Here are some sentences written without commas. On first reading, you likely will be scratching your head. But read each sentence again and put in a comma; instantly, your confusion will be lifted.
- Just as we were ready to leave my brother drove up in his new convertible.
- While I watched my uncle assembled the ingredients for a salad.
- After he shot the arrow always hit the target.
- If you can afford to visit New Orleans at Mardi Gras.
- They recognized the document was not complete and announced it could not have been given the situation and time.
© Judi Birnberg
In Just My Typo, edited by Drummond Moir (gotta love his name), he cites a 19th century example of carelessness:
A New Orleans cotton broker sent a telegraph to New York, asking if he should buy cotton at the current prices. He received an answer of “No price too high.” Naturally, he bought as much as he could, only to discover that the answer should have been punctuated as follows: “No. Price too high.”
One tiny dot on paper can make a world of difference.
Punctuating however depends on where it falls in a sentence.
At the beginning or the end, set it off with a comma:
However, American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever.
American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever, however.
If however occurs in the middle of a sentence, use commas around both sides of the word (see cartoon above):
American presidential campaigns, however, seem to go on forever.
If it comes between two complete sentences you have a couple of choices:
Use a period and a capital letter: American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever. However, people are looking for ways to shorten the process.
Use a semicolon: American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever; however, people are looking for ways to shorten the process.
What you can’t do is put commas around both sides of however:
American presidential campaigns seem to go on forever, however, people are looking for ways to shorten the process. <———- This is a no-no.
Which choice is correct? Check your answers at the end of the quiz.
- (a) Smith referred to her as, “that useless cow.” (b) Smith referred to her as “that useless cow.”
- Eyewitnesses fled the scene in (a) a brown, 2002 Ford (b) a brown 2002 Ford.
- (a) Dr. Allen told her to: do whatever it takes to get the consent signed. (b) Dr. Allen told her to do whatever it takes to get the consent signed.
- Exxon is a (a) publicly traded company (b) publicly-traded company.
- The defendants seek to (a) run out the clock (b) run-out the clock.
Answers: 1. (b) 2. (b) 3. (b) 4. (a) 5. (a)
How did you do?
This quiz is modified from Bryan Garner’s Law Prose lessons. He is a consultant who leads continuing legal education seminars. The answers are correct whether you are a lawyer or a third grader.