Commas are like breadcrumbs: They mark the trail through a sentence.

When I teach business writing workshops, I like to explain commas as trail markers through the meaning of a sentence.One important trail marker is the comma at the end of an introductory clause or phrase. If it is left out, the reader can get lost trying to find the main subject and the focus of the sentence.Hansel and Gretel

A recent newsletter from the Gulas group makes some good points about email clutter and how to avoid it, but several of the sentences are difficult to read because this important trail marker has been left out. Take a look at these examples:

"Armed with this knowledge you will make better decisions."

"Set correctly your Calendar view will show your appointments,…."

"As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices they are being distracted by email alerts, meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times."

Each of the above sentences is difficult to read because of the missing comma, which would point out the location where the main clause begins. Here is how these sentences should be punctuated–with a comma after the introductory phrase or clause:

Armed with this knowledge, you will make better decisions.

Set correctly, your Calendar view will show your appointments.

As more and more people synchronize their smartphones and mobile devices, they are being distracted by email alerts (and) meeting reminders at all sorts of inconvenient times.


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4 Responses to “Commas are like breadcrumbs: They mark the trail through a sentence.”

  1. Ruth I love the analogy to breadcrumbs. I think of each sentence as part of a map that helps the reader follow the story from beginning to end. 

  2. Zetta says:

    Hi, I have a question regarding "several" vocabulary that used in this article. 

    My question is, what is the differene between:

    "but several of sentences are difficult to read"

    and

    "but several sentences are difficult to read"

    because I use "several" without "of", and this is new to me. Thank you.

  3. admin says:

    Thanks, Claire. That’s another good way to envision a sentence.

     

  4. admin says:

    That is a good question, Zetta. I would say that both constructions are correct but used for different meaning. In the post about the bread crumbs, I used “of the sentences” to emphasize that I was referring to the specific sentences used as examples in the post. I would have used just “several sentences” if I meant any several sentences in his article. ¬†Here are some more examples:

    • Several sentences contain contractions.
    • Several sentences in this article refer to email clutter.
    • Several of the sentences with commas have errors in them.
    • Several students plan to attend the program.
    • Several of the students attending the program have free passes.

    This is not a rule, just a usage preference. Does that help?

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