Hi Tamara,

I can strongly recommend a book by Lynne Truss, which is called EATS,SHOOTS AND LEAVES. On the front cover is a picture of a panda trying to paint out the comma because the meaning changes depending on whether you insert the comma or omit it. Without the comma it simply means that the panda has a diet of shoots (bamboo) and leaves. With the comma you have the story of the panda who goes into a restaurant, eats his meal, fires a gun (shoots) and then goes away from the restaurant (leaves).

The book is subtitled: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation and is published by Profile Books Ltd. Lynne Truss combines humour and facts.


On the matter of commas, my high school teachers gave us the rules and had a saying for cases that are uncertain: “When in doubt, leave it out.”


Alan, I know… sometimes commas can change the meaning completely

As the police car pulled up[color=red], the crowd surged forward.
After a period of calm[color=red], college students have begun to demonstrate again.

Are they examples of that? Or you, being native, would understand the sentences - with and without commas - equally?

And what about this case:
The girlcolor=red with whom he fell in lovecolor=red left him after a few weeks.
How the commas, if put, would affect the meaning here?

…As before I’ll buy the book recommended I’m still in need for writing English :slight_smile: and surely omit unnecessary commas :slight_smile: I’ll ask a bit more.

Now I’ve managed to find a brief summary of 20 (!) ‘English comma rules’ (with examples) - in a grammar book written in Russian, for Russians and by a Russian :slight_smile:
But for some cases I still need of more explanation and clarification – now in English and from English natives. If you don’t mind… :slight_smile:

  1. Addressing
    But mother, there is no one here.

In my language I’d have to enclose ‘an addressee’ – putting commas directly before and after (but, mother,…)
From the example I can conclude that in English the rule is a bit different (and a bit vague…).

  1. A list with and
    Red, pink, yellow(,) and white flowers filled the vases.
    As I can see, the comma before and is possible, but unnecessary (can be omitted with no change in meaning). Right?

  2. Compound sentence
    You will confirm it(,) and I shall help you with the money.
    The same as for (2)… ?…

  3. A clause before the main part of the sentence
    Having called Sam, she immediately went to the airport.
    When in doubt, you should come to visit me.
    If you park your car here, the police will take it away.

Are commas in the three examples necessary to be put - or just ‘possible’?

  1. Comma instead of omitted words
    (To be honest, I never actually met such a use in writing, but I myself often omit words… :slight_smile: )

Fishing forms a quiet man; hunting, an eager man; gambling, a greedy man.
Can I (better) use long hyphen instead of comma: …hunting - an eager man, gambling - a greedy man.

6 and the last :slight_smile:
Не has been to London, too.
Не has been to London too.

I’‘m not sure I understood the explanation right.
How do they sound for you? Is in the first sentence too related to the subject (‘he, as well as me or someone else’) whereas in the second too is related to the city name(s) (‘not only in London, but in London, as well’).

Sorry for my loooong Monday question(s)…

Hi, Tamara
Just one comment

Here mother is not a direct address.
You can paraphrase this sentence in the following way:

There is no one here, except for mother

I think comma is unnecessary here.

In the first case the stress is done on He has been to London,too
In the second one stressed is to London
That are my reflections based on what I’ve read about usage too with comma and without it

I missed for by chance, Jamie :oops:

Yes, that was a weird statement. I would say, “Except for mother, there is no one here.”

However, I could put “but mother” at the end and say, “There is no one here but mother.”

No, no, Pamela and Jamie, it actually is given as an example of direct addressing!

(You can see and read the source directly in Russian, avoiding my poor translation :slight_smile: … facto.html
(Case 1)

It sounded strange for me – and this was the reason, I asked.

But the question still exists - another example for that is
Hi Pamela, …
In Russian I have to use an additional comma: Hi, Pamela, … :slight_smile:

Like in Russian so in English, Tamara :smiley:
Hi,Tamara, I think it’s just a typo with mother

Did you notice that in Russian variant mother was not separated with comma after but, it’s a mistake also

Hi Tamara

I’ve also heard “When in doubt, leave it out” as a general rule of thumb for comma usage. Maybe it’s an American thing…

My personal opnions about the rules you listed:

  1. I agree with the use of the comma in addressing. I see the comma after but as optional in your example (if you’re actually addressing “Mother”).
  2. I wouldn’t use a comma before and in a list.
  3. In a compound sentence I’d only use a comma in a situation where the sentence would be unclear without it. A comma doesn’t seem necessary in the example you gave.
  4. I agree that the comma should be used in all of your examples.
  5. Using commas to replace omitted words (as in your examples) is quite normal.
  6. In my opinion, the exact meaning of the word too (in your examples) would be determined by the rest of the context and not by the comma:

A: He’s been to Rome, Paris and Madrid.
B: He’s been to London, too. / He’s been to London too.

A: We’ve been to London.
B: He’s been to London, too. / He’s been to London too.
However, in the second example, it would be more typical to say: “He has(,) too.”