When you talk. . .you pause for breath.
(Unless you’re the type of person who says so much in one go that at some point you just have to stop and inhale before you pass out.)
Sometimes you pause. . .for emphasis. Or clarity.
It’s similar when you write.
Your reader needs to grasp the ebb and flow of your words. They need to be led smoothly through your phrases and paragraphs, understanding when to pause and when to pick up the pace.
There should be no confusion or misunderstanding.
That’s why you use commas.
Steeped In History
In the 3rd century BC, Aristophanes of Byzantium invented a system of single dots that separated verses. These indicated the amount of breath needed to complete each fragment of text when reading aloud. The dots were placed at the bottom, middle, or top of the line to signify different lengths.
When the passage was short, the dot was placed in the middle (like this ·) and was known as a komma.
Over time, the name came to be used for the mark itself instead of the clause it separated.
So, next time you write something read it out loud – like Aristophanes’ verses – and see where you naturally pause.
If it feels right, if it makes more sense to do so, insert a comma.
If not, leave it out or stop completely.
Just remember: Exhale, comma, inhale.
Photo: (Thanks, Ben) Ben White