This concluding article about commas tidies up some odds and ends in situations where commas confuse.
Which or That?
Whether to use which or that also depends on the information it introduces being essential or nonessential. Once again, added information requires added commas.
Use which – and a comma – when the secondary clause, which gives added information, can be thrown out, leaving behind a complete sentence.
Holly leaves, which are green, don’t drop in Winter.
Use that to introduce part of a sentence that you can’t throw out. (You don’t need a comma with that since it’s not added information.)
Leaves that are green in Spring turn brown in Autumn.
Grammar Girl offers yet another quick and dirty tip:
You can throw out the whiches without doing any harm.
. . . witch should help you remember…
Which brings me to. . .
Words that end in ‘–ing‘
Should they have commas in front of them?
Where there is a comma, the –ing word refers to the whole of the preceding clause. It introduces (again) either added information (1) or consequences (2) of the first clause.
The technician mended the computer, using the latest diagnostic program. (1)
The technician mended the computer, ensuring the class could continue. (2)
The words using and ensuring refer to ‘the technician mended the computer’ – NOT to the computer.
The –ing phrases in the first two sentences add information since the first clause of the sentence would make sense without it, so add a comma.
The technician mended the computer displaying the OUT OF ORDER sign.
When there is no comma, the –ing word refers to the noun immediately preceding it.
The phrase introduced by displaying identifies the computer so is essential to the meaning of the sentence. No added information means no added comma.
(NOTE: if we wrote ‘. . .the computer that displayed the out of order sign‘, it wouldn’t have a comma either.)
Peter drove the minibus carrying nine passengers.
Peter drove the minibus, carrying nine passengers.
The word carrying identifies the minibus and could be seen as essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Is your head spinning yet?
Words ending in –ing can be more complicated than this simple introduction. There is an in-depth article about –ing words of all kinds at http://theeditorsblog.net/2015/04/08/writing-advice-what-about-ing-words-part-four/
Pauses don’t indicate the need for a comma, but they can offer clues. Don’t put in commas wherever you would pause but you will often pause when you hit a comma if reading a sentence aloud (Grammar Girl again).
This is another good reason for reading your own work aloud when editing.
There are apps that will read your work aloud; many are free. My current version of MSWord has this as a feature. It sounds robotic, but it can help you identify where a sentence doesn’t make the sense you intended, or where too many commas make it difficult to read. Even slowing down your own reading while you follow the voice can help you identify errors.
When there is little or no scope for ambiguity, commas can be dropped, especially if they’re getting in each others’ way. In fact, I’m beginning to adopt a new comma philosophy – assuming that I’ll have remembered all this advice. . .
If in doubt, leave it out.
What types of punctuation do you re-word sentences to avoid using?
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