Mighty Red Pen

December 15, 2009

Are these commas necessary?

Filed under: Perilous punctuation — mighty red pen @ 7:29 pm
Tags:

So here’s a little somethin’ somethin’ from the “Let’s Stump the Editor” files.

At La Oficina de MRP, it’s common to see this type of sentence construction:

Looking back, we can see all the things that point to Anakin’s eventual surrender to the dark side, from his love for his mother, to his stubborn nature, to his lack of self-control, to his growing anger at the Jedi Council, to his passion for Padme Amidala.

Crackerjack Copy Editor queried me: Are these commas necessary?

After puzzling it out for awhile, neither of us could come up with a rule one way or the other. My theory was that the commas stand in for conversational pauses and are therefore not technically needed. Crackerjack Copy Editor thought that “to” stands in for the comma or for “and,” and that therefore commas are not needed. We both agreed, however, that without commas, the sentence is cumbersome:

Looking back, we can see all the things that point to Anakin’s eventual surrender to the dark side, from his love for his mother to his stubborn nature to his lack of self-control to his growing anger at the Jedi Council to his passion for Padme Amidala.

Crackerjack Copy Editor suggested rewriting the sentence:

Looking back, we can see all the things that point to Anakin’s eventual surrender to the dark side: his love for his mother, stubborn nature, lack of self-control, and growing anger at the Jedi Council, as well as his passion for Padme Amidala.  

I agree that sometimes, a complete rewrite is just your best option, but I also think that in this case, the sentence is written the way it is for emphasis.

So I put the question to you editors out there: Would you use commas as indicated here or would you leave them out? And what rule guides your decision? Or finally, is a rewrite just the best answer anyway?

5 Comments »

  1. AIUI, commas used to be used like this, to indicate rhetorical pauses. The trend nowadays is to use commas as grammatical markers, not rhetorical markers. Personally I like the sentence with commas.

    Comment by goofy — December 15, 2009 @ 9:00 pm | Reply

  2. I would have left in the commas. The rewrite sounds rather choppy as well and does not convey the original sense. Also, the rewritten sentence is not constructed parallely. The “his” should be repeated for every phrase or for just the first. In the rewritten sentence, “his” occurs with the first phase “his love for his mother” and the last one “as well as his passion for Padme Amidala”, which is incorrect.

    Comment by Latha — December 15, 2009 @ 11:41 pm | Reply

  3. I would keep the commas, but the first suggests a range or progression that doesn’t seem to exist. So,

    Looking back, we can see all the things that point to Anakin’s eventual surrender to the dark side: his love for his mother, his stubborn nature, his lack of self-control, his growing anger at the Jedi Council, and his passion for Padme Amidala.

    Comment by Mark Allen — December 16, 2009 @ 9:29 am | Reply

  4. I think Latha and Mark are basically saying the same thing and I agree with both of them. I also like the way Mark has traded in “as well as” for the much more concise “and”.

    Comment by Laura Payne — December 16, 2009 @ 11:20 am | Reply

  5. I’m for a total re-write of this sentence, either as suggested by Crackerjack Copy Editor or I recommend breaking it into smaller sentences.

    Looking back, we can see all the things that point to Anakin’s eventual surrender to the dark side. His love for his mother, his stubborn nature, his lack of self-control, his growing anger at the Jedi Council, and his passion for Padme Amidala influence his fall to the dark.

    I think either rewrite works better than the original, which I find cumbersome with the commas and the overused ‘to’. I believe that if this intended for popular publication, the original sentence is wordy and may undermine the author’s illustration.

    Comment by Jim — December 16, 2009 @ 3:39 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: