For Who the Bell Tollsis a new grammar and style guide by David Marsh, production editor of Britain’s Guardian newspaper and coauthor of the paper’s publicly available style guide. Clearly the book comes out of Marsh’s work at The Guardian, reflecting many of the rules in the paper’s style guide.
During last week’s #PuncChat, one participant wondered about adding a comma after an introductory phrase. When do you need the comma? When can you drop it?
These are questions of grammar and rhythm, often addressed to varying degrees by style guides. Apply the following five questions to help you decide whether to drop the comma, your style guide notwithstanding.
English verbs are pretty simple. We don’t have a complex system of verb endings, as many languages do, and we have relatively few irregular verbs. But English still has an elaborate system of tenses, aspects, voices, and moods. Keeping them all straight can be difficult if you don’t know the terminology.
"Sap of trees such as the sugar maple can be reduced into sugary syrup for pancakes."
Do you feel an urge to insert commas? Those who know syrup, or who know trees, understand why that would be wrong.
There is no grammatical need to place a comma before every occurrence of "such as," and sometimes a preceding comma is wrong. Sometimes "such as" is used restrictively, not to provide a parenthetical example:
Editors, such as Adrienne, say so. = Adrienne is an example of an editor. Editors such as Adrienne say so. = Only editors who are like Adrienne.