SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Usage of commas after “first” in these sentences

Discussion started on

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region austin
Hi everyone,

So I just got some more local feedback on a short PB that I had also posted in the boards.  I need to check wether the commas added by one critique are absolutely necessary.  I understand that generally you use a comma after sequencing words.  In most cases I would.  But I also usually put commas where I naturally pause, and in this case adding the commas changes the flow of how I heard the sentences when I wrote them.  The sentences in question are “First find a place where the branches are low.” (This is not followed by any additional sequencing words such as “next”, “second”, “then”, etc. if it matters.). The other sentence is “At first you may not be able to climb very high.”  Once again, not followed by any other sequencing phrases.  So, do I have to use commas after “first”?  TIA!  Editing to add I also just noticed that the critique also added a comma after “sometimes” in this sentence- “Sometimes it’s nice to sit by yourself.”  Advice on that as well, please.

Sarah
#1 - October 06, 2019, 07:07 AM
« Last Edit: October 06, 2019, 07:14 AM by sarah-garcia-morgan »

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region canadaeast
It's funny how many arguments simple comma usage can spark, but I agree with https://grammarpuss13.blogspot.com/2016/01/using-commas-with-fronted-adverbials.html

" In spite of what some may say about ‘rules’ of punctuation, use of commas is optional in many cases and very much depends on personal preference, avoiding ambiguity and promoting clarity of message.  This clarity is not just about the sense the reader can obtain from the text; it is also about creating the effect the writer desires."

So neither is wrong, comma or not. And in your cases, I'd leave them out.

You can also read http://theeditorsblog.net/2015/08/27/introduce-me-with-a-comma/ and search for "single-word adverbs"
#2 - October 06, 2019, 09:42 AM

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region austin
David, thank you for the quick reply and helpful links.  I was quickly overwhelmed by trying to sort through Google reviews, so the specific article recommendations are very helpful.
#3 - October 06, 2019, 10:14 AM

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region socal
" In spite of what some may say about ‘rules’ of punctuation, use of commas is optional in many cases and very much depends on personal preference, avoiding ambiguity and promoting clarity of message.  This clarity is not just about the sense the reader can obtain from the text; it is also about creating the effect the writer desires."
I love this quote from David. Comma use is all about clarity. There used to be more hard-and-fast rules about comma usage, which makes me wonder if this particular critique-er is a little older, or maybe was taught by someone who is Old School. I think all your sentences are fine without commas, but commas could be included if you want. Adding the commas would definitely affect the flow of words.

That being said, there are times when commas definitely should be used. As you've found online, there is a lot of discussion about this, and feelings can run high.

#4 - October 06, 2019, 11:44 AM

Admins and Mods Emeriti
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region midatlantic
I really want the commas after "first" and "at first"; however, I wouldn't want the comma after "sometimes."  But I believe everybody that there's not a hard and fast rule. :)

AM

#5 - October 06, 2019, 12:49 PM
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA series (Disney-Hyperion)
SUNNY'S TOW TRUCK SAVES THE DAY (Abrams)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region longislandny
This is a dealers choice situation as David said. Try reading the piece out loud and see if you pause or want the reader to pause. Commas create that pause. Sometimes the pause gives a slight change to the meaning/emotion o the speaker.
#6 - October 06, 2019, 06:44 PM
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
Twitter: @dvilardi1

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region wwa
First find a place where the branches are low.

A leading “first” usually implies the first item of a sequence, and that a “next”, or “then” etc. can be expected.
Try rewriting w/ e.g. “To get started,” with the comma separator. This would be a sequence-free initiator.

Many commas are unneeded, according to strict grammar. Commas to control cadence are are okay and even indispensable, if not overused.
#7 - October 07, 2019, 07:43 AM
Persist! Craft improves with every draft.

Books for Kids and Teens
Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region oregon
In reference to commas I remember hearing, "When in doubt, leave it out."
#8 - October 07, 2019, 08:12 AM

Members:

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.