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Too many commas destroys the flow of a sentence. I know because I use too many commas. Each comma acts as a pause and too many commas makes good writing sound sluggish and boring.
The problem arises because I write as I’m thinking (I almost put a comma here!) and I put a comma when I need to take a thought break in the middle of sentence. However, you don’t want your reader to have a thought break. You want your reader to flow through your thoughts without a break in concentration. Using too many commas is an easy way to hamper otherwise excellent writing.
In writing the two paragraphs above I removed, or stopped myself from writing, 4-5 commas alone!
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The Quick Brown Fox
Too many commas can cripple the flow of a sentence. Here are two simple sentences, see which you like better:
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy brown dog.
The quick, brown fox jumps over the lazy, brown dog.
I prefer the comma-less version. Here’s how I read a sentence with commas:
The quick, <breath> brown fox jumps over the lazy, <breath> brown dog.
The sentence is too sluggish! Remove the commas.
Declaration of Independence
Here’s another block of text, the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Here’s how I read it:
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, <breath> When in the Course of human events, <breath> it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, <breath> and to assume among the powers of the earth, <breath> the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, <breath> a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Too many commas Tom! It would be much better off as multiple sentences.
Using Fewer Commas
Commas are good for communicating multiple items in a list:
Can you please buy ketchup, mustard, relish and mayonnaise at the grocery store?
Commas are bad at connecting two sentences that otherwise should be separate:
I went to the grocery store, and am getting a haircut tomorrow.
I went to the grocery store. I am getting a haircut tomorrow.
Using too many commas can make writing sluggish and boring. Remove commas if they are unnecessary. Break longer sentences into shorter ones.
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