MET grammar pathway minisession

The comma: to pause or to parse?
Alan Lounds, Barcelona, Spain

The humble comma has been the object of heated discussion over the years. It is the mark that generally takes up most space in punctuation guides and the list of recommended uses is long – as is the list of exceptions. In this workshop we will consider how its function has changed from a prosodic to a more syntax-based one over the centuries. We will review the main uses (and abuses) of the comma paying special attention to discretional and controversial cases. We will then observe how the comma is used by contemporary writers in fields ranging from literature to science. Are there different rules (or levels of rigour) for different text types? Should we use the serial comma? Does the comma aid clarity and remove ambiguity in the same way for all audiences? Familiarity with the rules will help us make decisions more confidently in our work.
About the facilitator: Alan Lounds is head of the Language Advisory Unit at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, where he manages the translation of institutional and academic documents and the creation of language support resources. He has 25 years’ experience as a freelance editor and translator and also teaches academic writing. He is a founder member, former chair and the current CPD chair of Mediterranean Editors and Translators.