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Cut the comma

Do you ever read a newspaper story, an advertisement, an essay or some other piece of literature and feel as though you’re being jerked out of your seat? Not by the content, but the punctuation.

Omission of commas in critical places can hamper understanding, but unnecessary commas impinge on smooth expository flow. An egregious category of this is a comma separating a person’s title or identifying noun from his or her name.

Redundant comma syndrome

Here is an example from a newspaper ad: “Head and neck surgeon and psychologist, Paul Nemiroff, agrees … .” The reader may need Nemiroff’s surgical service to repair whiplash, and counseling for disorientation. Why the comma? Neither the indefinite article “a” or the definite article “the” precede the identifying words “Head and neck surgeon” and “psychologist.” If such an article had been included, then a comma would indeed have been required: “A head and neck surgeon and

bug-eyed comma


Would you write, “President, Obama said today …”? Of course not. It’s “President Obama said today … .” There is no pause. You wouldn’t write, “Secretary of State, John Kerry flew to the Mideast … .” But if you included the definite article before the title, the comma would be needed to indicate a pause: “The secretary of state, John Kerry, flew to the Mideast … .” Otherwise, it’s: “Secretary of State John Kerry flew to the Mideast … .”

The Palm Beach Post carried this notice about an upcoming musical event: “Five-time Grammy Award-winner, trumpeter Randy Brecker, will … .” No article before “Five-time,” so no comma needed. However, the juxtaposition of “winner” and “trumpeter” sounds awkward. That could be remedied by writing, “Five-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker will … .” Thus two commas are eliminated, and the sentence flows much more smoothly.

Here’s another example from the above-referenced ad: “Crossword puzzle fanatic, Bobby D. from … .” Again, the comma is

Bulging what?

Speaking of the need for medical attention, the website MedPage Today appears to be recruiting patients with this doozie: “The investigational treatment, appears to be a gentler way to take pressure off nerves pinched by the bulging disk.” Or by the bulging comma.

#comma #definitearticle #identifyingnouns #indefinitearticle

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