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Friday, January 15, 2016

Commas and FANBOYS

I have discovered one of the difficulties of becoming a professional writer later in life is someone, somehow, has changed English grammar.

In eighth grade back in the dinosaur days, I aced English grammar. I was still of an age where I was comfortable with “rules.” Like math, where two plus two always added up to equal four, if there was a hard and fast grammar rule, I ingrained it in my brain. Through the years I’ve fallen back on those rules to get me through my school term papers, my creative writing efforts (which were few and far between while I raised my six children), to correct my children’s term papers, my business correspondence on my jobs, and my reports and grievance files as a union steward.
Then I started writing fiction—novelettes to full-length books—only to discover someone along the way has changed the rules, especially in regards to the use of commas. I first noticed it when a ran across either a blog post or Facebook discussion about it no longer being necessary to use a comma before ending a sentence with the words “too” or “also.” Example: “I want to go to the store, too.” is now written as “I want to go to the store too.”

WHAT?!? That comma in the sentence is a rule. That has stuck with me from dinosaur days until now. However, after doing a little research, I discovered that current style manuals have declared that little ol’ comma is no longer necessary.

My most recent line editor just shattered for me another rule. It involves FANBOYS. What are FANBOYS? That almost sounds a little risqué. No such luck. It is an acronym for:


I don’t recall any rules about FANBOYS from my eighth grade grammar class up through college. I was kindly told by my latest copy editor friend there is a reason. In the “old days” coordinating conjunctions which joined independent clauses always had a comma before them. Example: “I went to the store, and he insisted he go with me.” Now those commas before the “and” (or any of the FANBOYS conjunctions I might have used in its place) is no longer necessary unless the author wants to place them there for effect, or to create a pause for emphasis, or as part of a character’s speaking style.

WHAT?!? We can be creative? There are rules, but we don’t always have to stick to them? My thirteen year-old grammar ace self would not have found that acceptable. Neither would have my eighth grade English teacher.

And, it used to be a big no-no to start a sentence with any of the FANBOYS. Nor, did you use a comma after a FANBOYS at the start of a sentence because starting a sentence with a FANBOYS just was not done. But, it may be done now for effect. Yet, if the author wants to use a comma for effect, he or she may. Or not. For "someone" have changed the rules. So, someone like me who loves to start sentences with FANBOYS conjunctions finds that particular change in the rules to be a good thing. 

But, any writer who wants to be published needs to find out what set of grammar rules their editor or publisher prefers and write in a style acceptable to that publishing house.

In other words, find out what style manual your publisher uses and how hard and fast said publisher sticks to it.

I actually have a style manual in my possession I purchased decades ago. It is the one published by Merriam-Webster. Unfortunately, I have never hear of anyone declare they use that style manual. Several publishers like The Chicago Manual of Style. The rules in the various style manuals will be similar, but not always the same, because someone, somewhere, somehow has changed some of the grammar rules in the last half century.

Or, if you are really lucky, your editor may rely on what she learned in her eighth grade grammar class back in the dinosaur days.

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.


  1. Commas have always been the bane of my existence. I know they are necessary,but...Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author

  2. I would never claim to have possession of my grammar or punctuation--not now or back in the Jurassic period of my life. I keep trying though. Thank you for the pointers.

  3. I keep putting in the old commas, myself. The new rule that really gets to me is the singular "their," as in, "A customer can pick up their order at the front counter." I will never get used to that!