Thursday, 2 January 2014

Commas before 'Such as'

Removing unnecessary commas can really ease the flow of your writing. I’ve recently come across a really easy one to spot and fix and, once you know it, your writing will only become smoother.

Today’s example sentence is taken from a novel I am editing for a really talented author. Have a little read:

He found that studying left little room for other thoughts, such as childish dreams and desires.

The comma before ‘such as’ is unnecessary and interrupts the flow. Here’s how it reads without:

He found that studying left little room for other thoughts such as childish dreams and desires.

You’ve probably noticed how taking out the comma almost makes no difference at all, but you have to remember the bigger picture. Tweaks like this one are not what will get you noticed by publishers, but if you care about the little tweaks then chances are your writing will be a lot smoother than other contenders.

To take this a step further, there are two ways in which a comma would be appropriate. The first is if we turn ‘such as childish dreams and desires’ into a subordinate clause which adds examples or modifiers to bring colour to the sentence:

He found that studying left little room for other thoughts, such as childish dreams and desires, which helped him stay positive.

Lastly, using the phrase ‘for example’ warrants commas. It practically means the same thing although possibly more appropriate for a report rather than a novel.

He found that studying left little room for other thoughts, for example, childish dreams and desires.

The gist of this is you don’t need a comma before ‘such as’ unless you’ve interrupted the sentence with your examples.