Sunday, July 08, 2012

Punctuation Pointers, Part 1: The Introductory Comma

Everyone seems to have an opinion on punctuation, so I might as well admit that I have one too. All the rules are out there in countless style books, so I will avoid rehashing them and look at issues that pop up in my consulting work.

I should begin with the most frequently omitted punctuation mark, the introductory comma, the comma that has prevented millions of students around the world and over the years from achieving a perfect score on their essays. Many people, especially those who were not born to the English language, learned to place a comma after an introductory word, phrase, or clause just before the subject.

But they overdo it. In the correctly punctuated sentences below, notice the introductory comma is absent from numbers 7 and 8:
  1. Fortunately, Karl will be our manager.
  2. Karl, you are the manager.
  3. If you need a good manager, choose Karl.
  4. Getting executive support, Karl became the manager.
  5. To increase his income, Karl became a manager.
  6. For now, Karl is the manager.
  7. Today Karl is the manager.
  8. Please make Karl the manager. 

Some writers and style books say that the introductory phrase in sentence 6 is too short to warrant a comma, but I use the comma after all introductory prepositional phrases regardless of length for consistency. On the other hand, native speakers do not pause even slightly after the one-word introductions in sentence 6, today, and sentence 7, please. So the comma is unnecessary.

Click here for more tips on punctuation.