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Comma with TOO


The Golden Comma

Comma before too? Do you or don’t you put a comma before too at the end of a sentence?

Yes, You Do

Put a comma before the final too when too means also or as well. For example, which of these two sentences is correct?

1. I think chocolate is tasty too.
2. I think chocolate is tasty, too.

The second sentence is correct. We use a comma before too when too is at the end of the sentence. We also put commas around too when too is embedded in the sentence, as in this example.

I know, too, that chocolate is tasty.

Lots of people are confused about how to use commas, when to use commas, and when to leave them out. But commas do make sense. We use a comma before too for a reason.

Reason

Zen Comma Rule N tells us to “Separate conjunctive adverbs with commas.” Too, when used to mean also or as well, is a conjunctive adverb, along with therefore, however, additionally, and other such words.

Conjunctive Adverb: An adverb that connects (i.e., joins) two clauses, that shows how the meaning of the second clause relates to the meaning of the first clause.

When we use too as a conjunctive adverb, therefore, we need to separate it from the rest of the sentence. This means when too is the final word in the sentence, we precede it with a comma.

Explanation and Comparison

Let’s look at another sentence that uses a conjunctive adverb:

The senator was ashamed. However, he remained in office.

Here, we have two discrete ideas, one per sentence. The second sentence begins with the conjunctive adverb however, which tells us that the meaning and the importance of the second sentence are somehow connected to the idea in the first sentence. That’s what a conjunctive adverb does. Let’s look at another example.

The principal expelled the student. He fired the teacher, as well.

The phrase as well is a conjunctive adverb. It tells the reader that the meaning being expressed in the second clause (i.e., He fired the teacher) somehow connects to the first clause (i.e., The principal expelled the student).

We see from the last example that the conjunctive adverb as well is separated from the sentence with a comma. When used in this manner, as well is a synonym for too. This tells not only that too is a conjunctive adverb but also that the final too needs to be separated from the sentence with a comma, as follows.

The principal expelled the student. He fired the teacher, too.

This example has the same meaning as the previous example. The only difference is we have swapped synonyms, changing as well for too. The comma remains before the final conjunctive adverb.

Words don’t determine punctuation. The function of those words, i.e., what those words do, determines the punctuation. As we see here, the function remains the same, so the punctuation, too, remains the same.

Too in Other Places

When we move too to other places in the sentence, Rule N still applies. Placing too at the beginning of a sentence is uncommon and, frankly, awkward, so we’ll skip it. However, too is common in other places. The most common place (other than the end of the sentence) is following the subject of the clause.

I, too, will go to the service.
John is a farmer, and Leroy, too, is a farmer.

Notice the commas around too. If we move too to the end of the sentence, the commas remain:

I will go to the service, too.
John is a farmer, and Leroy is a farmer, too.

Even though we moved too, it has the same meaning and same function in the sentence, so the same punctuation applies.

A Note about AP Style

I often hear people say something like “Hey, the AP style guide says don’t use that comma, so it’s wrong!” Ok, if you write for a newspaper, don’t use it—unless it contributes to clarity (which the AP guide supports). The Associated Press (AP) style guide, in general, encourages writers to remove as much punctuation as possible. This may be an effort to save room for journalists’ words in narrow newspaper columns.

If you’re not a journalist, you don’t need to follow AP style. AP style is not for all writers, which is why we also have the APA, MLA, and other style guides.

Final Thought

Here’s one of my general principles for using punctuation, and it applies to the comma before the final too.

Be consistent.

What this means: If we’re going to separate some conjunctive adverbs with commas, we will separate all conjunctive adverbs with commas—including too.

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Bumbo Learns about Implied Words


The Koan

The teacher went to the platform to give his lesson on commas. He looked at the students, saying nothing. Then he wrote a comma on the wall and left. “Ah,” said Bumbo. “Missing words need commas, too!”

The Lesson

When the teacher stands before the students, saying nothing, all his words are implied. What Bumbo learns is that whether the sentence contains all the words or whether some words are purposefully left out, a writer needs to use commas as if they were all there. The comma left behind by the teacher indicates that comma rules apply even when some words are missing from a sentence. Continue reading

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Ending Paragraphs at the Right Place


Hmmm. Is that the right paragraph length?

Although paragraph structure challenges writers, it is essential not only to help organize the content logically but also to keep the reader interested to the end of the document. On the other hand, if paragraphs are not structured well, the reader will have difficulty understanding the ideas being presented and will be unlikely to respond as you wish.

You need to know when to break the paragraph. Two of the most common problems I encounter when editing academic papers are paragraphs that are incomplete and paragraphs that are too expansive. While editing a graduate student’s paper recently, I came across a paragraph that was nearly 1.5 pages long. That, alone, is not a problem. A paragraph can be quite long, or quite short, and still accomplish its purpose—but only if it follows two essential principles.

1. A paragraph discusses one, and only one, idea.
2. A paragraph provides a transition to the next idea. Continue reading

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Use the Serial Comma


Commas in Series
  1. The toy was red [comma] round [comma] and heavy.
  2. I purchased pickles at the store [comma] gas at the convenience store [comma] and flowers at the florist for my beautiful wife.

RULE A:
Separate every item in a series with a comma.

Series: A series is a string of three or more matching items in a sentence. For example, the series in sample 1 contains three items: red, round, and heavy. The series in sample 2 also contains three items.

Take a look at sample 1 and see how the commas fit the rule. The first item is red, and it is separated from round by a comma. The second item is round, and it is separated from red and heavy by commas. Every item in the series is separated from the other items by commas.

The Zen Comma Master

Koan 1: Bumbo approached the teacher and said, “Teacher, I was taught not to use the comma before the word and. Is that true?” The teacher replied, “Newspapers.”

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When corpses go swimming


“Swimming happily, the corpse floated by his head.”

Ok-what’s wrong with that statement? It seems to say that the corpse is swimming happily, which is a rather odd thing for corpses to do.

The problem is that the introductory phrase is a dangling modifier. This means that the subject (stated or implied) of the introductory adverbial phrase doesn’t match the subject of the sentence.

In the example above, the subject of the main sentence is “the corpse.” However, the implied subject of the introductory phrase “swimming happily” is he. Because they aren’t the same, we, the readers, are left with a rather strange image.

Without having any additional clues about the subject, the reader will assume that the subject of the introductory phrase is the same as the subject of the main sentence. This is why why the corpse seems to swimming happily.

Here’s another: “As a professor of economics, the plan is likely to succeed.”

This seems to imply that the plan is a professor. That’s odd, too. The subject of the main sentence is “plan,” so without any clues to tell us differently, we assume that the subject of the introductory phrase is also “plan,” making “plan” a professor of economics.

Even if we had the clues, however, the phrase would still dangle because the subjects would be different. That’s what a dangling modifier is: an introductory phrase or clause that doesn’t have the same subject (implied or stated) as the main sentence.

Thus, to fix these dangling modifiers, we need to make the subject (implied or stated) of the introductory phrase the same as the subject of the main sentence. Here are possible revisions for the above examples.

“While swimming happily, he saw a corpse float by his head.”
“As a professor of economics, I believe that the plan is likely to succeed.”

Do you know any dangling modifers that amuse you? Have you heard any dangling modifiers or seen any in print (hint, listen to CNN)? Please share below!

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Confusing Words Simply Explained


Confusing Words

The English language has many confusing word pairs, those word pairs that make people stop and ask, “Is it this word or that word? Which word do I use?” 

Writing, of any type, is for communication. When you use the correct word, you can accurately communicate your ideas. On the other hand, if you use the wrong word, you risk communicating the wrong idea, and you risk losing credibility with your reader, whether your reader is a potential client, a professor, a publisher, or a visitor to your web site.  Continue reading

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Rhetorically Speaking


Day 9: Use the rhetorical action as the main verb.

A sentence may have several verbs. However, the verb in the “verb’s place” following the subject is generally the main verb upon which the rest of the sentence hangs. Consider this sentence:

“Julie thinks Tom is silly.”

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