2

When does a comma follow an exclamatory 'oh' or 'ah'?

Example 1 (no comma after oh)

“Everybody can't come here, you know, how ridiculous can you get? There's just barely enough room on this planter box for you and me, and not much else! Oh you're crazy all right, Marshall, no doubt about it!” “Probably. You know though, we […].”
(The Cosmic Lady Was Right: An American Journey by Marshall Motz)

Example 2 (comma placed after oh)

“Oh, my gosh,” Ronald cried out. “You destroyed my ship, what are you doing?”
(Monster Closet by G. L. Robins)

Is this only a matter of style, or are the uses of 'Oh' in the examples above somewhat different?

1
  • 5
    Style and misstyle, I'd say. I see the comma after Oh as necessary. – James Waldby - jwpat7 Jun 8 '13 at 19:45
2

It is not a matter of “style” but of convention.

Four hundred years ago introductory particles like Oh, tut, ay were never followed by commas. (Neither were nouns of address.)

Cos: By Ladie ſir tis thirtie yeares at least. —Romeo and Juliet, Q1, 1597

A hundred years later they were always followed by commas, and that’s been the rule ever since.

Now many writers are abandoning the use. For the present, it carries an implication of hipness and colloquiality, but that's only because it contrasts with the prevailing rule: it’s “eye dialect”, exactly like spelling have to as “hafta”.

It may catch on, it may not. But it doesn’t mean anything linguistic.

2

As a general rule, I'd say commas are used in place of exclamation marks - i.e. when the "Oh" or "Ah" are being used as exclamations:

Oh! I forgot my keys!

Ah! Now I understand!

Oh, I forgot my keys!

Ah, now I understand!

In contrast, commas look very out of place where the "Oh" or "Ah" is part of a flat idiom:

Oh my gosh!

Oh my God!

?Oh, my gosh!

?Oh, my God!


? marks questionable usage.

2
  • +1, I agree completely. I would add that I think the reason behind this is that the comma is in place when there would be a natural pause when speaking. You pause after the "oh" when you say Oh, I forgot my keys! but there is no pause in Oh my god. :) – WendiKidd Jun 9 '13 at 3:03
  • 1
    However, there is a difference in the spoken stresses between "Oh! I forgot my keys!" and "Oh, I forgot me keys!" – Hellion Jun 9 '13 at 3:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy