In a short review on the occasion of the release of her new book in paperback, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett, the New York Times reviewer wrote:

These sparkling personal essays, by the author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder, cover the quotidian and the profound: from Patchett’s passion for opera and her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog, and her resolve to open an independent bookstore in Nashville.*

Patchett was obliged to answer in a letter to the editor:

...When highlighting a few of the essays in the collection, the review mentions topics ranging from “her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog” without benefit of comma, thus giving the impression that Sparky and I are hitched. While my love for my dog is deep, he married a dog named Maggie at Parnassus Books last summer...

Style guides vary in opinion on the use of commas. Clearly they are meant to be used to avoid situations exactly like this one.

Many people are using the comma less often. If the New York Times book reviewer makes mistakes such as this one, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Shouldn't commas simply be used before all ifs, ands and buts?

(Also, does the punctuation in any way identify if marrying her dog is of a quotidian nature, or of a profound nature?)

*since corrected

  • 2
    This is clearly off-topic, and you know it. This should be closed as Primarily Opinion Based. Dec 16, 2014 at 4:25
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    Shameless, shameless. But I can't help myself, I have to upvote!
    – Robusto
    Dec 16, 2014 at 4:32
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    Wait...so did she marry her dog or not?
    – Mitch
    Dec 16, 2014 at 4:41
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    Aaagh. I'd go away for a couple of weeks if I hadn't been roped in to play Father Christmas at a Church social. 'And have you used commas sensibly this year, little boy?' Dec 16, 2014 at 12:26
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    Oxford comma? Lists are, of course, banned. They have what they're given. Getting back to linguistics, the correct use of coalons is, of course, a burning issue. Dec 16, 2014 at 13:05

1 Answer 1


No, the comma shouldn’t be used before every if, and or but. This mistake is easy to understand.

One should not commit an entire people to using superfluous commas, if only for the reason that it continues to provide us with hilarious examples such as this one.

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