26 November 2016

Ode to the comma

There has been many an ode to the comma written. I've even heard people say that a comma can save lives! Consider this simple sentence.

Let's eat Grandma!
Let's eat, Grandma!

It's become really interesting for me, because I am an American living in Ireland and writing for the British market. I try to stay away from colloquialisms. But confounding the issues is the fact that styles can be markedly different for English of different countries. The comma being one of the culprits. 

For example, serial commas in American English are used often. In British English, the last in the series is often omitted. Consider this simple series.
  • My favorite televisions shows are Game of Thrones, Vikings, and Salvage Hunters.
If I were to post it on the British website I edit, it would be:
  • My favorite televisions shows are Game of ThronesVikings and Salvage Hunters.
The last comma in the series would be omitted in the UK unless needed for clarity.

The most common question people ask about is whether periods and commas go inside or outside 
quotation marks. The answer depends on whom your audience is. In American English, periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, but in British English periods and commas can go inside or outside. Semicolons, colons and dashes always go outside quotation marks. 

Sticking with quotation marks, the complexity increases if you encounter question marks and exclamation points. If the question mark or exclamation point is part of your quotation, it stays inside; but if the question mark or exclamation point are not part of the quotation, they go outside the closing quotation mark.

Got it?  Good.

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