Last week's challenge was a tough one. Several readers correctly punctuated the sentences but did not correctly identify which commas were optional. Sadly, only a minority of respondents got everything right. Here are the answers as presented by Larena Jackson. The goals were to correctly punctuate (or refrain from punctuating) these introductory phrases and to indicate whether the comma was optional or required.
- In the morning she will leave the house by 7:30.
(optional comma as refers to time-In the morning, she...)
- Over the rainbow is where the pot of gold should be.
- After the long and boring meeting, we finally broke for coffee. (required-prepositional phrase more than 4 words)
- After all, the boss is my best friend. (required-prepositional phrase acts as transition)
- In 2009 the software was completely revised. (optional comma as refers to time-In 2009, the software...)
- On the other hand, Bill might be better suited for the job than Bob is. (required- prepositional phrase acts as transition)
Respondent Carrie Noxon brought up one thing I did not mention in my column last week: some organizations may have an in-house style that makes the optional comma after a short introductory phrase mandatory. She writes, "Our standard calls for a comma with introductory prepositional phrases. For us, it is always required. We also like the Oxford comma."
These two rules mean Noxon's organization uses "close punctuation," meaning that all optional commas are mandatory. As soon as I read her comment, I guessed that she must work at a law firm, and indeed, that turned out to be true. Legal writing has a great need for consistency and precision, and using more commas tends to help in that goal.
Correct Answers were sent in by:
- Larena Jackson
- Vera I. Sytch
- Carrie Noxon
- Lorna McLellan
- Michael Stein
Adjectives versus Adverbs
Adjectives describe nouns. Blue, tall, funny, long--these are all clearly descriptions of things: The blue screen, the tall coffee, the funny face, a long drive. Sometimes one adjective in front of a noun is not enough to fully describe or identify the item. Then we use two or more: The big old truck, the upper left corner of the screen, a small gray mouse. As soon as you have multiple adjectives in front of the noun, you need to ask whether you need commas between the adjectives. Here's how you tell: if you cannot reverse the order of the adjectives you do not need a comma between them.
Read this out loud:
The small brown bird
It sounds natural and normal. Now try reversing the adjectives:
The brown small bird
It sounds wrong or at least "funny." You do not need a comma between these adjectives because they are in the proper order.
If you can reverse the order of the adjectives, you need to ask a second question: can you place the word and between the adjectives. Here is an example where you can reverse the adjectives:
the small furious rodent
the furious small rodent
You can place the word and between the adjectives, and it sounds natural:
The small and furious rodent
Now, you decide whether to keep the word and or replace it with a comma:
The small, furious rodent
Here is this week's challenge: Decide whether you should place a comma between these adjectives.
- The tall hollow trunk
- The upper right corner
- A quick easy lesson
- My blue suede shoes
- The small down arrow
- A loud overcrowded stadium
- A small yellow icon
- A large cracked hubcap
- The large gray button
- A wordy uninteresting paragraph
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