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Sometimes, when I am trying to put into a sentence all the commas that should be there, according to the rules, it begins to look like a list of items - a comma after every word. (Edit: and as David Schwartz pointed out, even worse, it sounds badly)

For example:

If we saw it as Kris, then, personally, I do not understand how ...

Is it possible to omit some commas in such case? If yes, then how could I determine which commas are less important and could be omitted?

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If you omit commas in such sentences wouldn't it lose the meaning that you are willing to convey to the reader. That is the whole purpose of using a comma.Isn't it? –  Apoorva Feb 9 '12 at 10:28
    
Wow! And what shall I do, having two opposite answers? :-) –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 10:47
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Rewrite your sentence i would say :) –  Apoorva Feb 9 '12 at 10:56
    
Thank you all. I have already put pluses to all answerers. So, better it would be to rephrase. The rephrase of TimLymington "I do not myself understand how, if we see it as Kris, ..." I like the most, so his answer is checked. No offence meant to anybody. –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 11:41
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It would be sensible to recast the sentence so as to avoid the excessive commas. "...then (personally) I do not...", "then I personally do not...", or "I do not myself understand how, if we see it as Kris, ..." are possible alternatives: only you know how best to convey your meaning.

More generally, writing English isn't a matter of choosing a set of words, and then inserting the `correct' punctuation by rote. Commas, in particular, serve to assist the reader to understand you; if the comma you want to put in will be confusing, take it out (and consider whether there is a better way to convey your meaning).

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Parenthesis won't help really, they make the same pause. "I do not myself understand how, if we see it as Kris, ..." - yes, that sounds the best for me. The form to be spoken, not only written. As for "then I personally do not...", it makes me ask again - why "personally" is not in commas here? –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 11:02
    
@Gangus: the brackets stop it looking like a list, which was the original problem. If spoken, the pause is similar to a comma; but the intonation should stop it sounding like a list. "then I personally do not" attaches personally to I more strongly than to I do not, so reducing the need for parenthesizing commas. But you still seem to be asking for a rule "Insert commas in situation x, unless condition y or combined with z". There simply isn't such a rule. There are many shades of meaning possible here, and word usage, word order and punctuation will all affect which you convey. –  TimLymington Feb 9 '12 at 11:49
    
Thank you for the additional info. As for brackets - David Schwartz pointed to a worse problem, that it will sound badly. –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 11:58
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You don't need the first comma and, as you say, it causes problems so drop it:

If we saw it as Kris then, personally, I do not ...

You don't need it because the reader knows that the if-clause has ended when he sees the word then.

I know ... I know ... your English teacher told you to always use a comma in a sentence that begins with if. That's a fine rule for beginners, but you're not a beginner any more. The advanced rule is: put commas where they will help your readers understand your sentence. For instance, I think you need commas around personally because they help the reader notice that it's a parenthetic phrase.

These days, the trend is to use commas less and less. In the words of Lynn Truss:

People who put in all the commas betray themselves as moral weaklings with empty lives and out-of-date reference books.

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Thank you for the term "parenthetic phrase". I used the wrong one. Pity, I can't edit comments. --- Very interesting: So, the words if and then can work as punctuation signs? Fantastic! (+1, too) –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 16:16
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If only we would see it as Kris, personally I do not understand how ...

(I suppose that can be dropped; adding only will shift the emphasis as you seem to intend; comma after personally can be safely omitted.)

There really are two things here that you need to co-ordinate: Literary style and grammaticality.

Writing should reflect, as far as possible, either the exact thought process of the author, or that which the author expects to happen in the reader's mind. In prose (to a lesser extent than in poetry), therefore, you can be somewhat liberal with grammar.

Within the rules of grammar, it is possible to rephrase sentences and it is always recommended to do so, so long as the meaning, the tone and the emotion are correctly and effectively projected.

I myself have used quite a few commas above. I may not have been grammatically correct -- I only wanted to get my point across effectively.

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Again I see here an inserted word "personally" not in commas. May be, it is not necessary in English? Or: May be it is not necessary in English? - is also correct? –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 11:11
    
It is not unnecessary. However, there's a subtle difference. With the comma, you are stressing the fact that it is only your opinion and not necessarily of everyone in general, which may be true but not important here. Without the comma, it still means the same without overly stressing on it. –  Kris Feb 9 '12 at 11:22
    
Oh, thank you so much. So, if I really want to stress it and don't want the sentence to be awkward, I have to rephrase it. And other inserted words... I'll ask better a new question on it. –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 11:38
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I see no need for any comma but the first.

Update: I agree with Pitarou too. You can leave out the first comma if you keep the other two. It all depends on how you want the sentence to be phrased.

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Thank you, but could you explain, please? A word "personally" is an inserted word, that is only refining the meaning of the whole clause and so should be put in commas. Or not? –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 10:28
    
Right, that's the factor that says you should put it in commas, but in this case the factors saying you shouldn't are much stronger. For example, a big one is that the comma destroys the flow of the sentence. (Try pausing there in speech. It's awful.) –  David Schwartz Feb 9 '12 at 10:53
    
Yes, I feel it, too. I don't think that changing commas to () or - will help - they pause the speech in the same way. And how could I determine, which commas are less important and could be omitted? –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 10:59
    
If the sentence is better without the comma than it is with it, take it out. Weigh the pros and cons -- if it's close, then you're probably fine either way. The sentence would be read differently with each legal combination of commas -- pick the commas that correspond to the way you want it to be read. (Read out loud if you have to, it helps.) –  David Schwartz Feb 9 '12 at 11:02
    
The problem is, that English is not my maternal language. I haven't even ever been to an English-speaking country. It is possible that I 'll remove a comma and the sentence will change the meaning and I won't catch it... As for these rules - put commas according to your feeling, I know them, but they are useless for a foreigner. So, as I feel, I'll put them as in my maternal language. That is not good at all for English. A foreigner need a formal rule - which commas could I omit and which not. –  Gangnus Feb 9 '12 at 11:09
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