Comma Commentary: To Splice or Not to Splice

If you want to set off a heated argument among a bunch of writers, buy them a round of drinks and say, “So, comma placement. What’s the big deal, anyway?”

As Ben Yagoda, a professor of English at the University of Delaware, wrote in The New York Times earlier this week, “rules and conventions about when to use and not to use commas are legion.” Yagoda offers some great practical advice (and easy-to-understand examples) for avoiding common comma goofs (like comma splices) in a column drolly titled, “The Most Comma Mistakes.”

It’s a good read for marketing professionals and other creative types, especially if you haven’t been near an English class in a couple of decades. (And check out Yagoda’s April column—titled “Fanfare for the Comma Man”—on the evolution of rules dictating punctuation usage.)

The more than 500 (and counting) comments on this week’s Yagoda column are almost more fun to read than the article itself. Predictably, there’s plenty of polite arguing about Yagoda’s comma rules, and why the Times does not see the wisdom of the serial comma.

Since these are Times readers and not, for example, teenagers commenting on Kardashian family news at, the comments can get deep into the punctuation woods—things like, “Why not explain the syntactic function rather than giving already confused readers more seemingly arbitrary rules without relating to the underlying functions and semantic principles?” I’ll bite—why not?

At any rate, it’s entertaining reading for those of us who worry about comma placement for a living.

By Chris Kent