Do commas still matter?

Quality is in the details — and attention to commas, semicolons, dangling participles, gerunds and the proper placement of quotation marks says to the reader that this person is careful, considerate (because bad grammar is painful to the discerning eye), and (there’s that Oxford comma) competent.

“Grammar is credibility,” says Amanda Sturgill, an associate professor of communications at Elon University, where I recently spoke. “If you’re not taking care of the small things, people assume you’re not taking care of the big things.”

Sturgill, who devotes an entire day of class to the lowly comma, says that most students have a limited appreciation of the nuances of comma usage. Most have been taught that you insert a comma when you would naturally pause in speaking or where you would take a breath.

As Sturgill makes clear in her 14 points of comma usage, there’s more to it — and not just grammatically.