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The Huddersfield Comma

April 10, 2021

Sometimes, there’s a comma missing. Not an Oxford Comma, but one at the start of the sentence.

For example:

In nineteen eighty four tall ships sailed out of Portsmouth.

This isn’t the greatest of sentences, (and it’s missing a hyphen between eighty and four to help me make my point). It’s misleading. Does the action take place in 1984, when all tall ships preferred to sail out of Portsmouth? Or was it 1980, when four ships that happened to be tall sailed out of Portsmouth? As it is, we’re guessing.

The sentence would be clearer with a comma. It could go after eighty, or after four, depending on the author’s intent.

In nineteen eighty, four tall ships sailed out of Portsmouth.

In nineteen eighty four, tall ships sailed out of Portsmouth.

The comma serves to show where the first clause finishes and the second commences, to let the reader know where the pause is, where the sentence switches direction. It reduces confusion, as in the example above. And it serves to let the the reader know where the rhythm of the sentence changes, like someone in a car using their indicator to let pedestrians know they intend to turn right or left, or like a drum fill, leading into the chorus of a song. I used one in the sentence, ‘As it is, we’re guessing.’ Lots of editors wouldn’t u se a comma there, leaving it up to the reader to negotiate the change in the sentence’s direction. I like to include one as a courtesy.

I see it often in newspaper articles and magazine pieces. The Guardian can be a culprit.

I don’t know what it’s called, this comma. It might have a name, it might not. I thought about calling it the Cambridge Comma, to balance up the big Universities. Then I thought sod it, why should Oxbridge have a monopoly on the naming of grammar rules.

So I’m claiming it for Huddersfield. So, if it already has a name, well, now it has two!

The Huddersfield Comma.

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