Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Using commas correctly (1)


When using “because” following a negative statement, be sure to use a comma before “because.” If you don’t use a comma in a construction like this, your reader may not correctly understand your meaning – at least on first reading.

Example

For example, consider this sentence:

“The idea was that if borrowers defaulted in payments on their loans, investors wouldn’t lose their money because the federal government would cover the losses.”

By failing to use a comma before “because,” the writer incorrectly implies that investors would lose their money, but that they would lose it for some reason other than that “the federal government would cover the losses.” The writer should have used a comma after “investors wouldn’t lose their money” and before “because.”

The sentence would then read:

The idea was that if borrowers defaulted in payments on their loans, investors wouldn’t lose their money, because the federal government would cover the losses.

Example

This headline is a similar example of a failure to use commas correctly:

“Biologists Won’t Meet in Louisiana Because of State Law on Teaching Evolution”

By omitting the comma, the headline writer incorrectly implies that the biologists will meet in Louisiana, but not because of that law.

The headline should have read:

Biologists Won’t Meet in Louisiana, Because of State Law on Teaching Evolution

In each of these two cases, the typical reader will read the sentence, perceive the implication as implausible, re-read the sentence, recognize that the writer should have used a comma before “because,” and finally perceive the correct meaning of the sentence.

One could argue that this is a small matter, and that almost every reader will eventually figure out the correct meaning. That may be true. But some readers will not figure it out. And some will become distracted and will stop reading. And the readers who do figure it out will assume that the writer did not know the rule or was being inconsiderate or careless. And they will know that he has wasted their time.

Why invite all those undesirable outcomes when it is so easy to do it correctly?

The Takeaway: When you are using “because” following a negative statement, use a comma before “because.” If you don’t use a comma in a construction like this, your reader may not correctly understand your meaning.

2 comments:

  1. "I cannot eat because I am ill."

    If I put a comma in that sentence, would the meaning change?


    Thank you

    ReplyDelete