From "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This sentence there is not a comma behind 'and':

Handsome to look at and a perfect gentleman.

This sentence there is a comma behind 'and':

Miss Baker's a great sportswoman, you know, and she'd never do anything that wasn't all right.

The author has open hands to write a comma where he wants. The role of the comma is not only to divide clauses in a sentence but wider. If we look at a sentence as music, emotion, and imagination, then we can understand why an author manages a comma like it. The book is a river basin. The sentences are the main river and a lot of tributaries, waterfalls, ponds. Sometimes we hug and sometimes words flow smoothly.

How would you explain to me FSF's style of writing comma on the example of the two sentences above?

1 Answer 1


You think that's confusing, how about this except from "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, with nary a comma to be found:

When it was light enough to use the binoculars he glassed the valley below. Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop. He studied what he could see. The segments of road down there among the dead trees. Looking for anything of color. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke. He lowered the glasses and pulled down the cotton mask from his face and wiped his nose on the back of his wrist and then glassed the country again. Then he just sat there holding the binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land. He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.

In general, the comma is used to indicate where someone would put a pause in the sentence if spoken out loud. Some speakers pause often, some don't. Outside of a few situations, the comma is entirely optional punctuation. Sometimes you want to use a comma before "and". Sometimes you don't. It all depends how you want the sentence to "sound" to the reader.

Moreover, the rules go completely out the window when it comes to creative writing. McCarthy deliberately writes with few commas (as well as lots of sentence fragments) to convey a particular mood. Fizgerald writes in a different style, with dialogue that evokes the era in which the novel is set.

In your first example, there is no need for a comma before "and" because the two adjective phrases both apply to the same person. A similar example:

The dog was black and white

It would be odd to use a comma in this sentence, because it breaks up the flow:

The dog was black, and white

It's as if the dog was mostly black, but the speaker just remembered there was also some white.

The second sentence it's common to add commas around meaningless interjections like "y'know" because there are often pauses before and after these when spoken. Without the pauses it sounds more like the person is talking rapidly, without taking a breath:

The father tried to ignore the rambling monologue of his teenage daughter on her phone in the room with him, but it was no use. "Then she was y'know totally into this guy and they went out this one time but he totally ghosted her y'know and wasn't even texting her back even though y'know she texted him like I don't know how many times ..."

Anyway. The point is that there is no rule about using a comma before "and". Eventually you get to decide what sounds right, based on the feeling you want to convey.

  • 1
    The second sentence is also a compound sentence with two subject-verbs (“Miss Baker is” and “she would do”), which are usually separated with the comma before the “and”
    – elmer007
    Aug 16, 2019 at 1:26
  • The part of this answer I appreciate most is: the rules go completely out the window when it comes to creative writing. There are plenty of style manuals that give very specific guidance when it comes to commas and other punctuation, but authors of creative works are not bound by such guidelines and often deliberately ignore them, as you say.
    – J.R.
    Aug 16, 2019 at 1:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .