Check out our updated Community
English punctuation


In the Russian we put a lot of commas, around appeals, adjectives, gerunds etc. Example: "Я сидел, глядя на монитор, думая о том, чтобы такое написать, попивая чай".  Just awful, isn't it?

In the English attitude at commas more icily, and I don't quite understand the difference, I want to put commas everywhere, but that seem to be incorrect.

What's thoughts, folks?

Mar 7, 2018 7:39 AM
Comments · 2

You should give an example of an English sentence you've written in which you have put commas "everywhere."

It is complicated. In the past, let's say before 1930-1940 or so, it was customary for written English to use relatively long sentences and more punctuation than we do now. As time goes on, there has been an evolution in the direction of shorter and simpler sentences, written language that is closer to spoken language, and the use of less and less punctuation.

Consider this sentence from Henry James, written in 1898:

"The case, I may mention, was that of an apparition in just such an old house as had gathered us for the occasion—an appearance, of a dreadful kind, to a little boy sleeping in the room with his mother and waking her up in the terror of it; waking her not to dissipate his dread and soothe him to sleep again, but to encounter also, herself, before she had succeeded in doing so, the same sight that had shaken him."

Your comma placement might be perfectly correct, just a little more conservative and old-fashioned than modern custom.

Just as violinists pause for breath--even though a violin isn't a wind instrument--in written English, punctuation has a relationship to places where you mentally "pause for breath," with the mark indicating the length of the pause. This doesn't actually help you know where and how to use punctuation, but I think it is a correct explanation of what is going on mentally. Punctuation marks are a kind of cue to speech patterns. For example, a pair of em dashes--the long dashes like these--indicate a place where, in speaking, we would speak softly and rapidly. (Parentheses serve a similar function).

To the extent that punctuation is communicating a tone of voice, two different writers might choose to use different punctuation, and both be correct--just as they might choose different words to express the same idea.

March 7, 2018

I put commas where I would pause to breathe and think. That is, I would put commas in complex sentences where there are several clauses. That is more natural to me than writing several shorter sentences. But it can also depend on your audience: I will write some short sentences to my Russian friends rather than one long and complex sentence that they will get lost in. They might lose sense of the whole sentence because it is too complex.

Apostrophes for possession are sometimes confusing for me, because I don't know if I am talking about one or many people. Talking marks, " and " , and 'and' are used only when quoting someone, or I avoid that and paraphrase someone without the talking marks.

March 7, 2018
Language Skills
English, Russian
Learning Language