Answers to Questions About Commas #4

By Mark Nichol

Here are several questions about punctuation from DailyWritingTips.com readers, including two about too, and my responses.

1. I was taught to always put a comma before the word too. I realize this is a technical part of punctuation, but I see several instances where no comma precedes too. Is there an absolute rule for this, or are there times when the comma isn’t necessary?

A trend toward open punctuation, a minimalist approach to commas that includes omitting punctuation before too, has prevailed in informal writing for some time. However, I support closed punctuation and advise always retaining the comma to set off too, regardless of the degree of formality of the prose.

2. Should you place a comma before too when it’s at the end of a sentence? “He decided to go, too,” or “He decided to go too”? Does it depend on the context of too?

Some writing handbooks advise that inserting the comma in such sentences is optional; it’s necessary only to signal emphasis. But in that case, it would be better to state, “He, too, decided to go.”

When too is at the end of the sentence, a comma to signal emphasis might be inserted when the word indicates an additional action or thought, rather than a similar one: “He watched her jump, and he jumped too,” but “He decided to hop and skip. He jumped, too.” But these distinctions, I think, are too complicated. My solution is to always insert the comma.

3. In the sentence “The subdimensions that were measured were accessibility and responsiveness and security,” responsiveness and security go together. How should I punctuate it to give clarity to the reader?

Here are several options to clarify the subdimensions; I prefer the third one, which is more direct and concise, is in active voice, and omits intrusive punctuation or numeration:

a) “The subdimensions that were measured were accessibility, and responsiveness and security.”

b) “The subdimensions that were measured were 1) accessibility and 2) responsiveness and security.”

c) “The test measured accessibility, as well as responsiveness and security.”

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7 Responses to “Answers to Questions About Commas #4”

  • Chuck Hustmyre

    I have always considered “too” akin to also, and no one advocates separating “also” with commas, particularly at the end of a sentence, like, “I want to go also.” So why the requirement to separate “too”? As in, “I want to go, too”?

  • Agnes Keatley

    I am writing a book, describing city blocks and streets. Do you write out street, use St. capitalize or not when repeatedly talking about a street. Exmp. 103 Main Street – and then – 105 Main Street, Do you repeat street or leave it out. Do you capitalize St. when abbreviated? I am having a time with all of these street names and addresses. HELP PLEASE.

  • A. Colin Flood

    According to Holt Uncensored, which offers a candid look at books and the book industry, in the eyes of literary agents and editors the improper use of the comma dismisses aspiring writers as amateurs. http://www.holtuncensored.com/hu/the-ten-mistakes/

    I would be the second person to tell you that I “know no good English!” The first would be my grade school teacher. I do know a thing or two about the use of commas and too.

    I know that the literary use of the comma corresponds loosely with the verbal use of breath. A comma separates NOT only a written phrase from the rest of the sentence; it also gives a brief pause to the eyes and voice. Writing is for the eyes; it is meant to be read. It is for the mouth also; it is meant to be read aloud too.

    The use of “too,” includes the meaning of “also.” We use them interchangeably. “He jumped too” means the same as “he jumped also.” Therefore a rule that requires a brief pause before “also,” NOT only looks awkward, it sounds awkward too. It is NOT “he jumped, also,” therefore it is NOT “he jumped, too.” Both examples “comma” our eyes and voice into jerky motion. The sentence stops and goes like a stutter.

    It is okay to use “too,” instead of “also.” Don’t make it worse by cluttering up the sentence with commas too.

  • venqax

    @ A. Colin Flood: I am glad you mention that about the comma’s correspondence with breath. That is something I have always observed, and I’ve been perplexed that it is never brought up when discussing the issue of commas in writing. To my mind, in addition to the well-worn standards regarding when things NEED to be set off in written form, or just *rules* like *however must be followed by a comma*, there is the perfectly legitimate and even advisable situation where you write a comma because that is where you would speak a comma. IOW, take a pause. I think written language ususally improves when you “read it aloud”, even if it is silently in your head. So even when the rules of written grammar do not require a comma, one is often advisable. I guess that is the opposite of closed punctuation.

  • Cassie Tuttle

    Question number 3. I agree: c) is the best option (“The test measured accessibility, as well as responsiveness and security.”) However — and correct me if I’m wrong — I recall learning that when “as well as” is used to mean “and,” no comma is necessary. Thus:

    “The test measured accessibility as well as responsiveness and security.”

    Additional examples:
    “These scholars emphasize the role of larger political and economic structures as well as the compromised decision making of organized interests and government agencies.”

    “It is common for states to assess student outcomes as well as establish minimum standards in areas such as curriculum, teacher qualifications, instructional materials, and facilities.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    I am incredulous at people who want to rethink every detail of writing, including where to put commas.

    There is a lot to be said for TRADITION. Following the traditional way of doing things helps keep you from having to THINK about such details. When you do that, then you can reserve your brainpower for important things – the content of what you are trying to write about, and also the unity and coherence of your exposition.

    TRADITION! Write nonfiction in just the same way that Sir Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell, Dwight Eisenhower, Samuel Eliot Morison, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Thomas Jefferson, David Hume, Noah Webster, Martin Gardner, etc., wrote nonfiction – concerning punctuation, capitalization, etc., and usually spelling. Most of the time, the same practices carry over into fiction – and several of the above writers wrote fiction, too. Just emulate the great ones, and then you won’t have to worry about a lot of the mechanical details.

    By the way, if you have never heard of some of the above as writers, Eisenhower wrote his best-selling memoirs CRUSADE IN EUROPE, and Samuel Eliot Morison was a professor at Harvard who wrote the multivolume set HISTORY OF UNITED STATES NAVAL OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II. Morison also wrote an esteemed biography of Christopher Columbus. Churchill and Russell won the Nobel Prize for litertature, giving “prima facie” evidence that this prize is not always given for fictional writing.
    D.A.W.

  • freelancer

    A publisher I once worked for covered this topic in its style manual, and I found it quite useful. It stated:

    Use a comma before “either,” “also,” “too” if it refers to the object of the sentence. Do not use comma if it refers to the subject. (I went to the store too = I went to the store and so did someone else. I went to the store, too = I went someplace and to the store.)

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