My mother tongue has very strict rules as to the use of comma, quite unlike the English language. They are so numerous that I often wonder at complicated cases if I should use one and where to position it. I have a deep respect to all colleagues who have graduated Bulgarian because they know what to do. All I know I have learned at school, and it’s just the basics. Moreover, I’m sure I have forgotten plenty of that over the years.
The moment I went to university to study English, I dived into happy ignorance and indifference as to the vague rules of using commas. A semester in, however, I started to resent this vagueness. After graduation, it upset me a lot, and I felt it could ruin my reputation of a language professional. Imagine, a student asks if she should use a comma in front of “if” or “when” and then, on top of that, also ask for an explanation. Imagine she would continue to explain the Bulgarian rule to me.
Most importantly, my ignorance threatened my writer’s life. I chose to write with no commas at all, for fear I might use some incorrectly. Have you noticed I haven’t even mentioned the semicolon? I’m not planning to involve that thing in this piece.
How I Got By?
I read carefully stories by other writers, always natives, and took mental notes how they use their commas. The terror, everybody was doing it their own way. That was awful, for sure, but in the same time, relaxing, as it was very likely that no one would notice I had no idea. Shooting in the dark is how I got by.
The time of MOOCs came, and I attended several very interesting ones in a variety of topics. I passed a course in history, called “The Matters of War and Peace”, for example, even though I’m not a fan of the science. I also took a course in Nutrition which was an eye-opener. I haven’t migrated to healthy eating, but I know a thing or two. General Philosophy, Chinese Humanities, Plato’s Dialogues, Fantasy and Sci-Fi in Literature…, you name it, but I shunned the Writing courses. Until one day I saw the Grammar 101: Punctuation, and I thought “That’s it”.
Needless to mention, all my classmates were graduate students. It didn’t matter as I had a goal. What I appreciated most about this course was the simplicity to which things were brought. How come no one had told me before that there WERE actual rules, and it was possible to follow them? Was it too simple to be true? Perhaps it was, but now I am at peace with my commas.
It’s time to start looking into the semicolon. That course DID say a lot on that topic, but who can learn so much in one time? I need to brace myself and shoot for another take of this MOOC, I suppose.
What’s your experience with the comma rules?