It’s about time for another “grammar rant,” isn’t it?
Technically, this one is about punctuation, not grammar: commas and why using a comma after a conjunction-type word at the beginning of a sentence is just weird.
Consider this sentence: But, I changed my mind.
Why should it have a comma? (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller…?) This is not an entirely rhetorical question; I’d be interested in hearing an explanation that doesn’t boil down to “some writers like it that way” or “who cares?” (Neither of these is a good reason. As another blogger said today, “Never do something unless you can understand (and defend) why you did it.”) But is a conjunction; it is standard to use a comma before a conjunction in a sentence. When that conjunction word is the first word in a sentence, you can’t have a comma before it, obviously. What doesn’t make any sense is placing the comma after the conjunction instead.
If the example was part of a compound sentence, it could look something like this: I woke up this morning thinking I’d like to go to Camelot, but I changed my mind.
See how there’s no comma after the word but? Why do you think that is?
Try this one: I woke up this morning thinking I’d like to go to Camelot, but, now that I think about it more, maybe I won’t.
The sentence does have a comma after but, and it is correct as written. This in no way contradicts of what I’ve already said. If I removed now that I think about it more, the comma after but would have to go, because it’s only there to set that bit apart from the rest of the sentence. Notice that there’s also a comma after it to close it up.
I’ve used but in these examples. However, the same guidelines apply to other conjunctions: and, yet, etc. Beginning a sentence with one of these words is accepted in informal writing such as fiction and personal essays, but don’t relocate the comma. You broke up a compound sentence; the comma in the middle is gone.
As always, if you have questions about any of this, ask. Suggest topics for future “grammar rants.” Tell me about your own pet peeves in stuff you’ve read. (By the way, I’ve decided that I’m a grammar ninja; it’s so much better than that other term for a person who cares a lot about the mechanics of writing.)
Also, this is not meant to cause panic in NaNoWriMo participants. I understand why you’re not concerning yourselves with the nuances of punctuation right now. You’re also not going to publish your NaNo efforts without going back and correcting a few things first. When November is over, and you’ve had some time to back away from the story for a bit, then you can worry about whether or not you’ve put the commas where they belong. Mercenary Proofreader, grammar ninja, will be happy to offer advice if you want it. For now, here’s wishing you a high word count every day of this month. 🙂