking as a guide. A good reference for questions of punctuation is "The Careful Writer" by Bernstein.

3

I think all your original examples sound fine. Go with your inner ear and let your beta/editor add or remove commas for the sake of grammar. As Bobn points out, the commas indicate pauses, and all those pauses sound natural and appropriate.

0

All right, this is an interesting one. If you want to be proper in your use of punctuation, perhaps you ought to check out what the Chicago Manual of Style (or another style guide, for that matter) has to say about commas.

Grammatically speaking, there should always be a reason to use a comma. In other words, it isn't correct to simply play it by ear.

There are quite a few occasions where one might need to use a comma. Beware, however, of improper use, as that can change the meaning of the sentence. For instance, in your third example ("After that we stood there, in solemn silence, looking at the grave being bathed by the evening sunlight."), you should have a comma after "After that," but you shouldn't have a comma after "there," because "in solemn silence" does not modify "there"; it modifies "we stood."

0

Late to the party, but I disagree with promoting unwavering adherence to the formal grammar rules forced upon us in schools.

But I agree with the sentiment to let your ear be your guide.

Schools have to teach a basic, abstract style that will serve most people. And that arrangement is perfect for people who are not particularly creative, but who are great at following rules. That system is, however, toxic for the creative and the talented. So I would encourage you to find your own style.

The heuristic I follow is simple: If the sentence is short I consider omitting commas. But for longer sentences, omitting commas tends to damage either the meaning or the rhythm, so I find it's best to keep them.

Applying my approach to your sentences, I'd say #1 (As planned that Friday,) and #2 (Finally,) should keep their commas, and #3 (After that) is improved by omitting it. Although I say that thinking #3 is too "flowery". You'll deliver a better punch with a #3 like this:

After that we stood there. Silent. Just looking at the grave. I felt strange.

0

I am no native speaker of English, but in my native languages I break conventions when clarity is at stake. Consider this spoken rendition:

As planned (pause) that Friday mom and I...

As opposed to

As planned that Friday (pause) mom and I...

In the second case, where I mean that the planning took place on Friday, I would definitely add a comma. Otherwise the reader without prior context is highly unlikely to catch the intended meaning.

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