For the Love of Commas, Don’t Overuse Them

When I was a kid, I loved using commas. I wouldn’t just use them wherever I should, either. I’d use them wherever I could. I must have thought all those squiggly little marks made my writing look smart and professional. They certainly made the page more decorative. But as the years went on I started to get distracted by all the commas. As ornate as they were, they were breaking up the flow of my words. Did every single one of them really need to be there? I’d ask myself. Often the answer was no. The writing made just as much sense without the comma and was a heck of a lot easier to read.

That’s not to say I don’t like commas anymore. I do. I still use them whenever I need to. They help me break up lists, set off clauses, and avoid any confusion that would result without them. Sometimes I even use them to give the reader a chance to pause. What I don’t do, though, is use commas wherever possible. Years ago I might have written this: At first, she worked, not only to feed her family, but also to gain skills and, therefore, confidence. Today I would write that sentence like this: At first she worked not only to feed her family but also to gain skills and therefore confidence. I think I’ve learned to respect the comma. Overusing it just adds clutter and choppiness. Worse, too many commas degrades them, makes them look cheap.

I say if you love commas (and many of us writers do), use them when you need to but pass on them when you don’t. Your writing will be clearer and more professional without all those squiggly little marks peppering the page.

2 thoughts on “For the Love of Commas, Don’t Overuse Them

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