It’s not often I take issue with the excellent Guardian style guide.
But I disagree with their guidance on the use of commas – and we’ve issued new advice to our proofreading course students this week.
The Guardian’s guidelines is as follows:
Use a comma to help the reader by inserting breathing space into a sentence: “When the Dutch reflect on their performance in the World Cup final, they will not find it hard to see why their aggressive tactics lost them many friends in 2010.”
But ‘breathing space’ is not a grammatical reason for using commas.
There are plenty of good grammatical reasons to insert them, but if you take the Guardian’s advice to heart, you end up sprinkling them like pepper on a steak.
This risks messing up the meaning of sentences and leads to using style arbitrarily.
We tell our students to follow the established rules of punctuation, set out here
The Guardian’s test is completely subjective … a deep sea diver wouldn’t use any commas at all, whereas someone with breathing problems would use them all the time.
My view is that it’s impossible to proofread if you’re using a rule that means different things to different people … there’s no right or wrong.
See our online proofreading course