Help Stop Comma Abuse!

Yes, there are some rules for commas. Some are strict, some aren’t. Some are debated (the Oxford comma), some aren’t. And some commas are just a question of style.

I’d like to draw your attention on a comma issue which is not a question of style.

You cannot use a comma to separate the verb from its subject or object. Look:

John, ate some bread.

John ate, some bread.

Doesn’t work.

But you do see commas floating around verbs. That’s because they come in pairs. Look:

John, without hesitation, ate some bread.

John ate, without hesitation, some bread.

See how those commas come in pairs, because we inserted “without hesitation” into the sentence?

I was prompted to write this article after struggling through this article. I struggled because the article content was interesting — but boy, does the author have comma issues. Hopefully they’ll fix them. In the meantime, I’ve used the text to provide you with real-world examples, corrected. You can try your skills at spotting missing paired commas. (And do read the article, though, it is interesting.)

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich used a lot of his free time for playing cards.

Can you spot the missing comma? This is a situation where the first paired comma was used, but not the second. The “inserted” text in the sentence is “the 4th Earl of Sandwich”, which should therefore be surrounded by commas. This one is actually tricky, because it looks like we have avoided placing a comma between the subject and the verb. But we have. Better:

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, used a lot of his free time for playing cards.

Here is another one:

Since recently a good friend of mine, gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, I wanted to learn more.

This one has a comma which shouldn’t be there. No reason for a pair, as the sentence is not “Since John, a good friend of mine, gave me…”. Corrected:

Since recently a good friend of mine gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, I wanted to learn more.

I’ll have to admit that I’m not 100% certain about the next one:

When we are being told a story though, things change dramatically found researchers in Spain.

Don’t you also want a comma in front of “found”? It probably has something to do with the fact that instead of the usual SVO order, we’ve switched to something like OVS. Here, try this one instead:

When we are being told a story though, things change dramatically, found researchers in Spain.

Isn’t it better?

Here’s one which might have more than comma issues, but let’s stick to the commas:

The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it, can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton.

I would suggest one of these two alternatives, though my prefer would probably add in an extra word or two:

The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton.

The brains of the person telling a story, and listening to it, can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton.

And a last one which is a classic example of paired commas:

A story, if broken down into the simplest form is a connection of cause and effect.

The “inserted text” here is “if broken down into the simplest form”. Proof? The sentence would be fine without it:

A story is a connection of cause and effect.

Now, let’s add in this if-clause, with commas.

A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect.

There we go. Pay attention to your commas!

Disclaimer: I’ve never really studied English grammar properly, so I’m sure there are fancy terms and maybe rules to come up with here that I don’t know of. And also, following a law which probably needs a nice name, as this is a post about language/grammar, there are bound to be mistakes in it that you can point to and laugh at — and probably, God forbid, a misplaced comma.

WordPress Finally Has Tags!

I’ve known for some time that [version 2.3 of WordPress](http://codex.wordpress.org/Version_2.3) would support real tagging. Today, Matt has just announced the [deployment of tagging on WordPress.com](http://wordpress.com/blog/2007/09/22/tags-and-categories/).

From the start, I’ve been a very vocal supporter of the [differentiation between tags and categories](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/02/11/tags-and-categories-are-not-the-same/) — and I really appreciate Matt acknowledging this in his announcement.

When I first met Matt offline for the first time nearly a year ago, [at Blogtalk Reloaded in Vienna](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157600218664445/), I jumped on the occasion to pester him about tags and categories. He listened — but I don’t think he was convinced at the time.

A few months later, I was [in San Francisco](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157594465240661/) — and one of the first things Matt told me when we met again was “you know, I finally saw the light about tags and categories”. He told me version 2.3 would have both. I was overjoyed. I’ll never know exactly what role I played in Matt’s “seeing the light”, but I like to think I contributed 🙂

Looking back in time, [Technorati started indexing tags in January 2005](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/01/14/technorati-tagified/). They weren’t new for me then (I’d been tagging things on del.icio.us since May 2004 and on Flickr since October of the same year) but clearly, being able to tag posts was a great thing. You know me — my brain can’t sit still — two days later, I was [rambling about some ways to combine tags in searches/sorting](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/01/16/thinking-about-tags/). Some of the stuff I talk about in there isn’t possible yet, but I hope it will someday.

Two days after that, I wrote my first WordPress plugin, [Bunny’s Technorati Tags](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/01/18/technorati-tags-plugin/) — which became quite popular and which I still use to this day.

I’m really glad to be able to retire this plugin, specially as [Peter Westwood has written an importer for it](http://blog.ftwr.co.uk/archives/2007/09/07/living-on-the-edge/). That means you should have no problems converting your bunny-tags into wp-tags. Thank you very much, Peter.

Bear with me while I dig though my archives: [weighted tags by category](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2005/01/28/plugin-idea-weighted-tags-by-category/) is something I’d forgotten I’d wanted… does anything like that exist now?

My only gripe with the implementation of tags in WordPress, for the moment, is that they will be comma-separated. No! Please! We’ve been typing space-separated tags into Flickr and del.icio.us for three years now. Three years! When I chose space-separation for the tags in my plugin, it was because the existing interfaces for tags did it like that.

Spaces, please. Or at least an option to input them space-separated. Or a simple plugin. Tags separated by spaces, and multi-word tags between quotes.