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IN accordance with the plan proposed in the last section, this chapter will be devoted to the consideration of the principal sentential marks, namely,–

. The COMMA . . . . . . . . . . [,
. The SEMICOLON . . . . . . . . .
. The COLON . . . . . . . . . .

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The Comma marks the smallest grammatical division of a sentence, and usually represents the shortest pause; the Semicolon and the Colon separate those portions which are less connected than those divided by commas, and admit each of a greater pause; and the Period is, what its name denotes, a full stop, which commonly terminates a sentence.

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The names of the points have been borrowed by grammarians from the terms which rhetoricians employed to indicate the various kinds of sentences, and the parts of which they consist. Thus the Period signified a complete circuit of words; a sentence, making, from its commencement to its close, full and perfect sense. The Colon was the greatest member or division of a period or sentence; and the Semicolon, the greatest division of a colon; while the Comma indicated a smaller segment of the period, –the least constructive part of a sentence.


The CoMMA [,] marks the smallest grammatical division in written or printed language, and commonly represents the shortest pause in reading or delivery.

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a. Agreeably to the principles contended for in the Introduction, it will be noticed that the comma is here said, not to mark the smallest segment of a composition, but only the least grammatical division; that is, the least portion into which a sentence can be divided, when regard is had to the sense, and not to the delivery. But many sentences do not at all admit of being divided grammatically; as, “The great use of books is to rouse us to thought;” though, when considered in a rhetorical or elocutionary light, they should be separated into parts, or groups of words, as in reading the example just given: “The great use of books | is to rouse us to thought.”

b. It is usual for grammarians to say, that the comma represents the shortest pause, and that that pause is equal to the time required for counting one; but the remark admits of so many exceptions as to be without any practical value. Numerous instances occur in which the comma is so far from indicating the shortest pause, that a cessation of the voice equal to the time of counting one, two, if not three, is demanded both by the nature of the sentiment and the construction of the language; as, for instance, after the words “vice" and “undertake" in the following sentences: “Wirtue is always advantageous; vice, never.”—“Nations, like men, fail in nothing which they boldly undertake, when sustained by virtuous purpose and firm resolution.” In other instances, the comma does not exhibit any pause whatever, but merely the grammatical division, as in the expression, “Yes, sir;” where, in common or unemphatic discourse, no pause can be made between the words.

c. On this subject all elocutionists are agreed. Mr. Maglathlin, in the “National Speaker,” p. 30, says that “the comma occurs sometimes where there should be no pause in reading or speaking; nor can the length of any required stop be inferred with much certainty from the common stop-mark used.” Dr. Mandeville, in his “Elements of Reading and Oratory,” p. 82, remarks that “the comma does not necessarily represent a pause; ” that “it suspends the voice, in unimpassioned reading or speaking, sufficiently long to draw breath; ” but that, “under the influence of emotion, its time is indefinite.” And the celebrated Walker, in “Rhetorical Grammar,” p. 36 (Boston edition, 1814), when speaking of all the points, admits that “these marks sufficiently answer the purposes of written language, by keeping the members of sentences from running into each other, and producing ambiguity; but, when we regard them as guides to pronunciation, they fail us at almost every step.”

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Two Words, of the same Part of Speech, connected by the
Conjunctions AND, OR, NOR.

Two words, belonging to the same part of speech, or used as such, when closely connected by one of the conjunctions and, or, nor, are not separated by a comma from each other. E X A M P L E S.

. Pay supreme and undivided homage to goodness and truth.
Grand ideas and principles elevate or ennoble the mind.
. Benefits should be long and gratefully remembered.
Virtue or vice predominates in every man and woman.
. Some monks may be said to be neither of nor in the world.
The necessity and the use of physic have been much exaggerated,
. It is natural to compassionate those who are suffering and alone.


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a. In these examples, it will be seen that the comma is regarded as inadmissible, not only between two words united by a conjunction, but also after them. Here no point should be used, except when they come at the end of a clause or sentence, or form such phrases as, from their construction with others, require to be punctuated; as, “To the intelligent and virtuous, old age presents a scene of tranquil enjoyments.” .

b. Some writers distinguish two connected prepositions by the insertion of commas, and would point the fifth example thus: “Some monks may be said to be neither of, nor in, the world.” But there seems to be no valid reason for deviating from the rule; though, when prepositions are removed from, and at the same time connected with, each other, and are dependent on one and the same term (as in the sentence we are just writing, and as in the eighth example under Rule V.), a comma is required after each to bring out the sense. c. By referring to p. 22, Definition WI., it will be found that the insertion of an article between connected words, as in the sixth example, does not at all affect the validity of the rule. — In the seventh example, the words united by the conjunction are not of the same part of speech, unless the phrase be treated elliptically, so as to mean “suffering and being alone;” but instances of this or a similar kind are obviously subject to the same principle as words of one sort. d. When the first of two connected words is qualified by a preceding adjective or adverb which is inapplicable to the second, or when the latter is followed by a term not belonging to the former, a comma is usually required before the conjunction; as, “Donations will be thankfully received, and applied to the benefit of the suffering poor.”—“’Twas certain he could write, and cipher too.” e. The comma, however, is not inserted between the conjoined words, when the latter is immediately preceded by a qualifying or governing word, and both refer to one and the same term; as, “The world has confidence in the judgment and wise conduct of a truly honest man.” f. When two phrases, the former ending and the other beginning with a noun, are joined by the conjunction and, or, or nor, they may be separated by a comma; as, “Integrity of understanding, and nicely of discernment, were not allotted in a less proportion to Dryden than to Pope.” – “So shall sweet thoughts, and thoughts sublime, my constant inspiration be.” The comma is also placed after the last phrase, when, as in these examples, it relates, equally with the first, to the remainder of the sentence. g. If, however, the first phrase is preceded by one of the correlatives both, either, neither, or the second by an article, or when the phrases are introduced into the body of a sentence necessarily requiring the insertion of commas, they should be left unpointed; as, “Both integrity of understanding and nicety of discernment were allotted in a no less proportion,” &c. —“Man is the child of God and the heir of immortality.”—“As we do, and we must as Protestants, consider Romanism a false and vicious system of religion or form of Christianity, whatever we can lawfully and morally do to stay its progress, we not only have a right, but it is our duty, to do.” In the last example, the two Italicized phrases are not separated by a comma, because the advantage of this mode of pointing in a more simply constructed sentence would be counterbalanced here by the disadvantages resulting from all the phrases being set off alike. h. When the second of two words, united by the conjunction and or Or, is elliptical, or is inserted as an after-thought or for the sake of emphasis, it may be pointed off by commas; as, “A sense of personal propriety would often interrupt, and eacclude, an imputation of unworthy motives to those who hold opinions opposite to our own: ” the sense being, “would interrupt, if it would not eacclude, an imputation,” &c.; or “would interrupt, and indeed eacclude.” The awkwardness of the punctuation, which forms an exception to the rule, might usually be avoided by a happier construction of such Sentences. i. When the conjunction or stands between two nouns, or between a noun and a phrase, which are synonymous, or of which the latter is explanatory of the former, they may be separated by a comma from each other; as, “The dwelling of Norma was not unaptly compared to the eyry of the ospray, or sea-eagle.” If the explanatory term is intermediate or parenthetical, a comma should be placed after each of the terms; as, “Sin, or moral evil, should excite the greatest abhorrence.” — See Rule VIII. j. Some punctuators would apply the preceding remark as a rule to all instances in which one of two words, coupled by the conjunction or, is explanatory of the other. In nouns, we think, the comma is usually required, to show that the terms, which might otherwise be regarded as significant of two ideas or things, are designed to represent only one and the same; but the pointing of adjectives and adverbs similarly situated would, in many cases, tend, by the breaking-up of the connection, to confuse, instead of assisting, the reader. Besides, it should be remembered that qualifying words are seldom, if ever, perfectly synonymous; and that, even if they were exactly of the same signification, the omission of the commas could scarcely affect the sense. For instance, this sentence, “He who is devoutly or piously disposed to God is also benignant or kind to men,” is as easily understood as if it were punctuated, “He who is devoutly, or piously, disposed to God is also benignant, or kind, to men; ” and, in the unpointed form, is more agreeable to the eye.

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