Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Comma Cop

That’s what they call me around here, in this wide world of Novel Adventurers.

Yesterday, I pulled a prank on one of them, telling her she’d put a comma out of order in an email to me. I was kidding, but her response surprised me. She gushed apologies, assuming I’d been serious since, well, I guess I can get pretty serious about punctuation.

The other day, I edited the post of another co-blogger who hit back with, “No matter how much I go over my own posts, you always manage to find something. Not just something but a lot of somethings.”

Yep, that’s me, the comma cop. It’s a designation that’s served me and those I edit well through a long publishing career and active participation in fiction critique groups. I’m a stickler for good grammar, spelling, and punctuation, because to me, they are the glue that holds any message together. Even the most interesting message can get lost if its expression is sloppy.

Plus, I love to edit. Making order out of chaos on a written page helps me relax, reminding me that anything can be fixed, made clean and even beautiful. Some people paint as a relaxing outlet. Others go running or meditate. Me, I edit. And I can make a living from it, so it’s definitely win-win.

I’ve edited just about every type of publication out there, yet I find most people, including the most well-educated folks and even other professional writers, repeat the same mistakes time after time. 

Not proofreading one's own work has to be the most common problem. 

Misusing commas and apostrophes (or forgetting to insert them) comes a close second. 

Beginning sentences with vague starts (“this is” or “that was”) makes the reader have to backtrack to figure out what these pronouns refer to. 

Another problem is misplaced modifiers. Take this example—“Though she’s a healthy child, John believes his only daughter is too fragile to spend time outdoors.” As it turns out, “healthy child” modifies John, not the daughter. 

Lack of parallelism occurs a lot too, as in, “We are going out, eating plums, and have a nice time.” 

Misuse of language can be annoying but sometimes it’s fun too. Take the following example found on Wiki:

"King Charles walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off." 


"King Charles walked and talked; half an hour after, his head was cut off."

Am I alone in this? Any other sticklers out there, or do you hate this stuff? Does poor editing hamper your reading enjoyment as it does for me, or do you tend to gloss right over (groan) mistakes? 


  1. Wow, I really enjoyed this post. You need to visit my latest blog to see why. I cringe at the thought of editing. However, since I have had to edit my own work, I had to step up to the plate. I blog from my experiences. Therefore, these topics come up quite a bit lately.

  2. Oh, I hate it when people write with misplaced modifiers! I love discussing commas and sentence structure, but I hate figuring out lay/lie and who/whom ;)

  3. Oh, yes, Supriya the Comma Cop. Ain't that the truth. One day I'll get it right.

    Orlando, I've been reading your blog and have learnt some great things. Keep it up!

    Supriya, what would I do without your weekly grammar lessons? :-)

    And I cannot gloss over poor grammar. My poor kids are going to hate me for being such a stickler, but I like to think they'll thank me one day. One can hope, anyway.

    Gigi, I was struggling with lay/lie only yesterday. Urgh.

  4. Orlando, is this a case of great minds think alike? I'm here for you next time you need help with comma placement, okay? (Loved your site, btw, including the site name. Check it out, folks:

    Gigi, my problem is I know how it's supposed to be but I can never remember the correct termminology. And while I know there are loads of reference books out there on these topics, they bore me silly. I like the doing, not the reading about (unless it's specifically relevant to something I'm working on).

  5. Oh, Alli, our emails crossed. But fyi, I'm working on semantics with my kids too. Just today, we discussed the difference between a mean mom and a strict one. It was very enlightening (for them).

    And about your commas (cough cough)....

  6. Supriya, if editing relaxes you, I'm afraid you may be comatose after you edit my next book...